Jeff Bridges gives a great portrayal, not just of a failing country music artist, but of an alcoholic.
Alcohol chiefly blocks emotional intelligence, not intellectual intelligence. The alcoholic over time doesn’t know what makes him sad, what makes him happy, what makes him anxious. We have these emotions for a reason, they teach us what matters to us, what frightens us, what brings satisfaction. The neurologist, Antonio Damasio, in his book Descartes’ Error, descirbes how loss of emotional processing leads to profound dysfunction. The alcoholic, without reliable emotional processing, becomes a baffling mixture of preserved intellectual intelligence but increasing emotional stupidity. This is Bad Blake, a man of talent and creativity who abandons a son and a wife, can’t write music anymore, and doesn’t know why.
We can explain alcoholism as a charming by-product of creative genius. We think of it as enhancing creative powers. We can be fooled into seeing it as a movingly tragic antidote for gifted peoples’ special pain. This movie, though, gives us none of that. Bad Blake was bad because he was a alcoholic, and he became sensible, and talented, when he stopped drinking. His new woman interest didn’t waver when she saw it clearly. Somehow, she had learned, perhaps the hard way, and she wasn’t going to risk the welfare of her son.
In American Prometheus, The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer, by Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin, we find the clearly portrayed – but little acknowledged – martini alcoholism of J. Robert Oppenheimer, the creator of the atom bomb. We see that his wife was an alcoholic also, her’s more severe, he an enabler. Oppenheimer became a frustrating, puzzling mix of mental genius and emotional failure. The man who built the atom bomb eventually lost his security clearance, and his family. His son went off to live in seclusion in the mountains of New Mexico, working as contractor and carpenter, twice married and divorced.
When his daughter Toni was born, her mother suffered postpartum depression, and was drinking, “a lot”, so she left Toni with a nanny friend, and went away for a number of months. Robert Oppenheimer would periodically visit the child.
“It was all very strange. He would come and sit and chat with me, but he wouldn’t ask to see the baby. She might as well have been God knows where, but he never asked to see her.”
“Would you like to adopt her?”
No, she reassured him . . . over time he would become “attached” to the baby.
“No, I’m not an attached kind of person”.
After failed marriages, no children, and recurrent unhappiness, Toni hanged herself in the family beach house of Hawksnest Bay, in the Virgin Islands, overlooking where her father’s ashes and urn are submerged.