Wes Anderson’s new short film is out for everyone to savor. By savor, we mean being swooned by the visuals, as the director never disappoints in that department. The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar is all about a rich man who is fascinated by a tale he comes across. This Wes Anderson adaptation of Roald Dahl’s short story of the same name is descriptive and fascinating.
As described by Ralph Fiennes as Roald Dahl in this short film, Henry Sugar is not the real name of the man. The short is based on the true story of a man who belonged to a prominent English family. Roald Dahl’s description of Henry Sugar is as follows: a rich man who was not good-looking but remained selfish. He remained unmarried because he did not want to share his fortune with anyone. As for his physical attributes, Henry was a tall figure who paid a lot of attention to his clothes. He drove a Ferrari because he could afford it. He was the kind of man who was not bad but not good as well. Henry Sugar was just another man who showcases signs of narcissism and wants to live the life he always wanted. As per the writer’s account, Henry was a wealthy man who never had to work hard to earn money; he used every dollar for his luxuries.
His life changes for the better when he comes across a blue book in a library that belonged to his friend. Henry is not the type of guy who would ever visit any library, but since his friend William wanted to show him his collection of books, Henry obliged. Of all the books that were stacked up, a small blue book caught Henry’s attention. The book was written by Dr. ZZ Chatterjee about his peculiar patient, Imdad Khan, who worked for a circus as an entertainer. Henry never came across as gullible, but he was fascinated by Imdad’s claim that he could see things without having to use his eyes. As captivated as he is by everything he owns, Henry wonders if he will ever be able to master this skill. For this, he will have to put in a lot of hard work instead of coasting on his inheritance money.
Imdad Khan describes how his years of practice led him to become a man who could enthrall people with this skill, and he always included a doctor in this experiment to make it seem legitimate. Imdad Khan came from a humble background and was enchanted by the unknown powers he came across in the form of magic when he was young. As Imdad Khan grew older, he realized that through sheer hard work and concentration, he was able to acquire the power to read through a book while being blindfolded. This attracted Henry, and he made it a point to master this skill. He believed in following in the footsteps of Imdad Khan, minus the guru the latter had approached. Henry, instead of garnering some knowledge and acknowledgment with this skill, realized he could use it for his benefit.
Henry, being a man of opulence, frequented casinos to gamble because he had the means to do it. He spent three years just looking at a candle and concentrating only on one image to master the art of seeing things without using his eyes. Imdad Khan used this skill for the sake of entertainment; Henry Sugar used it to make more money, which is what any rich man would do. Those three years he could have spent working hard with his father’s company to earn a reputation of his own, but the man chose to spend them looking at the wick of a candle. Once he was able to master reading the deck of cards without having to pick it up, there was nothing that could stop Henry from becoming a rich man. But something changed over the last three years of his life. His experience with a candle and a wick allowed him to contemplate life. He won on the first night at a casino after returning to civilization. His ability to see without having to use his eyes worked and earned him a whopping big amount at the cards table, but the man did not feel happy.
Henry probably realized the skill also made him understand the need to contemplate his moves. The money he earned would have made him happy three years ago, but now it makes him feel nothing. He did not feel any joy or the compulsion to go ahead and gamble more. He did not feel like utilizing the skill he learned that could have made his life more lavish than it already is. But somehow, he stopped after the first time. The only way he could obtain satisfaction was to spend the money in the most unorthodox fashion. He threw the money onto the street from his balcony without worrying about the consequences. The police controlling the riot-like situation after Henry’s stunt let him know that he should spend the money on building hospitals or donate it to some charity.
This statement struck a chord with the man, who came up with a wholesome plan to generate enough income through his skills and donate the money for the betterment of people around him. It did feel like he had something of a savior complex. Henry might have felt guilty for having a lot of money, while many others didn’t. This probably made him finally use his skills for the greater good. Henry was no longer a selfish person, as Roald Dahl described him. He traveled all around the world in disguises to avoid getting recognized for his ability to see things without his eyes and the cons he could pull off. This generated loads of money. He used some underhand channels to make sure the money reached the desired destination, where it could be used for charitable work.
John Winston, the man who took care of all the financial transactions, became an important link to all of the work that Henry wanted to do. Sadly, his skill had a bigger disadvantage; he could see through his body as an X-ray and realize he had a growing heart condition, which would be the reason for his demise. Knowing this, he did not stop doing what he wanted to do since the day he acquired Imdad Khan’s skills.
As expected, Henry passed away peacefully, but not before John Winston assigned Roald Dahl to write about him to restore his legacy as a man who did remarkable charity work. His real name was never disclosed to Roald Dahl by John Winston or any of Henry’s other associates. They wanted to amplify the work instead of using his name. Henry may have instructed John to probably never reveal his real name or who the family belonged to because he never wanted to be known as a part of it. Henry’s arc of going from a selfish man to a selfless philanthropist is reassuring and it reminds us that people change, and for good reasons.