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JAMES BOND

Regardless of who is chosen to take over the role of James Bond now that Daniel Craig has been set out to pasture, one thing will likely never change about the character: He drinks often, and probably a lot. Why else would one of his most iconic phrases be “shaken, not stirred” - in reference to how he prefers his martinis? Drinking booze is one of the things that makes Bond, well…Bond. It’s a big part of his job: Kill all the bad guys, sleep with any woman he wants, drive the hottest cars, defy death, and drink as much alcohol as his cold, dark heart desires.  Even during missions. Especially during missions (see “Dutch courage” below).

Granted, we never see Bond drunk, face down in a gutter, or at a 12-Step meeting. That would be off-brand for MGM, the Studio that produces his films. But that doesn’t mean a guy like Bond doesn’t have a complicated relationship with alcohol. There are millions of so-called “high functioning alcoholics” in the world, and I used to be one of them. The fact that people can seem to function at a high level and drink heavily is one of the most pernicious facts about alcohol. It imperils people over (sometimes long) periods of time. Think of the “boiling frog” analogy.  Or my favorite phrase: "It's amazing, until it's not..."

Does drinking alcohol actually help people function at a high(er) level? Casting Bond aside for the moment, several films included in our Recovery Movie Meet-Ups Workbook have played around with this idea. FLIGHT, starring Denzel Washington, is a wonderful (if troubling) example. In the film, a pilot (Whip Whitaker), encounters serious mechanical failures during a routine flight, and manages to execute a seemingly impossible maneuver where he flips the plane and flies it upside down to maintain control long enough to land in a field.  He’s plastered at the time.

So here’s the obvious question: Did being drunk help Whitaker save countless lives? One of the maddening things about this film is that the director, Robert Zemeckis (BACK TO THE FUTURE, CAST AWAY), didn’t seem to want to spend too much time on that question. The film is more about Whip’s journey of self-realization where he eventually admits the truth about his problem both to himself and the NTSB. Still, the film begs certain questions that are interesting for anyone in recovery to consider (see Page 59 of the Recovery Movie Meetups Workbook). Can alcohol enhance certain abilities?  The answer is yes. Sometimes. Sort of. But it really, really depends.

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A film that examines these “depends” beautifully is 2020’s ANOTHER ROUND, helmed by Danish director Thomas Vinterberg. The film won that year’s Academy Award for Best Foreign Film, and I think it’s an absolute gem of a film. In it, a group of teachers at a sleepy Danish public high school feel like their careers and personal lives could use a little lift. So they dig a “research study” out of the dustbin of bad-ideas-purporting-to-be-scientific which claims that maximum personal happiness and success can only be achieved by maintaining a 0.08% BAC throughout the day.  So, for me, basically most of the 90s.

One of the best scenes of the film is when a teacher - played by Mads Mikkelsen - delights his history students with an ironic but revealing comparison between the drinking habits of two of history’s most notable figures: A psychopathic madman (Adolf Hitler, who didn’t drink alcohol and preferred meth intravenously) and Winston Churchill (a day drinking, “high functioning alcoholic” who helped save the world from the aforementioned meth addict).

Now I won’t ruin any of the many delightful surprises in this excellent film, but suffice to say that the experiment goes off the rails - much like moderate drinking does for (some, but relatively few) people in real life (according to studies at Harvard University, nearly one-third of Americans are “excessive drinkers, and only 10% would qualify as having AUD). The characters in the film enjoy the benefits of being “buzzed” in the short term, but then eventually deal with the consequences of prolonged and ever increasing use and misuse in the long term. 

In case you’re interested, I wrote a review of the film, and I covered it in Chapter 3 of my recent book ADDICTED IN FILM entitled “The Great Danish Alcohol Experiment.”  ANOTHER ROUND (originally titled DRUK, Danish for "binge drinking") is also included on page 75 of the Recovery Movie Meet-Ups Workbook.

But back to Winston Churchill. There is no denying his greatness as a leader and a statesman. I mean, the guy basically helped save the world, and somehow managed to do it while three sheets to the wind.  He was known to start his day with a “few” morning whiskey or brandy and sodas. He claimed it helped him “wake up and get started with his work”, but given the way Churchill drank most evenings prior, “hair of the dog” seems more like it.

