Monday, October 24, 2016
Grade A paper Owning Mahowney
Dan Mahowny, recently promoted to assistant bank manager, is initially depicted as an unassuming stable man. To celebrate, his girlfriend suggests dinner out but this staid character responds that he does not want to get all “crazy” and spend more than $30. The ribbing from his coworkers about his modest suit is taken lightly, so at this point we believe Mahowny to be a frugal man. Rather quickly, scenes unfold to show us that he may be thrifty in some ways but not when it comes to his gambling hobby. Mahowny is approached at his office by loan sharks looking to collect the $10,300 that he owes. Troubled by his visitors threat of shutting him down due to his debt, he lies to his administrative assistant as to the unsavory looking visitors’ identity (some bozos looking for a loan) and sits down to write out a false application for a new loan. From his hesitancy it appears this is the first time he has committed the fraudulent act. This points to one of the required four or more symptoms listed by the DSM-5 to diagnose a gambling disorder, that of lying “to conceal extent of involvement”. This lying will become a common theme aimed at everyone from girlfriend to employees to personal friends and ultimately even to police. A second criterion, “relying on others to provide money to relieve desperate financial situations caused by gambling” follows quickly as Mahowny increases the loan by $15,000 cash when his loan shark expresses that he doesn’t want to do business with him anymore. The shark says it so sadly with a sigh; he knows Mahowny doesn’t have the money himself and may be forced to compromise morals to continue gambling. Sweating and clearly stressed, Mahowny arrives in Atlantic City to hit the craps table. He calls Belinda, the girlfriend he was supposed to move into his home that weekend, and lies when he tells her he has to work. Mahowny has now jeopardized both his job and a significant relationship to satisfy his need to gamble. This fulfills another of the DSM’s criteria related to gambling disorder. In the casino we see that this man takes his gambling very seriously. Mahowny does not look around, instead keeping a laser-like focus on the proceedings set out before him. He does not drink and does not appear to be having fun. Yet something drives him to barrel ahead even as he loses nearly all of the $15,000, returning home with only $500. When his girlfriend asks “did you win?” he evasively responds “I came home with $500.” The question asked, along with his girlfriend’s easy going acceptance of his absence, indicates that Belinda is already onto Mahowny’s condition and may even be acting as an enabler. Next we see Mahowny at work picking up a cash loan for his client. The client has requested $200,000 yet Mahowny increases the amount to $300,000. This extra $100,000 headed for the tables gives us a fourth criterion from DSM’s list and four is the magic number. Mahowny “needs to gamble with increasing amounts of money to achieve desired excitement”. We now know that he can legitimately be diagnosed as having a gambling disorder. The phrase “achieve desired excitement” seems somewhat obscure when applied to Mahoney as his demeanor is extremely low-key nearly always. His voice is hushed and steady, and he walks with a steady gait generally keeping to himself. His calm provides proof for us that his gambling behavior is not due to a manic episode which would disqualify the DSM diagnosis. Almost serendipitously, his friend suggests that they visit Atlantic City. This provides Mahowny the opportunity to fulfill another criterion which states the gambler “after losing will return another day to get even”. Chasing his losses is a bit sweeter this time. Upon his arrival with the stolen $100,000 the casino manager upgrades his room to a lavish suite and provides him with personal service. What the manager understands well is that addicted gamblers will gamble to the bitter end if you can get them to stay. Mahowny tries to cover himself somewhat by handing off $40,000 of the money to his friend with instructions not to give it to him later no matter what happens. It isn’t long before he comes for the last of his money, calling his friend a “curse” and yelling at him to just give him the money and stay away from him. This is a good representation of the DSM symptom of becoming “restless or irritable when attempting to cut down or stop”. Mahoney loses all at the table and it is time for him to leave the casino. Despite attempting somewhat to make amends with his friend who has been hanging out up in the suite the whole time, it is clear Mahoney is rather alone in his illness. Back at work, things are escalating and Mahowny is preoccupied with thinking of new ways to get money with which to gamble, another symptom noted in the DSM. He is shown buying and selling other people’s bonds and convincing his boss to provide an unauthorized increase on his biggest client’s account. Although his assistant seems a little suspicious about a “phantom” customer of his, for the most part no one at work suspects any wrong doing on his part. He is working them well with plausible explanations to get around the bank’s safeguards and this highlights just how secretive his inner life has become. As Mahowny’s embezzlement rises, so does the risk in other parts of his life. People are watching him. The police now have his name through information acquired when wiretapping Mahowny’s bookie. Atlantic City monitors his activity in the casino when he brings his girlfriend to Vegas. At some point he is up one million dollars and the east coast casino wants him to bring his winnings back into their venue. He leaves Belinda to fend for herself on what she believed would be a romantic weekend possibly culminating in marriage. Upon his return home, Belinda confronts him about his gambling which he tries to brush off as a financial problem. Still the enabler and clueless about