Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain is a riveting documentary that came at the expense of a wholly unique voice. Early in the film, we hear Bourdain discuss his evolution from dishwasher, to cook, to chef, to author, to travel documentarian. Every job provided a path to the next one, but Bourdain’s life journey was rockier than it seemed. Roadrunner doesn’t provide a conclusive answer as to why Bourdain took his own life. Looking back at archival footage and recordings, though, the signs were there. Much like Robin Williams, Bourdain was such a charismatic figure that many overlooked the sadness underneath.
Williams and Bourdain’s deaths shook the world, sparking conversations about depression, suicide, and mental health. The loss of Williams inspired the tear-jerking documentary, Come Inside My Mind. Roadrunner is another harrowing piece of work. Admittedly, I’ve seen more Robin Williams movies than episodes of Parts Unknown. Watching Roadrunner, though, I wish I had followed Bourdain’s career more closely while he was still alive. At the very least, I’ll finally get around to reading Kitchen Confidential.
Even if food and travel aren’t your areas of interest, Bourdain wrote with such enthusiasm that it was impossible not to eat up every word. Roadrunner reminds us how magnetic Bourdain was on screen, but it also shows us sides of the celebrity chef rarely seen: the recovering addict, the loving father, the shy, surprisingly vulnerable man. We see Bourdain at his most fragile overseas as he’s given a taste of how less fortunate people live. Bourdain is conflicted about using his platform to shine a light on these issues, fearful that it’ll come off as manipulative. In one instance, he gives leftover food to a group of starving people, but there isn’t enough to go around. Moments like this eat away at Bourdain, although it’s hard to say if they fueled his ultimate fate.
Roadrunner is more about how Bourdain lived rather than how he died. When the film does build to his inevitable death, it’s handled in a way that Bourdain himself would likely respect. Of course, tears are shed and his loved ones reflect on the person they lost. At the same time, there’s a fair deal of anger to work through. As is the case with most suicides, the loved ones Bourdain left behind feel abandoned. As much as some want to focus on the good times, others can’t help but be furious at him while also feeling guilty that they didn’t take his cries for help seriously. When all is said and done, however, the film comes from a place of affection and admiration.
Like a roadrunner, life moves by pretty fast. This documentary slows things down, allowing us to absorb Bourdain’s personality, worldview, and inner pain. While a film can only say so much about a person, it’s clear that Bourdain experienced more than most people get to in several lifetimes. He also likely missed a fair deal along the way, cutting his journey short. His death will forever be tied to his legacy, but if Roadrunner demonstrates anything, it’s that Bourdain will be remembered for so much more: his adventurous tastes, his way with words, and his worldly nature.