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Recovery Movie Review: “My Name Is Bill W.”

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August 14, 2013 by Dr. Bob Weathers

I recently had the opportunity to view the movie, “My Name is Bill W.” (available for rent on Netflix). One of my favorite actors, James Woods, played Bill Wilson, the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous. He was joined on-screen by another favorite, James Garner, who played Dr. Bob Smith. Hand-in-hand, these two men laid the early foundations for what has become a worldwide movement in just over 75 years.

Apparently rooted in historical accuracy, Bill Wilson returns from World War I a military hero.  He promptly applies his intelligence to Wall Street, with great financial success. All looks well on track for him, as he weds his sweetheart. But he runs soon enough into increasing difficulty with his drinking — aided and abetted by a huge financial reversal triggered by the collapse of the stock market in 1929.

We witness Bill W.’s descent into a life more and more dominated by alcohol. His career runs off the tracks. His marriage moves inexorably toward the very brink of disaster. He hits bottom.

When all seems lost, Bill W. finds solace and support from another, fellow sufferer: Dr. Bob Smith. Their initial, fortuitous meeting, stretching on for hour after hour, lays the emotional bond and intellectual groundwork for what eventually becomes Alcoholics Anonymous. Joined together, these two, temperamentally quite opposite recovering addicts co-create a path toward healing-in-community.

There are humorous moments along the way, as well as sad. We really get the flavor of Bill’s and Bob’s deep loyalty as they part for the last time, with Bob on his deathbed. And we join Bill in grinning ironically through his completely anonymous reception at an A.A. meeting long after the movement has taken hold and obviously inspired countless other recovering alcoholics toward lives of sobriety.

In Japanese, there is a saying: “The finger pointing toward the moon is not the moon.” So it is with this film. It may not be the best written movie you have ever seen, nor necessarily the best acted. Yet it points toward the very human depths of agonizing addiction, as well as the seemingly miraculous recesses of the human spirit when at its very limits. A movie worth seeing if only to catch a glimpse of history in the making…

 

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