The Real Reason The Anthony Bourdain Documentary Is Called Roadrunner

If you were making the ultimate Anthony Bourdain documentary, what would you call it? Maybe "Heart of Darkness," given how Bourdain was inspired by the Joseph Conrad novel? Too dark, probably. Bourdain documentarian Morgan Neville had called his earlier film about Fred Rogers "Won't You Be My Neighbor?" — but Bourdain wasn't one for lyrical catchphrases. So Neville called his Bourdain movie "Roadrunner," which may not have been the marketing department's first choice. (That said, good luck if you want to Google "Roadrunner" these days to learn about the desert bird or the Looney Tunes character.)

The title does make sense, and the movie explains how. Bourdain, of course, was always on the road. The documentary shows him in airports, train stations, cabs — even a boat in a river in Conrad's Congo. In one scene from "Roadrunner," Bourdain's longtime director Tom Vitale says the trip to the Democratic Republic of the Congo was the most dangerous of all.

Another "Parts Unknown" director, Mo Fallon, explained the strange logic of this unlikely destination. "When you get really deep into travel," Fallon says, "I think there is an itch that you want to scratch that is out on the edge of that envelope, where chaos rules, because it strips away all of the functional artifice of how we go through our life. It leaves you with just the sensory experience." The trip to the Congo, more than anyplace else, proved Bourdain wasn't running toward anything. He was running from something.

Roadrunner documentary reveals Anthony Bourdain was running from pain

To understand what Anthony Bourdain was running from, it helps to have in mind how his close friend Dave Choe defines "artist." The Bourdain doc "Roadrunner" makes it clear that its subject was, above all else, an artist who needed to fill a void inside him. "Some part of me wanted to be a dope fiend," Bourdain says in the movie. (He quit heroin in the 1980s, well before any of the scenes included in the movie, per The New York Times.) "In my mind, it was my first step towards being an artist."

"The best art in the universe is created through intense suffering," Choe tells Bourdain. "So then, do you put yourself in the situation where you're constantly in pain?" Choe is speaking about artists in general, but his words clearly apply to Bourdain. "And the answer to that question is, 'Yes.'"

Choe comes back on screen near the end of "Roadrunner," where the film focuses on Bourdain's suicide. What he says drives home the point of the movie's title. "Tony hasn't been all right for a long time," he says. "The amount that he joked about the end of his life — he's been chasing that s*** forever. ... He's a f***ing runner. He ran for a long time, but you're not going to outsmart pain."

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline​ at​ 1-800-273-TALK (8255)​.