“He committed suicide. The f*cking asshole.” A talking head spits out in the opening of “Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain.” “He let me down.” Another friend says, crying towards the film’s end. Like the candid, often perceived to be crass candor of Bourdain himself, Morgan Neville’s ‘Roadrunner’ is not afraid to show public figures speaking their mind. Aiming to explore the high highs and low lows of a life that tragically resulted in a self-prophesized punctuation to his own story, Neville’s latest doc is the portrait of an art-loving addict on a perpetual chase towards personal betterment.
To paraphrase a quote from Bourdain, one has to f*ck up on the road to success, and the chef turned world traveler’s career catalog/trajectory is an illuminating example of this. Once a raging drug user—a habit which jumped from dope to cooking, writing, world travel, and, later, jiujitsu—Bourdain threw himself into the “extremes of emotions and experiences.” Following the success of his bestselling smash “Kitchen Confidential,” he was approached about hosting a travel series. Realizing he had long been doing so inside his head own before he was paid to do so on television—pulling from various artistic influences like an encyclopedic catalog—Bourdain did not see himself as a journalist, advocate, or educator, when he truly was all three, never acknowledging how political he was. The positive, public response to his programs made him and his producers aware of his ability to promote other people.
However, Bourdain soon started to question who was benefitting the most from these television shows. “You only see certain things certain places when the bad things happen,” he notes at one point in the documentary. Initially afraid to look people in the eye, his larger than life persona masked how shy he truly was. However, this cynicism dissipated upon taking a trip to Vietnam, which he notes made him see life “like a big crayon box.” Here, he learned how not to be a boring travel guide, to simply be open to the experiences and share them with others. When he returned however, he felt like Colonel Kurtz.
Following this rise to fame, Bourdain found assimilating back in everyday life extremely difficult. When you travel 250 days a year, how do you ground yourself back down to the day to day demands of normal existence? “I couldn’t really go home for a day and not be Anthony Bourdain,” he notes. ““[He was] always rushing, even if he had nowhere to go” someone else comments, a symptom of his addictive personality. “Some part of me wanted to be a dope fiend.” Bourdain concedes. It becomes clear through interactions between himself and other successful contemporaries, such as David Chang or Eric Ripert, that the fleeting nature of life’s preciousness only grew into more of an obsession as Bourdain continued to travel and age. The chef noting in the opening of the doc he finds it both “therapeutic and enlightening to think about death a few times per day.” At one point, he expresses the pitch black belief that nothing good can possibly be waiting for him in the next life, as his current mortal existence seems too blissfully rewarding to possibly result in anything other than agony once it ends.
“It’s like asking for loneliness,” a friend notes about the path(s) Bourdain chose to pave, tactily morphing from Quiet American to Exuberant TV presence to Hungry Ghost. “I don’t want a party,” Bourdain says, referring to his wishes to not have a public funeral held for him when he passes. Growing used to using language to get out of trouble at an early age, his sole heroes were musicians and writers—“the anti-social made legitimate.” In the end, Bourdain’s vast array of personably incomparable sensory experiences circled back to one isolating idea and “left him wondering whether or not he was loveable.”
This finally came to a crescendo in his relationship with Asia Argento, which evolved into a fixation with both her and the #MeToo movement, resulting in him calling out any and every one he viewed to be complacent in the rise of monsters like Harvey Weinstein—i.e. Quentin Tarantino, who Bourdain spoke out against a few years before the “Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood” press circuit confirmed his true colors. Perhaps even more fascinating, is how his impassioned love for her resulted in him destroying professional relationships he had with his production crew. After hiring Asia to direct a travel show in Hong Kong, bringing in famed DP Christopher Doyle to replace a longtime cinematographer who walked off the set, it became clear that something was amiss with Bourdain—extraneously artful camera set-ups ruining the spontaneity of what made his show special, excising the naturalism himself. Having created self-imposed production problems, both at work and in life, a romantic disappointed in the real world’s ability to love him back seemingly lost his will to keep trying so damned hard to educate everybody else. “The amount he joked about the end of his life…” Argento tragically notes.
“How does a storyteller check out without leaving a note?” a friend of Bourdain reflects. Doubtlessly one of the closest things TV food culture had to a bonafide rock star, Neville’s newest befittingly treats the figure at its center as such, with its ending deliberately dismantling any ideas of creative martyrdom. Beginning with an epic montage set to Television’s “Marquee Moon,” scenes from classic films ranging from “8 ½” to “Rashomon” flashing across the screen. Like the act of cooking, filmmaking was a great love of Bourdain’s, and, like the great chasm between fact and fiction, he frequently acknowledged that “the real world doesn’t work the way the kitchen world does.” After traveling to every corner of the globe, reality met his imagination halfway.
“Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain” opens in select theaters on July 16