The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar

For his second cinematic magic trick of 2023 (the first was the exquisite “Asteroid City”), director Wes Anderson creates a shaggy dog fable without a hair out of place. Anderson’s first attempt at stop-motion animation was inspired by Roald Dahl’s The Fantastic Mr. Fox. Fox had elements of a children’s book, but Anderson acknowledged its more mature tensions and the undercurrent of subtle sinisterness beneath its already stinging ironies.

This is Anderson’s first Netflix picture, and it’s the first one that he said was created in opposition to something. Dahl’s estate reportedly struck a lucrative contract with the streamer around the time Anderson had hoped to make the film, during which time.

The streamer has received a roughly 40-minute precision-tooled narrative from Anderson, much of which is presented in the boxy Academy ratio, albeit at some key moments, the frame itself shifts to the larger frame.

The actors, who are all well-known and dependable, are live-action rather than animated. Ralph Fiennes portrays a fictionalized version of Dahl; the film begins in Anderson’s replica of the author’s actual “writing hut,” where Fiennes begins narrating what he claims to be a factual story after mumbling a list of requirements.

Dahl’s genuine story, in which the action takes place across several continents, might theoretically be turned into a highly costly multi-location film. Anderson keeps the action to a handful of meticulously constructed sets, which, in this iteration, reminded me of the amazing Czech director Karel Zeman’s films, which had live-action actors in front of animated backgrounds. As narrators and characters, all of the actors make eye contact with the viewer. They also communicate quickly and covertly, yet with quite a deal of subtle artistry.

The short story itself is whimsical but scarcely intended at children (though it’s not deliberately child-unfriendly, either). Anderson has simplified it, but the words are almost entirely Dahl’s own.

In describing the obscenely wealthy title character, Dahl writes, “Men like Henry Sugar are to be seen drifting like seaweed all over the planet. They are particularly common in London, New York, Paris, Nassau, Montego Bay, Cannes, and San Tropez. They are not exceptionally bad men, but they also are not particularly good. They are only decorative and of no particular significance.

Henry (Benedict Cumberbatch, flawless as always), who is bored, goes to the extreme of stealing a book off of a wealthy friend’s library shelf, which sets off the story, which is a meta-narrative (unless, of course, you choose to believe Dahl’s assertion that it is factual). Of course, that is the slimmest volume he sees.

It ends up being a sort of dissertation on a man who has superhuman vision. Dev Patel and Richard Ayoade, who both work in the medical field, vouch for the guy in question and are portrayed by Ben Kingsley.Henry’s attention is drawn to the man’s propensity for seeing through flipped-over playing cards. Henry gambles occasionally, but not very well. Henry uses a study technique developed by a grumpy yogi to teach himself how to see without eyes, missing out on society for several years in the process.

Cinephiles are aware that the power that allows you to cheat at cards was depicted in Roger Corman’s 1963 film “X: The Man with X-Ray Eyes.” The power in that movie is chemically induced and is only enjoyable for a short period of time. Eventually, Ray Milland’s character sees too much, which becomes tiresome as you approach the edge of the galaxy. When you give it some thought, “Oppenheimer” also addresses this issue.

If you are unfamiliar with Dahl’s narrative, the outcome of Henry’s accomplishment is far different and kinder than you may anticipate.

Seeing a parable about spiritual development in Anderson’s jewel-box manner is both disarming and gorgeous. His delivery in this instance is gorgeously centered rather than deliberately quirky. The form in “Henry Sugar” subtly highlights the substance in a wonderful way.

The 2023 Venice Film Festival is where this critique was submitted. On September 20, “The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar” will be shown in theaters, and on September 27, it will be available on Netflix.

Leave a Comment