How Does Jim’s Character in “The Gambler” Serve as a Projection of Male Machismo Fantasies?

Nobody like Jim (Mark Wahlberg) in The Gamber (2014) exists in the real world. A fast-talking, reckless, nihilistic author-professor who comes from a supremely rich family, dresses in slick suits and wears sunglasses indoors, drives a Mercedes and enjoys picking fights with murderous thugs is not realistic. The way he pontificates to his college classes (while inappropriately praising and subsequently dating the smartest and most attractive girl in the room) without the administration caring because he’s too good for academia is not realistic. A supposedly intelligent guy with a life of opportunities squanders them to pick fights and act cool to satisfy his own pretentious beliefs that if you’re not a skyrocketing success, you’re a pointless failure, is not realistic.

The film draws on all the Hollywood tough-guy tropes from the 1970s, the time the original The Gambler (1974) was made, and plops them into a variant story for the modern era. It still reads like a 1970s film, as if Wahlberg and company traveled back in time to film this movie with modern cameras.

Andrew O’Hehir of Salon writes:

“The Gambler is an agreeable if ridiculous slice of old-school Hollywood machismo…there’s no such thing as a Hollywood movie without ideology, and the ideology this one expresses is that of a wistful lost masculinity, of reckless but pampered bad boys, charismatic antiheroes who read books and write the stories of their own destruction… I haven’t seen too many English professors with Jim’s sharp-dressed-man affect (or his high-end BMW), although that might have been vaguely more believable in 1974. Also, I don’t really grasp what area of academic expertise would include teaching a course on Shakespeare and a course that involves Camus – but ditto as to 1974. Given that every aspect of Jim’s persona is projected male fantasy, those are silly objections. He can teach whatever the hell he wants; he’s not a real person. Camus and Hamlet are in there, of course, to underline the idea that Jim has chosen his own road to perdition. He’s a good-looking white guy from a wealthy L.A. family who has had every educational opportunity and every form of privilege, and is expressing his existential freedom by getting repeatedly beaten up by criminals of other races.”