When documenting someone’s life, how do you get to the essence of who they are? This is a question that I was heavily pondering while watching Morgan Neville’s latest documentary, Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain. I came into the documentary as a complete fan of Anthony Bourdain’s work. As a chef, I knew nothing about him other than that he was a very knowledgeable cook. As a traveler, though, I knew that he and his team did countless hours of research before going into any given country and what this documentary attempt to illuminate who Bourdain was as a person through the eyes of his friends and closest work colleagues.
Neville is very careful to make sure that the interviewees of the documentary are as comfortable as possible in telling the story of who they knew Bourdain to be, and I think that’s because he precisely knows what he’s going to have to ask later and how that’s going to affect his subjects. From what I can tell based on those interviews, everything that we saw about Bourdain on his television shows was accurate to how he was in real life. One major aspect of the documentary that I loved was that when the show A Cook’s Tour was first created, no one knew what they were doing or what they were trying to get into or produce. Everyone learned as they went.
Watching that unfold on screen was the ultimate treat because they didn’t know how to speak the language. They didn’t do all the research on the culture. They were just trying to be observers of the world. By the time the documentary reaches the parts unknown era of Bourdain’s fame, he can’t go anywhere because he is too well-known, and there is no solitude except when he has the opportunity to live out the joys of fatherhood to his daughter Ariane. Seeing how lonely being known can make someone almost makes me hope that I never achieve that level of fame, specifically because of the crippling loneliness that could eventually come from working so often.
Road Runner functions as a series of life lessons illustrated to the audience by Bourdain in two hours about what it means to appreciate the world around us and, in many ways, be choked by the claustrophobia of being infamous. He could no longer be the normal man he wanted to be, and even when he did have that opportunity, this documentary posits that a specific area of life was never going to be enough for the person who was always traveling. Bourdain said when you’re in solitude, you want to be out of it, and when you’re out of solitude, you want to be nowhere else but in it. For the life that he learned, it was very tough to balance how he felt about both aspects of his life even when given the choice though the literal truth to that hypothesis is anyone’s guess.
The film doesn’t shy away from making sure we all know that Bourdain could be cruel. One of the unfortunate standout moments of the film occurs when Bourdain says that David Chang will never be a good father. Chang admits that Bourdain was projecting, but it still causes him visible anguish and sadness to know that somebody he considered a friend thought that about him. It’s powerful moments like this that remind us that even someone who was as revered as Anthony was, he still could be a major asshole. I love this film is unabashedly afraid to make its central figure unlikable.
The movie’s real message tried to drive home that Bourdain did not know how loved he was. I would argue that he absolutely knew how loved he was. I loved how every argument about Bourdain’s life was presented. he just didn’t know what to do with it or how to respond when it was given to him by anyone else other than his daughter or Asia Argento, his last partner. The documentary and its director makes no attempt to hide that Friends and coworkers feel that Asia Argento is partially to blame for the death of Bourdain. Most of the blame falls in the realm of her potential betrayal to Bourdain by dating someone else. While normally this would not be something that would drive someone over the edge, Bourdain gave up a lot of creative control of his show at the end of his own time to dedicate himself to that relationship, according to the film. That says more about how Bourdain decided to care for people than anything else in the entire documentary.
I loved the way every argument about Bourdain’s life was presented. My only issue is that everything in the film feels just a little bit one-sided. You don’t really hear from family or Ariane or anyone close to the subject. None of us really know what happens after we die. I will be frank and saying that I don’t want to know. Everyone has different kinds of dark days, and for me, Bourdain was that light that showed me journeys begin anywhere, and you must love what you can, and you have to love what you can learn from the idea of an experience before it takes you anywhere. We should all learn to journey open-mindedly as he did. He made more of the community from traveling than most of us can amass in a lifetime. If we all lived with an open-minded ability to learn about others, I think we will all be a little bit more like Anthony Bourdain, ready to see the world with open eyes.