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The Gambler

Mark Wahlberg is Jim Bennett, a professor of literature with inherited wealth, good looks, style, and brilliance, but who, for enigmatic reasons, “likes to lose” and seems to be determined to ruin himself. “You are the perfect example of how a person can start off with no problems whatsoever and then go out of their way to make sure that they have all of them,” diagnoses one of his students. Bennett’s poison of choice is gambling and consequent debts to gangsters. The current of self-destruction that runs through The Gambler would make it an unpleasant film to watch if not for its hypnotic quality.

It is difficult not to discern in this movie a metaphor for European civilization’s self-immolation and its potential for resurrection. Indebted to Jewish, Asian, and black gangsters to the tune of something like $500,000, his survival, thanks to his own reckless regimen of self-loathing, depends upon an urgently needed combination of fortune and will power. Will Bennett ever catch a winning hand – and, if so, will he be satisfied with it? Finding out is an idiosyncratically entertaining and anxiety-ridden experience, though the “fuck”-saturated dialogue, one should mention, will not appeal to every viewer’s taste.

[WARNING: SPOILERS]

4 out of 5 stars. Ideological Content Analysis indicates that The Gambler is:

7. Immigration-ambivalent. “Do you have a problem – wah, wah, wah – like some little fuckin’ girl – wah, wah, wah – or some Somali who can’t process that there’s no food where they live?” This ambiguous statement might suggest either that Somalis are stupid – and therefore undesirable as immigrants – or that they are validated in seeking better lives for themselves in the West.

6. Class-conscious. “Poor people stay poor people,” alleges one of the songs on the soundtrack.

5. Sexist! “Please, tell me you hit your wife harder than that, you fuckin’ pussy.”

4. Reactionary, dispelling egalitarian myths about the power of education. “If you’re not a genius, don’t bother.” Bennett suggests that his bored students are angry over “unequal distribution of talent” and tells them, “If you don’t have the magic, no amount of wishing will change that.” He goes on: “When you leave here today, call your parents and tell them you apologize for wasting their time and more importantly wasting their money, sitting in this classroom learning absolutely nothing.” Genetics is described as “a cruel motherfuckin’ mistress.”

3. Racist! “You know, they expect me to pass you regardless,” Bennett confides to a star basketball player (Anthony Kelley) taking one of his classes. “They want me to give you a passing grade so you can keep going out there and bouncing that basketball around.” Frank, John Goodman’s Jewish gangster character, uses the derogatory term “schwarze” to refer to blacks.

2. Anti-American. “The United States of America is based on ‘Fuck you!’” This position of power, however, has been “lost forever”, and King George III, in retrospect, “looks like a fuckin’ birthday present.” Bennett says of his condition, “If I get to nothing, then I can start over.” He demands an extreme – victory or death – just as western man, presented with no healthy outlets for his manly and his honorable impulses, will fall into dissolution and lose his will to live.

1. Anti-Semitic! Bennett emancipates himself from his cycle of self-destruction by freeing himself from the grip of the Jew Frank, a disgusting blob with an amateur interest in psychoanalysis, whose clout derives from debt, and who threatens the protagonist as follows: “You will get me not just what you owe me from your family. You will get me their accounts so I can have them vacuumed from Russia. You jump off a bridge, you can do it knowing I will kill your entire bloodline.” He expects Bennett to repeat the words “I am not a man” – to verbally castrate himself, in effect – as a condition for one of his loans. For the curious, The Gambler was written by William Monahan, who also penned the screenplay for the great populist Mel Gibson thriller Edge of Darkness (2010).

Rainer Chlodwig von Kook 

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