Two recovering alcoholics establish Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). Based on a true story. [ My Name is Bill W. credits: Dir: Daniel Petrie/ James Woods, Jobeth Williams, James Garner/ 100 min/ Drama, Biography/ Voluntarism]
This telling of the founding of AA is a case study in voluntary solutions to social problems.
The story begins in the late 1920s, when Wall Street stockbroker Bill Wilson (a.k.a. Bill W.) was gradually losing his life to alcoholism. In these early scenes we see how he tried to quit and failed; how drinking resulted in the loss of his job, his health, and almost his marriage; and how he finally hit bottom, penniless and institutionalized. It was while institutionalized that he suddenly came to an inner resolution: he had to find a way to beat the bottle, not only for himself but also for others suffering likewise.
So, after he was released, he sought out another alcoholic to talk to, somehow knowing instinctively that it would help him to regain his self-control. He was referred to an alcoholic doctor, a man like himself who had once been an accomplished person is his field but whose life had been destroyed by his addiction. The two soon realized that just by openly discussing their addictions they were able to reinforce their respective resolutions to quit. Eventually, they developed these frank, nonjudgmental talks into a group therapy treatment. After their book, Alcoholics Anonymous, was published, the treatment quickly took off and ultimately attracted millions by virtue of its effectiveness.
That’s how it all started. As told here, there are today more than a hundred thousand AA groups in one hundred and fifteen countries. Compare this wonderful story of successful voluntarism with government-imposed Prohibition, which was not only entirely ineffective but also cost a fortune, engendered a wave of crime and corruption so unique that it’s still talked about today, and stimulated an unprecedented expansion of police power.
This story of AA makes for an upbeat, satisfying watch. The alcoholic’s spiral downward is thoroughly illustrated, and the resolution is uplifting. My Name is Bill W. could have included more of the specifics of the building of AA, but otherwise the film does justice to the subject at hand. This touching story serves as a great example of how ordinary people can and do solve social problems in a voluntary society.
“My Name Is Bill W. is one of those TV movies which in fairness has better production values than most. It really benefits from the high calibre cast who don’t just act but get into their characters and in doing so bring the story and dialogue to life.”
–The Movie Scene