What is the most unfilmable novel of all time? For me there is but one answer: JD Salinger’s classic, controversial The Catcher in the Rye.
Salinger himself never wanted the novel to be made into a film, and I can understand why. The entire book is the inner monologue of protagonist Holden Caulfield, an American teenage schoolboy who has just been expelled from a private prep school. The novel then follows a weekend of misadventures in New York, as themes of alienation, angst, rebellion and sexuality are touched upon.
The book remains something of a definitive text on the contradictory and overwhelming feelings encountered during teenage years, but it would not make a good film as it is simply too dependent on the inner thoughts and feelings of Caulfield. Besides, Caulfield himself dislikes movies, calling them “phony” along with many other things he also dislikes. It would be ironic, to say the least, to adapt his story in film.
Caulfield is clearly more disturbed than many teenagers, and as such the book has attracted more than a little controversy. It has the unusual distinction of being one of the most taught books in US schools, as well as one of the most banned. It has also been dubiously linked to various shootings, including the murder of John Lennon, and the attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan.
My view is that The Catcher in the Rye is a masterpiece. It is amongst the greatest American novels on a par with To Kill a Mockingbird, Huckleberry Finn and The Great Gatsby. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it. I’m fairly sure reading it won’t turn you into a psychopath, but don’t hold your breath for a film version any time soon.