the extent of his problem, she offers him the few thousand dollars that she has put away. The movie seems to speed up as Mahowny tap dances his way around his problems. The bank is undergoing an audit and the phantom account has been caught as having no verification for the loan. When told the audit will not pass, Mahowny calmly replies that the loan was paid off just that day and the auditors accept his word. His deception must now be weighing heavily upon him yet instead of pulling back, Mahoney heads off to the airport with abundant cash. “Gambling when feeling distressed” is another DSM symptom indicating a gambling disorder. At the airport, cash is flashed and this raises the suspicion of security employees. He makes it out the door where a private driver talks him into forgoing the wait for a cab and taking his service instead. A stop in a seedy area of town scares him into thinking he will be robbed and he steals the car to speed away. Mahowny heads straight to the casino where, instead of relating his fear to his gambling addiction, he simply decides he will not carry cash anymore. Being a good customer of the Atlantic City casino, the establishment works out a way for him to wire his money directly to them. Upon arrival he can collect chips and head straight for the tables. They even work out a way for him to do the same when traveling to Vegas. These elaborate measures that Mahowny must now go through in order to continue to gamble seem outrageous. It seems he will go to any lengths to feel the high he receives when placing bets. Even as danger seems to be getting ever closer to Mahowny, events at the bank enable him to tap into a no limit open line of credit belonging to his client. The police are now actively following him as they believe the amount of money changing hands at the airport must be a sign of drug ring activity. In a somewhat humorous moment, we see Mahowny argue the cost of a $5 duffle bag that he needs to purchase in order to carry his money. Even as he is acquiring and losing outrageous sums of money, he still has occasions that bring out his frugal nature. Although this seems not to make sense, it actually points out that money put up for gambling is somehow not the same to him as money earned and spent in day to day life. As he continues the rise to betting $70,000 poker hands in Atlantic City, he is able at one point to “bust” the table thus taking all the winnings. The personal assistant assigned to him by the casino tries to talk him into walking away with his winnings. There is an interesting moment as Mahowny is sitting at the table with nine million dollars in winnings piled in front of him. He looks up and in a moment of depersonalization he sees himself standing across the table looking back at him. Mahowny is no longer himself it seems and he has completely become his disorder. Even now, he cannot move into the light; this amount of money could pay all his debt back, likely with plenty left over. Unfortunately, the descent into self destruction is somehow internally rewarding, and in true addictive behavior he simply cannot stop. As the crowd watches practically in horror, he loses every cent. The movie continues with Mahowny literally losing everything: his money, his girlfriend, even his car breaks down. And, in that moment, he is surrounded by police and arrested for fraud and theft. Even now, charged with stealing 10.2 million dollars, Mahowny denies he has a gambling disorder, instead defining the situation as a financial problem. The movie ends with Mahowny seeming to realize that he has hurt others such as the 13 coworkers fired at the bank for their unintentional involvement in the crime. The story is then tied up neatly with a scrolling paragraph telling the viewer that Mahowny spent 6 years in jail, married his girlfriend, and has had wages garnered ever since. Whether or not this film does an excellent job in the portrayal of the true events that took place for the person this movie was based upon can only be assessed by that man himself. An online search reveals no information that would suggest any criticism of the accuracy of the screenplay. The movie did offer an excellent portrayal of an individual suffering from gambling disorder and is a true textbook example according to DSM-5’s criteria. It was easy to see all but one of the symptoms listed, that which reads the afflicted person “has made repeated unsuccessful efforts to control, cut down or stop”. The actor, Philip Seymour Hoffman, did an outstanding job representing the descent into addiction’s self-destruction much like the characters in the film Days of Wine and Roses depicted addiction to alcohol. A welcomed difference in this film is that it lacked the Hollywood glamour of Days of Wine and Roses which only made Hoffman’s character seem even more authentic. If forced to come up with at least one area the movie perhaps did not do well, this reviewer would only be able to point to the neat wrap-up at the close. Although Mahowny did pay a harsh price for his addiction through incarceration, the movie did not in any way allude to the difficulty one goes through trying to quit their addiction or address the fact that it is a chronic disorder. The ending statement that Mahowny never placed a bet again might make some viewers believe it was sudden and easy for him to quit the habit. This possible misrepresentation does not give nod to the great difficulty usually encountered when an individual attempts to override their brain’s pleasure center and quit their addiction. However, this movie was subtle in many ways and perhaps even this point was made when, in therapy, Mahowny is asked what level of thrill he received from gambling on a scale of 1 to 100. His response? “100” The biggest thrill ever received outside of gambling? “20” All in all, the movie Owning Mahoney accurately and more than adequately provides proof that its main character suffers from a gambling disorder as defined by DSM-5.