No one will ever convince me that the 2014 remake of The Gambler Directed by Rupert Wyatt and starring Mark Wahlberg isn’t the greatest movie ever made.
First, a quick recap of what I’ve covered so far:
This link in the chain is about Jim Bennett’s sense of ownership as a redeeming trait in his troubled character.
Everybody’s (always) been there
So, something that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately is just the idea that life is intrinsically very hard, and that we aren’t braced enough for that as we’re growing up.
To bitch about participation trophies here would be to miss the point as much as those old after-school specials do when they explore a perverse world where all differences between people are both completely superficial and fully resolvable within a comfortable 60 minute viewing window.
What I really mean to get at is that there’s an inescapable struggle in life that cannot be softened. Part of accomplishment is loss; part of health is illness; part of life itself is death. We read Dr. Seuss and muse on the places our children will go but try our best not to think of all the hardships in those journeys and what will meet them. We cannot, in fact, let ourselves get overly preoccupied with those hardships, because otherwise we would never do anything to begin with, and neither would our progeny.
No human has ever had any choice but to take chances—some big, some small—and try to figure things out one step at time, each time the results come back to us. Life’s a gamble.
But still, we have a strong tendency to commit this unkindness against ourselves that express through the concept of “regret”. We’ll do something, live through a bad outcome from it, learn from that experience, and wish that we could have known all along without the lesson. We say that we “regret” having done what we did that made up part of who we are today, as though our lived experiences are separable from who we are.
“Regret” sucks, but the worst part about it is that as unkind as we our to ourselves, we tend to me much more cruel to others. It can be hard to not feel frustrated when people do not already know without ever learning.
The character of Jim Bennett is like a lightning rod for this emotion, and I suspect it’s because he can remind us of some of the worst parts of ourselves.
I suspect, though, that realizing the strengths that are present in Jim can similarly help us find some of the better parts of ourselves.
No, I needed it…
A turning point for Jim’s character comes when he realizes Amy Phillips (his love interest, played by Brie Larson) is being endangered by her association with him.
He immediately moves to distance himself from her before fully (and finally) launching into a plan to try to actually resolve his various mob-backed debts, something he was very notably unconcerned with before.
He is already on the hook for getting Lamar Allen to throw an upcoming game—that much was directly ordered by Neville Baraka—but Jim’s approach shows immense consideration for Lamar as a person and deference to the basketball player’s right to make his own decisions in life.
What happened to your face, man?
A little while ago you came to me for advice about turning pro. I know it’s about your knee, I know you have a feeling you have to put money in the bank, so…
I was wondering if you’d like to make a hundred fifty grand in two hours.
Depends on what you have in mind.
Throwing a game. Can’t win tomorrow by more than seven points.
That’s not throwing a game, that’s winning by less than eight. Who wants me to do it?
Points at battered face
What they got on you?
Man they fucked you up.
And they ain’t need to fuck you up.
No, I needed it. And they’ll fuck you up if you need it too, you gotta deliver.
I’m asking ‘cause I know you need it, it’s up to you, it’s your call.
If I do this will I get you out of trouble?
Key points that I think should be considered here:
First, Jim goes out on a limb to cut Lamar in on the money to be made. Note that Jim doesn’t have Baraka’s backing on this—he’ll have to arrange his own bet on the game to fund it, all while hiding the entire exchange from Baraka—but he wants to do the right thing for the kid.
Second, while Jim does acknowledge to Lamar that Baraka’s gang might try to come after him, he doesn’t stress any personal risk to Lamar as a motivating factor. Realistically it seems unlikely that Lamar would be killed (or even seriously injured) without any direct interaction with Baraka or one of his people, but Jim is sure to be fully transparent about everything in play.
Third, Jim does everything he can to make himself a non-concern for Lamar. There is no attempt at emotional manipulation as Jim hides the risk to Amy, and he even tells Lamar that this definitively won’t be enough to get him out of trouble.
Lamar is a key part in Jim’s plan here, but Jim is taking immense ownership over the risks he’s taking and refuses to put undue pressure on Lamar.
Paraphrasing a later scene, a man who takes ownership of his decisions and risks might even be more rare than a man who delivers.
Everything will start to be ok
I can understand why a lot of people would find Jim to be morally contemptible, but if you look back from the end of the movie I’m not sure that really holds up.
His absolution is to “get back to 0”, having gotten out of debt and broken his ties to various organized crime syndicates, but not actually ending up with any money either. He declines Frank’s invitation to take the “cream on top”—he won’t even accept a ride home.
And he achieves this “feat” through immense personal risk and having spent the length of the film getting the absolute piss beaten out of him more and more. He even gives away his Omega watch because (apparently) fuck it—or so Frank would say.
So he’s spent all this time torturing himself by proxy, suffering viscerally for his various mistakes, but gets back to 0 and is strong enough to walk away, having learned from his mistakes and having found something (and someone) he wants to protect.
Can you ask much more of someone than that? Should you?
Maybe more importantly:
Can you ask much more of yourself than that? Should you?