Wes Anderson’s whimsical directorial style marries perfectly with Roald Dahl’s enchanting prose in The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar, a delightful adaptation of Dahl’s 1977 short story and his second Dahl adaptation after 2009’s The Fantastic Mr. Fox. Similar to this year’s Asteroid City, this film employs multiple frame stories to create its narrative, making it a delightful watch that breezes by all-too-quickly at just under an hour.
The film opens with Roald Dahl (Ralph Fiennes) recounting the true tale of Henry Sugar (Benedict Cumberbatch), a wealthy gambler who leads a mundane life until he discovers a unique book in a dull library. This book contains notes from a doctor’s extraordinary encounter with Imdad Khan (Ben Kingsley), who can “see” without using his eyes. Doctor Chatterjee (Dev Patel) and Doctor Marshall (Richard Ayoade) reluctantly assist Imdad, demanding explanations for his request.
As Imdad shares his life journey, from being lost to mastering sight without vision, Henry becomes inspired by the story he’s read to enhance his gambling skills. His dedication leads to years of intense training with the goal of leveraging these extraordinary abilities for his gain. However, when he finally puts his elaborate plan into action, he’s faced with an unforeseen emptiness within his newfound talents.
Amidst growing discontent and uncertainty, Henry has a significant realization that reshapes his outlook on life. He rethinks the purpose of his unique abilities, choosing to employ them for the greater good. His transformation is not without challenges, and he struggles to overcome his greed and selfishness. Ultimately, however, he finds true fulfillment in using his abilities to help others, opening several hospitals and orphanages to make a difference in the world.
The film boasts outstanding performances from its cast, which add depth and authenticity to the story. Benedict Cumberbatch and Ralph Fiennes deliver performances that cement their status as some of the best actors today. Cumberbatch, in particular, shines as the initially questionable Henry Sugar, portraying the role with conviction and complexity, adding depth to a character that might have been one-dimensional. Fiennes, as Roald Dahl, connects the narrative threads and brings authenticity to the film, enhancing the overall cinematic experience.
The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar delves into thought-provoking themes such as self-discovery, spirituality, and the pursuit of genuine fulfillment. As the story unfolds, viewers are encouraged to reflect on their own life’s purpose and the meaning of true wealth. This exploration adds depth to the film, making it more than just a visually captivating experience. In fact, the film can be seen as a parable, a symbolic tale with a moral lesson. Henry Sugar’s transformation from selfish gambler to selfless benefactor serves as a powerful example of the importance of altruism and the impact it can have on one’s life.
With its remarkable performances and universal themes, it’s easy to see why The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar appeals to fans of Anderson and beyond. From anachronistic special effects to the typically sped-up pace of the dialogue, the movie offers a unique and enjoyable viewing experience. For me, its biggest selling point was how undemanding and fun it is. At just 39 minutes long, it’s a bite-sized journey into the unique collaboration between Anderson’s visual artistry and Dahl’s whimsical storytelling. This brief yet charming cinematic experience offers a delightful escape from the mundane, reminding me of the joy in storytelling and the magic that can be found in the ordinary.