Bill W.—or Bill Wilson is credited as the co-founder of A.A., but it seems that he was a one man show. Perhaps that’s the only flaw to this documentary that leaves you wondering, “What about Dr. Bob?” but then again, the film is called “Bill W.”
The film takes you through not just Wilson’s history, but history in general. You get a sense of what the country was like, the war, the Great Depression. It seems everyone was led to drink. Wilson’s first drink was a Bronx cocktail. No detail is left behind.
For a program that is about anonymity, you get a very intimate look through Wilson’s entire life. Old photographs and movies, personal letters and even a visit to his childhood home make you care about this man, whether you used his services or not.
What mattered most in Wilson’s life was the people he helped, and they intermittently give their antidotes about alcoholism with a faint shadow cast over their face.
“I’d be a dead man without him,” one recovering alcoholic said.
For what photographs, letters and film footage couldn’t capture, there were period perfect re-enactments, which may be a bit too History Channel, but nonetheless didn’t take away from the story.
Narrating most of the story is Wilson. himself. A crackly recording of him plays over the film. He’s jovial and can make a joke at his expense. And honest. When he talks about one of the low moments in his life, he says, “I’m wiped out. I’m a real lush. I wasn’t drinking to dream dreams of power. I was drinking to forget.”
The film even shows you the history of alcoholism, how obsessed drinkers where subject to regular psychiatric treatment, sterilization, electro-therapy and even lobotomies. What “cured” Wilson was talking to an old friend who opened his eyes to spirituality. But that doesn’t mean he was forcing that on anyone else. He wanted A.A. to be “without dogma, without theology.”
A.A. began with “a bunch of drunks trying to get sober.” Those drunks helped fund the book that changed it all, “Alcoholics Anonymous.” They took stock in the book before it was even written, that’s how charismatic Bill W. was. It was a pretty good gamble. The book has sold over 30 million copies. When Wilson passed away at the age of 76, he was 40 years sober, a testament to the program. Yet he was still human and not without flaws.
The film is elegant, tasteful and even boasts a score featuring Yo-Yo Ma.
Whether you know the 12 steps or not, this film is not just about recovering alcoholics—after all A.A. has been translated to serve more than just one addiction. But rather this film is just about recovery.
WHEN: Opens Tomorrow, September 14
WHERE: Rave of W. 6595 N. W Street.