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In “The Gambler,” What Is the Point of All Jim’s “Genius vs. Mediocre” Talk With His Students?

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The Gambler‘s (2014) cloudy script and character development make Jim’s (Mark Wahlberg) classroom tirades feel like a string of psychological posturing that is difficult to follow, or care about. It’s hard to know whether it’s genius writing or the writer soapboxing through a character. The rapid and contemptuous conversations Jim has with his students cycles around the motto “If you’re not a genius, don’t bother,” which is deemed the primary educational lesson Jim wants his students to take away from his class. We learn that years ago he wrote a novel that was well-received, but wasn’t a financial success - an end result that held no value to him. Since then, he has given up on his dreams and instead taken to being abundantly abhorrent.

Jim believes being mediocre at something that can potentially be done with genius is a waste of time. Either write Shakespeare, or don’t write. “The world needs plenty of electricians and lots of them are happy,” he says. Mediocre people can try forever to become great at something, but true geniuses are born that way. It’s not something that can be learned. He calls out Amy (Brie Larson), an apparent genius in his classroom, and berates her about her home life and upbringing. Her father worked in a factory and her mother was an alcoholic, but according to Jim, she’s a genius. She was made that way not because of academic or financial advantages afforded to her as a youth, but because she “has the magic.” This whole tirade appears to be a way to let Amy know she should pursue her talents, but his cynicism alienates the rest of the class, and much of the audience watching the film.