• “You don’t count months and years. You don’t do time that way…You gotta forget time. You gotta not give a f*ck if you live or die. You gotta get to where nothin’ means nothin’.”

Perhaps James Caan’s (who celebrates his birthday today) most critically acclaimed film, Thief, recounts the story of facing a somewhat ritual attack by a prison gang that singles out ‘young inmates’ for gang raping and despite being outnumbered by a dozen, he still lashes out with all his might and a pipe he has hidden. He landed a few blows, but eventually was beaten to a pulp by the superior numbers…

  • “I spent six months in the hospital ward, but Morphus, he is also f*cked up real good. Cerebral hematoma. He can’t walk straight and they pension him out and dies two years later…Meanwhile, I gotta go back into the mainstream population and I know the minute I hit the yard, I am a dead man. So I hit the yard. So you know what happens? Nothin’. I mean nothin’ happens. Cause I don’t mean nothin’ to myself. I don’t care about me, I don’t care about nothin’, ya’ know. And I know from that day, I survive, because I achieve that mental attitude.”

It’s a perverse portrayal of the power of ‘rock bottom’. Most of ‘rock bottom’ is applied to personal, internal, turnaround and growth. But, as Thief portrays, it can also serve to turnaround one’s external situation. I’ve always adhered to the dictum of never fighting a desperate person with nothing to lose because even if you prevail, the cost will be prohibitively high.

[SPOILER ALERT] In the film, Caan’s character starts to care about things like Tuesday Weld, their child, his mentor and settling down. But these cares leave him vulnerable. A Faustian pact. The final scene involves him destroying everything in his life to save it. His marriage, his two businesses. A gripping embrace of failure throughout.

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