While some of the anecdotes and “first hand observations” about Churchill’s massive and continued daily drinking schedule are apocryphal, there is little doubt he knew how to pack it in. After his “few” morning drinks, for lunch he would polish off the equivalent of 5 units worth of wine and/or champagne (he is famously quoted as saying, "Remember, gentlemen, it's not just France we are fighting for, it's Champagne!"). Toss in a few Brandies after lunch as a “digestif” (sure, wherever you say, Winston) and you have an average daily consumption of between 8-14 (maybe even 20?) units a day.  And we’re not even counting the evening hours yet.

One wonders if World War II would have had a different outcome if Churchill hadn’t drunk at all, and been totally sober, clear-minded and “present” throughout his leadership. Is it possible that while drinking he came up with a crazy, out-of-the-box political or military maneuver that helped the Allies win the war, just like Denzel’s crazy last-minute maneuver managed to safely land the plane? This much is known: A huge part of his charm offensive to get President Roosevelt to get America’s financial support for Britain’s defense against Germany (pre-Pearl Harbor, that is) was through copious amounts of boozing. One wonders if alcohol isn’t a key reason why we’re not all speaking German right now.   

FDR

Please gentleman, by all means have another...

Roosevelt & Churchill as Drinkin' Buddies

We could also ask if the very existence of the United States itself may be due to alcohol consumption. General Ulysses S. Grant led the Union armies to eventual victory over the Confederates, thus ending the American Civil War. His fondness for alcohol was well-documented, and he is rumored to have been plastered for the battles of Shiloh and the Vicksburg Campaign. Not that drinking before or during battle (“liquid courage”) was anything new. The Spartans, the Vikings, the French armies under Napoleon, even a majority of Russian ground troops fighting in Ukraine today (ie. cannon fodder) - alcohol seems to blend nicely with violence. Not that that’s anything new either. It’s quite possible that Grant’s drinking could have tipped the results of the Civil War in such a way that half the country might today live in the Confederate States of America. 

 

These revisionist history thought experiments about alcohol’s role in world history are fun, but hopefully just that. The overarching lessons from the films like FLIGHT and ANOTHER ROUND (and of course real life too) are that alcohol consumption may have sometimes miraculous and unpredictable short-term benefits, but are just outliers, black swan events that should not be mistaken as reasons to drink in excess. Churchill’s drinking may (key word “may”) have helped the Allies win the war in the same way that intravenous meth use may have led Hitler to lose it (thank you meth!). But let’s not forget that Churchill’s political career and health pretty much tanked after 1945. And many a war has been lost because of excessive alcohol consumption, too (keep up the great work, Russian ground troops in Ukraine!).

Which leads me back to James Bond, arguably the world’s poster child for the “high functioning alcoholic.” Granted, he probably doesn’t fit the definition of an “alcoholic” (an unhelpful term with limited categorical validity anyway). But alcohol appears to be a major part of his overall “happiness” (is James Bond happy?) and success (he’s still alive, after all). Which is unfortunate, when you think that generations of people like me have been brought up to think that alcohol is a vital, even necessary component of a successful life brimming with adrenaline-fueled excitements and visceral pleasures galore. I mean, what guy wouldn’t want to be like James Bond after all?  

While it is true that movies can sometimes do harm to impressionable viewers by glamorizing the wrong role models, as the readers of my book ADDICTED IN FILM can attest - and as the Recovery Movie Meetups Program argues - the opposite is also true. Films can feature incredible heroes who battle it out with their addictions and come out winners. They're great recovery role models. They can inspire people everywhere to critically self-evaluate, change their drinking or substance use behaviors, and ultimately transform their lives and the lives of those around them in the process.

So would James Bond’s drinking ever get to the point that he’d require an intervention and go to rehab? No, of course not. It would ruin MGM’s biggest brands and be way too serious.

 

That said, Recovery Movie Meetups is producing a film based on that exact premise. It's called SHAKEN NOT STIRRED and will be hitting theaters in late 2026!

The RECOVERY MOVIE MEET-UPs Workbook
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