One moment from Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain stood out more than any other. Maybe it stood out for you, too. And it wasn’t a moment I want to remember.
Bourdain is in Hong Kong, speaking to a pair of Iranian refugees at dinner. Tony opens up by asking, “What is your hope?”
The man pauses briefly before saying, “To be honest, I—um—I’m not a big fan of hope.” But before he could finish, Tony interrupts him. Tony and the camera crew wanted to reposition the table to get a better shot.
I saw the moment coming, too. You could see Bourdain’s eyes flick away from the subject of the story. That look that signals you’re not paying attention, and other things are occupying your mind.
We all know this look in today’s world, where no one seems to be in the present moment.
When Bourdain lifted his hand to stop the man, I cringed.
Look, we all know that a lot of these moments are manufactured. It’s impossible to get these things on camera the way that they naturally manifest themselves in real life. You’d be recording every second of every day.
But to see a man who’s gone through shit just to get freedom and peace get interrupted by someone who gets to travel to exotic destinations—including the country this man fled—hurt to watch. It was cringy, it was awkward, but most of all it was disappointing. I can’t imagine how it felt to be the refugee himself.
And I say this as someone who idolized Bourdain.
Admittedly, they included this moment in that episode. But it doesn’t detract from the cringe factor associated with the moment.
None of this is meant to cast Bourdain as a bad guy or a villain. We all have our problems and things we’ve done that we regret.
In my opinion, it’s my fault. I cast my own portrayal of Bourdain onto him, stemming from how I viewed him based on a highly curated travel TV show.
But it’s still one of those moments when you realize that your heroes are human, too. That they have faults. And that even Superman can’t handle a bit of kryptonite.
This moment didn’t take away from the rest of the film, however. I loved the film, and I would encourage even non-fans to watch it.
Roadrunner chronicles from the early beginnings of his career and having absolutely no idea what he was doing, showing how naive he was in the TV industry. He learns, though, and becomes a master of travel and TV, who everyone looked at as the model traveler.
His adventures took us to places far and near and brought each person into our homes to where we could feel them sitting across the table from us—no matter how foreign their culture seemed.
His shows had an ability to pull you into its clutches and hold you there, at mercy to the whims of the show and its guests.
It’s what made it so powerful to me. And why I thought Bourdain was such a positive force. He had a way of breaking down his guests’ walls and the walls that divided us.
And Roadrunner provided a unique perspective into that ability and how—good or bad—it affected him.
Achieving that level of fame will make or break you, and it’s a constant battle if you’re not prepared for it.
A person like Bourdain never seemed like he wanted to be in the limelight. The limelight found him.
And Roadrunner demonstrates that clearly.
It’s sad to see the progression in the film as the dark clouds begin to enter the scene. The sun blocked out with the doubt of his crew as they saw what was beginning.
Then, the rain falling in torrents as he fires a long-time friend and crew member, signaling to the rest of the show crew that the end was in sight. That days were now different, and there would be no going back to the “good ol’ days.”
And then it happened. Bourdain hit a breaking point. And, sadly, that breaking point meant the end of his life.
I started this off by saying the moment that bothered me most was when Bourdain interrupted John, the Iranian refugee in Hong Kong.
However, one of my favorite moments was watching his friends and crew talk about him. He had a massive impact on their lives, the memories, lessons, and gifts he gave them, and, for many, the disappointment he left behind.
It was an insight into the man that we only saw through screens but felt like we knew as a friend.
To hear his friends and family speak about him with raw emotion. The admiration they had for him. How much they cared about him and the jubilant times they had with him.
However, life isn’t a fairy tale, and there is no happy ending.
David Choe has a moment toward the end where he says, “Well, I don’t know where he is right now, but he let me down.”
Sadly, he let millions down. In a way he never had before, he checked out before the story could be concluded properly. So, all we’re left with are questions that Roadrunner can’t answer.
And these questions will never be answered.
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