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Two Sick Men

Two new movies star deranged men – but can’t explain how they got that way.

Two new movies, “Black Mass” and “Pawn Sacrifice,” detail the successes and downfalls of two sick men, Boston mobster and mass murder Whitey Bulger, and Brooklyn chess champion Bobby Fischer.

The characters are played by two consummate actors – Bulger by Johnny Depp, Fischer by Tobey Maguire. Each portrays the inner craziness of their characters; neither can explain it.

“Pawn” tries harder. It shows little Bobby at a party his communist mom gave while the FBI photographed those attending. Is this where Bobby developed the paranoia that almost deprived him of his world chess championship against Russian Boris Spassky? (Spassky had his own paranoia issue—understandable when you came from the Soviet Union.)

“Pawn” depicts Fischer’s mother as attractive and sexually active—while Fischer was apparently a virgin. Bobby resents his mother’s sexuality in the absence of any knowledge of his father.-Stanton Peele“Pawn” depicts Fischer’s mother as attractive and sexually active—while Fischer was apparently a virgin. Bobby resents his mother’s sexuality in the absence of any knowledge of his father. Throughout the latter part of the film, Fischer searches for his mother and her approval (she absented herself from his life), while relying emotionally on his “normie” sister.

At first, Fischer’s paranoia is built around his feelings that the Russians are conspiring to deprive him of his chance to confront Spassky head on, and then that he is being denied the financial rewards his mass appeal generated when he defeated Spassky, seemingly at will, at the height of the cold war.

At one point, Fischer forfeits a match (giving Spassky a margin by which such matches are typically decided) because his demands aren’t being met.

Fischer’s early resentments had some basis in reality. Only, then, after decapitating (figuratively) Spassky, Fischer’s mental condition prevents him from harvesting the millions of dollars he could have earned as an American hero.

And that is how you can tell he was mentally ill.

…a quick recap of Fischer’s life after his world championship victory shows him being arrested for vagrancy, railing against international communism and Jewery, etc.-Stanton Peele

The Bulger film doesn’t delve into Whitey’s fatherless past, other than to show the cold-blooded murderer’s devotion to his younger brother, Billy, president of the Massachusetts Senate, then of UMASS, and their mother, as well as his son and the boy’s mother.

The film shows Whitey’s impotent rage when his son dies of Reye’s Syndrome. As the boy’s mother said, “All of his power and all of his money couldn’t save his son. He said to me when we left the hospital, ‘I’ll never feel this way again.’”

So is that why Bulger could strangle the stepdaughter of a “co-worker” of his with his bare hands?

I don’t think so.

Meanwhile, among the most intriguing things about Whitey is that his younger brother, William (“Billy”) Bulger was a distinguished student, lawyer, politician, and academic. As a politician, Billy was deeply concerned with child abuse and educational opportunities for poor children—which was also reflected in his university presidency.

Ultimately, Whitey destroyed Billy’s career. When Billy refused to testify about his knowledge of his brother’s whereabouts when Whitey was on the lam for sixteen years, then-Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney insisted that Bulger resign from his university post.

How do two such brothers emanate from the same family? Although this may not be an explanation, their mother was extremely nurturing in their father’s absence.

Here’s a scene that DIDN’T appear in the movie – but that I made up:
Side Note Picture Billy Bulger comes home with his school uniform (he attended Boston College Prep) in tatters.

His mother asks with alarm, “Billy, what happened to you?”

Billy: “Nothing, mom.” (You don’t rat people out in South Boston.)

Whitey, sitting on the sofa reading the newspaper, a cigarette dangling from his lips, looks up, and says nothing.

Next scene: a rough-looking kid is cowering against an alley wall.

“Honest, Jimmy (James Bulger hated being called ‘Whitey’), I didn’t know he was your brother!”

The camera pans away and you hear a dull thud.

Somehow, while totally lacking in his brother’s academic gifts, Whitey became family protector in lieu of his father.

But that doesn’t explain how a man becomes a steely-eyed murderer, willing to kill someone who gets in his way at the drop of a hat, with no remorse. At his trial, Whitey sat impassive as family members of his victims spoke of their lost loved ones. Needless to say, Whitey will never see freedom again.

Somehow, while being willing to do anything for four people he cared for (the mother of his dead son, from whom Bulger was long since separated, said, “Jimmy told me he would show up at any street corner in Southie for me, our son, his mother, and Billy”), the rest of humanity was disposable refuse to James “Whitey” Bulger.

And, really, how can a film explain that? Or Bobby Fischer’s self-destruction?

Although, isn’t it strange, the two men depicted went their whole lives by childhood nicknames (“Jimmy” and Bobby”), never engaged with their fathers, and maintained as their primary emotional connections their mothers and a sibling?

Image Courtesy of Pixabay