Viewing and Discussion: The Gambler

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  •  February 2, 2018
     7:00 pm CST - 10:00 pm CST

Instructor:  Dan Ross

In the aftermath of the Las Vegas shootings, a critically acclaimed yet under-appreciated film came to mind: The Gambler with James Caan. The more recent remake with Mark Wahlberg doesn’t compare and lost all of what made the original an important and lasting film.

The original story was written by James Toback, a college professor with a gambling addiction.  Toback went on to become a writer, director and producer in Hollywood, making many more films.  Of note, the recent reports of sexual harassment shed new light on the psychological pedagogy of the film we intend to talk about.

Axel Freed is the fictionalized version of his life. Axel begins his story in debt to loan sharks by thousands of dollars. In the film, Axel’s bookie tries to advise him that gambling addicts don’t gamble to win, they gamble to lose. Axel’s debt forces him to reveal his shadow existence to his mother, a physician. She lives a moral life and is appalled by the depth of Axel’s shadowy life. She loans him the thousands of dollars he needs to satisfy his debt. But he goes to Las Vegas and risks it all. Finally, it is not the money that means anything and it is not until his life is put on the line that an important initiatory experience occurs.

As the film unfolds, it becomes clear that Axle is living a dual existence. Being a college professor, teaching young people about the works of Dostoyevsky about living a moral life, is in stark contrast to the addiction that controls him. This duality results in moral dilemmas that result in crises of the conscience for the main character, similar to a Dostoyevsky novel. This is the kind of crisis that is required for authentic change, a change that moves us from a provisional life to an authentic life.

The film was brilliantly directed by Karel Reisz. One image in the film brings to mind the image of a gunman in Las Vegas standing above a multitude raining death on thousands of innocent people.

After viewing the film, there will be a brief presentation to discuss the underlying Jungian concepts about the nature of the unconscious, the archetype of initiation and the complexes that keep one in a provisional existence.

About the Instructor
Dan Ross has worked in the field of Hospice for 30 years. His interest in Analytical Psychology grew from his work with dying patients and in 2008 he completed the Clinical Training Program at the Jung Institute of Chicago. He is currently working on completing the requirements for the Analyst Training Program and serves as a Volunteer Therapist at the Jung Center.


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