What’s So Wonderful About Henry Sugar?

by Ian Gualtiere ’27 on November 9, 2023

Arts & Entertainment

The term auteur is commonly used within art critique, literally translating from French to English as author. Though the word can be used universally when regarding artists, writers, or photographers; its treatment is typically directed at filmmakers. Specifically, those filmmakers whose vast control over their films is referred to as ‘personal’, themes that are commonly touched upon, and visual styles that are frequently regarded as an artistic trademark. A relatively modern take in categorizing filmmakers has come about, grouping them based on their quality in common;that they all make their films distinctly their own. When speaking about a style of film that solely belongs to a director, certain examples flash through the mind: the bloodiness and quick wit of Quentin Tarantino seen in Pulp Fiction (1994) and Inglorious Basterds (2008), the seedy crime-ridden cities of Martin Scorsese seen in Taxi Driver (1976) and Goodfellas (1990), or the metaphysical epics of Stanley Kubrick seen in 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) and The Shining (1980). One other filmmaker stands out, more so in visual style than thematic style; Wes Anderson, whose films allow audiences to step into relatively whimsical worlds that are filled with odd color pallets, eccentric written characters, and striking symmetrical visual effects. Films such as The Royal Tenenbaums (2001), Fantastic Mr. Fox (2008), and The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) all differ greatly in characters and theme, yet all are connected thanks to the distinct visual elements in every watch.

In the past two years, Anderson has released two films, 2021’s The French Dispatch, and Asteroid City, released this past June 2023. He’s also released one short film, which was released this past Wednesday exclusively on Netflix, The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar. With a 39-minute runtime, Anderson allows the viewers to enter the world of famous author Roald Dahl’s works yet again, as previously done with Fantastic Mr. Fox, where the characters are quite like the odd characters that Anderson has written over the years. Adapted from the 1977 short story of the same name, it follows the story of the wealthy Henry Sugar, played by Benedict Cumberbatch, as he attempts to advance his cheating at gambling abilities through the help and teachings of a guru who preaches the ability to “see without using the eyes.” With a supporting cast of Ben Kingsley, Ralph Fiennes, Dev Patel, and Richard Ayoade, Anderson puts on a theatrical production through film where not only do the actors perform around a meta set where fictional (or real) stagehands are constantly moving in the background and hilariously applying makeup mid monologue, but also narrate the character’s actions and inner dialogues to the audience.

Without spoiling the delightful short film, the themes can be addressed without revealing the final tie into the idea of what it takes to live a fulfilling life. The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar prompts the assertion that giving back and using the abilities you have gained through experiences to advance the lives of others; a valuable lesson learned by the namesake character himself after a confrontation with a mid-20th century London constable. What distinguishes this short film from other additions into the Wes Anderson film catalog is the ability for the story to stay almost exactly to its source material and finding creative ways to present such a large-sprawling lesson in human morality in such a confined runtime, and confined visual presentation.The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar continues to prove that Wes Anderson is at the height of his creative abilities, regardless of whether the story is adapted from other source material or written by the filmmaker himself. A story that stays true to Roald Dahl’s ability to create such interesting characters, intentional wit, and dry humor—a Dahl staple that can be seen in his other works such as The BFG, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and Matilda. Currently sitting at a critic score of 96 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar fulfills the need to escape a present reality and have a short romp into such a beautiful and meticulous world of two master auteurs: Roald Dahl and Wes Anderson.