A few weeks ago I wrote a review of ‘Last Christmas‘ starring Emilia Clarke. Now I’d like to share some thoughts on ‘Uncut Gems’. What’s going on here? Why the movie reviews suddenly? I’d only written one other, a year or so ago, of the flick ‘Wonder Woman’.
I always make it a point to write essays about subjects that have some connection to my stories. ‘Last Christmas’ was about Second Chances, which is the point of my entire Fantasy series, ‘The Ur Legend’. I gave our daughter, Katie, a Second Chance to live the life that she had been denied.
‘Uncut Gems’ is about addiction. Specifically, gambling addiction. It’s not as pervasive, it seems, nor as widely discussed, as addiction to alcohol or drugs or sex. The character ‘Indian Joe’ in the ‘Ur Legend’ series is addicted to betting on sports, just like Howard Ratner in the movie. Thus the connection of the movie to my series. QED.
But Joe is not Howard. Poor, screwed up, whacked out Howard. Joe after all is a god. Then why does Joe gamble on sports? If he is a special being shouldn’t he be omniscient? Well, cards and other games hold no real interest for him since they deal in very well defined probabilities. Those he can predict. But because ‘free will’ is allowed in the universes he ‘creates’, he is blind to the outcomes of athletic contests.
Another connection is to the character of Jaq’s grandfather, Louie, mentioned only briefly in Sun Valley Moon Mountains. This is where it gets really interesting and why Howard, and Adam Sandler’s brilliant portrayal, grabbed me right by the throat. My paternal granddad Louis was an addict. He was also from Baghdad, which is where the motif of ancient Sumer, in southern Iraq, comes from in the Ur series.
I am all too familiar with the horror of alcoholism, as it has crippled people on both sides of my family. I don’t believe there is an addiction that is as pervasive in its effects, both in society and within each family. But gambling can be as destructive, though without the obvious behavioral expression.
My Grandpa Louie was a very kind and gentle man. He rarely drank and was never abusive. But gambling shredded his success in business. In the 1920’s he was known as the Banana King of Bridgeport Connecticut. He then moved to my hometown Danbury and started a group of small grocery stores that was a forerunner of a modern supermarket chain. But Grandpa played cards. He would go to New York City and play high stakes pinochle. Pinochle? Yup. He would play for 36 hours straight and then come home to Danbury to crash for 24. Meanwhile my Grandmother Katherine was holding down the shop. In the 30’s he would regularly make or lose a grand. Lot of money in those days. Of course he lost more often than he won. Shocker, huh? Finally he got so deep into the mob that he was told to pay up in 30 days or take a swim in the East River with a brand new pair of cement overshoes! No kidding. Gambling can be as destructive to your health as Booze.
So Gramps was forced to sell all but one building, with his store at street level and their apartment on the second story. While he gave up the card games he would still drop by Yonkers Raceway to play the harness ponies on his trips to the Apple.
Dostoevsky wrote a novella, The Gambler, about his own addiction to roulette. The fascinating detail was that it wasn’t the high of winning that grabbed his main character, but the pain of losing. One might call it a form of masochism. Gamblers are like Sisyphus, always rolling the rock to the top of the hill, only to have it slide right back down again. And again, and again…
My paternal grandfather was Sisyphian, as was Howard Ratner. No spoilers but it was obvious that Howard would never take his chips and walk away. Ever.
The film and Sandler’s portrayal are exhausting, at times confusing but always riveting. So if you want to get into a Gambler’s head, and experience vicariously what they experience, check it out.
One last comment about writing a movie review. It’s about as far away, stylistically, from Fantasy as writing gets. But as I’ve noted before, writers should experiment with all forms of literary expression, regardless of where their real talent lies: novel, short story, poetry, whatever. Each genre has something to offer in its instruction. The essay is just another way of making use of and honing skills.