Editor’s note: This story contains spoilers for “Uncut Gems.”
- Ratner shows hallmark signs of the compulsion like engaging in risky behaviour over and over again, and having extremely emotional or impulsive reactions, psychiatrist Dr. Matisyahu Shulman told Insider.
- At the same time, “Uncut Gems” doesn’t offer a complete representation of what it’s like to live with gambling addiction, as the disorder manifests in different ways for different people.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more.
If you endured all two hours and 15 minutes of the stress-inducing thriller that is “Uncut Gems,” it’s likely you realised the film’s protagonist, a Jewish New York City jeweller named Howard Ratner (played by Adam Sandler), is addicted to gambling, an addiction that ultimately leads to his demise.
The film is set in 2012 New York City’s Diamond District, a stretch of jewellery retailers in midtown Manhattan, where Ratner has his own jewellery shop and sells various types of bling to the rich and famous, including NBA star Kevin Garnett.
When Ratner obtains a rock that contains fragments of the rare Ethiopian gem the black opal, he orchestrates various bets in an attempt to be financially set for life and, in the process, wreaks havoc on his own life.
Viewers watch Ratner as he gets locked in his car trunk while naked, partakes in bloody fist fights, and incites screaming matches with anyone who gets in the way of his gambling pursuits. He seems unlikely to ever stop gambling, despite all its negative consequences.
According to Dr. Matisyahu Shulman, a psychiatrist and addiction specialist at Columbia University Medical Centre, “Uncut Gems,” to an extent, accurately portrays gambling addiction because Ratner shows hallmark signs of the compulsion like engaging in risky behaviour over and over again and having extremely emotional or impulsive reactions.
At the same time, “Uncut Gems” doesn’t offer a complete representation of what it’s like to live with gambling addiction, as the disorder manifests in different ways for different people.
Ratner showed classic signs of gambling addiction
Health professionals have considered gambling addiction an actual mental health diagnosis for some time. In 1980, “pathological gambling” was added to the Diagnostic Statistical Manual, and in 2014, an updated edition of the DSM reclassified gambling addiction as a substance abuse disorder in the same category as alcohol and drug abuse disorders, according to the National Centre for Responsible Gaming.
Now, gambling disorder or addiction is characterised by jeopardizing important relationships due to gambling, lying to family members, and returning to gambling even after losing money as a way to “chase” losses and get even. Ratner embodies these habits throughout the film.
For example, the jeweller lends Garnett his precious black opal-filled rock because he sees it as a gambling opportunity, even though viewers see it as outrageously risky.
In the following scenes, viewers watch as Ratner pawns Garnett’s diamond-encrusted championship ring, which he gave Ratner as collateral for the gem stone, and enter a series of other high-stakes bets.
Ratner’s actions are common among gamblers, Shulman said, because they often crave the thrilling rush that comes with gambling away money or goods and not knowing whether they will ever get them back.
“It’s a misnomer that gamblers always think they will win. Some people who are addicted know they may lose, but are willing to spend the money because they enjoy the experience,” Shulman said. “It’s an addiction to the rush of the possibility of winning.”
Shulman also said that most environments that offer gambling opportunities, like casinos or horse-racing tracks, have specifically designed their spaces to promote that thrilling feeling through neon lights, play-by-play announcers, alcohol consumption, and other stimuli.
Ratner is also shown partaking in other risky behaviours, like cheating on his wife with his mistress and employee Julia, getting in fist fights and screaming matches, and putting his family in imminent danger without their knowledge. These habits are also common among gamblers who seek the sensation of a thrill, Shulman said.
Throughout the film, Ratner tells his friends and colleagues about how he is on the brink of justifying his years of gambling because the black opal he procured will get him all the money he needs. His plan fails, but he still manipulates one of his family members into lying so he can have a chance to win his high-stakes bet-in-a-bet.
According to Shulman, it’s often the case that people with gambling addiction will trick themselves and those around them into thinking their next bet will be “the one” as a way to justify asking for more money or help with gambling.
Not all people who are addicted to gambling act like Ratner
Although “Uncut Gems” gets many aspects of gambling addiction right, not all gambling addicts are as eccentric as Ratner. “Others may have timid personalities, but they want to escape their lives and that’s how they do it, through gambling,” Shulman said.
He explained that some gamblers are motivated to do so because of the thrill, like Ratner, but others use gambling as an escape from reality and they disassociate, or zone out from reality or the present moment, when they’re making a bet.
Additionally, not all gambling addicts partake in the high-stakes bets that Ratner was shown doing. For some, gambling addiction may manifest as buying an excessive number of lottery tickets they can’t afford or playing so much online poker that they gamble away all of their savings and free time, according to Shulman.
Still, “Uncut Gems” sheds a light on just how detrimental gambling addiction, an addiction that Shulman said is far less discussed and studied than alcohol or drug addiction, can be to a person and their family.
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