Someone Explain Aaron Sorkin’s Molly’s Game Movie to Me
Aaron Sorkin is either your raison d’etre or he isn’t. It’s an on off switch. Either your Aaron Sorkin switch is all on, or it’s all off. And my Aaron Sorkin switch is jammed inthe on position, so much so that it’s a runaway train and it’s about to jump the proverbial tracks.
With that said, this movie discussion isn’t going to be objective at all. If you were hoping for a sane voice to tell you not to watch Molly’s Game, you will not find that here. Not even a little bit. None even. Zero. But if you want to join me in one big Nerd-gasm effusing about the brilliance that is Molly’s Game? Boy have you come to right place. But hopefully as we are deconstructing and discussing this movie in all its brilliance, we will hopefully answer a ton of questions around what exactly happened over the course of this movie.
This wasn’t the easiest movie to understand… that is for sure. It literally took me two viewings in order to completely wrap my head around it enough to walk through it with you all. And I probably need 3 more to speak as cogently as I’d like to. Regardless, I’m going to give this movie a go, because holy crap people, this movie was amazing!
If you are unfamiliar with Molly’s Game you’ve been living in a cave. And yet, I told a buddy about it this morning and he was like, Molly’s WHAT? Game? Nope. And this guy is connected on
Did I mention that Aaron Sorkin wrote the script and Directed? Oh, and it’s his first go behind the camera? Of COURSE you want to watch this film. Duh. You aren’t a freaking idiot. Wait, are you? Don’t answer that.
The Sorkin Style
Before we dive into Molly’s Game, I want to talk just for a moment about Sorkin and his script writing style. It’s fairly important to understanding how the writer works and how he accomplishes his goals over the course of the movie. I seriously ought to teach a mastersclass on script writing for the Sorkin Style. (That’s a joke. He actually has a Masters class on screenplay writing… see? That’s funny. But we can discuss that another day. It’s a fairly controversial mastersclass and the subject of much criticism.) His style is actually pretty easy to break down. Let me see if I can give it a shot:
Sorkin 101 – Start at the end. Always the end, and the flashback to the beginning. The protagonist is in hot water, usually talking to a cop, lawyer, alien. Something. And we have no idea how they go there. BUT WAIT, now we see this person as a kid, a teen, hacker, what have you. And jump forward to the beginning of the chaos.
The next Sorkin maneuver, is that your protagonist has to be Einstein levels of smart. And everyone else has to be a complete and utter idiot. No, better yet, an ENABLING idiot. Not only is your protagonist one step ahead, they utilize the other characters as stepping stools for showing just how smart they really are. Here, here is a perfect example from the script for this movie:
You’re the woman I’ve always dreamed of and I’ve been dreaming—
Shhhstop it. Listen to me. Doug? I’m the woman all of you have always dreamed of. I’m the antiwife. Instead of making you feel bad about going out every night and gambling, I encourage it. And instead of asking you to cut down on your drinking, I have drinks served to you by models who simultaneously create the impression that you’re the kind of guy who can score a dime piece anytime you want. Do you know who Circe was?
(beat–confused and drunk)
Used to play in Eddie Ting’s game?
Nope, Circe did not play in Eddie’s game. She was the Greek goddess of magic and she gave men feasts with wine and honey and then she turned them into swine.
Well I would never do that to you.
Missed the point by miles but that’s okay. And thanks for the compliment.
See? Not only is our protagonist being just incredibly smart and witty, but she’s also hella-learned and insightful on all things from love and greek mythology to even what an anti-wife even is. Right? But she is being propped up by Downey throughout this entire exchange. By comparing and contrasting Molly with Downey she looks even smarter than normally thought possible because she’s being held up against a drunk dolt.
In your Sorkin ScriptTM your protagonist is a paragon of intelligence. And so sometimes, the easiest way to do that is by counter balancing them against a twit, but other times they look smarter if outwitting a “supposedly” smart individual, here let’s look at an example from Social Network:
INT. SECOND DEPOSITION ROOM – DAY
This was the first time you raised any of those concerns, right?
I’d raised concerns before. DIVYA/TYLER (NOT CAMERON) Bullshit./Not to us.
Gentlemen. (back to MARK) I’m talking about at the meeting in January to which this letter is referring.
Let me re-phrase this. You sent my clients 16 e-mails. In the first 15, you didn’t raise any concerns.
(beat) Is that a question?
In the 16th e-mail you raised concerns about the site’s functionality. Were you leading them on for six weeks?
Why hadn’t you raised any of these concerns before?
It just started raining.
Mr. Zuckerberg, do I have your full attention?
(beat) Do you think I deserve it?
Do you think I deserve your full attention?
I had to swear an oath before we began this deposition and I don’t want to perjure myself so I have a legal obligation to say no.
Okay. “No” you don’t think I deserve your attention.
I think if your clients want to sit on my shoulders and call themselves tall they have a right to give it a try. But there’s no requirement that I enjoy sitting here listening to people lie. You have part of my attention–you have the minimum amount. The rest of my attention is back at the offices of Facebook where my colleagues and I are doing things that no one in this room, including and especially your clients, are intellectually or creatively capable of doing. Did I adequately answer your condescending question?
Come on?! That is brilliant. Zuckerberg here is just completely dismantling this guy and getting away with it. It’s superhuman level of linguistics and pedanticry. (Yea, that’s a word, just don’t look it up.)
Molly’s Game High Level Overview
Here on THiNC. we discussed movies in all their gory details, so it goes without saying that if you want to ruin this gorgeous film for yourself, feel free and continue reading. But, if you can wait a couple hours, go see the film, and then come back? THEN we can all discuss it together – like adults. Cough. HARRY!? Is that you sneaking in here again without watching the film first? Out. Dammit. Out!
Ok, now that Harry is out… Let us away shall we?
Probably the single trickiest thing about this movie is Aaron Sorkin’s patent pending writing method of the walk and talk he made famous in West Wing. The rapid firing dialogue style that is just so thoroughly dense, and so linguistically gifted, so as to make everyone a greek god orator no matter who they are or what schools that had gone to. (It is, even a flaw, (if Sorkin had one) I would suppose to his style.)
The beginning begins at the end, at the raid that finds Molly (Played by Chastain) unawares and completely on an attempted 2 year regenerative streak, having not facilitated a single game in that time. Then flash back to Molly as an attempted Olympian. The relationship between Molly and her father is front and center. Sure, there is skiing… but the only thing that we are meant to see is the Father/Daughter relationship, because in it lies everything. Everything meaningful to our story anyway. So now a drop out Olympian, caused by a twig in the bindings, sends Molly to L.A. for an attempt at warmth and peace. It was a hope that serendipitously (too positive a word choice?) ended up with her running exclusive poker games in Los Angeles filled with actors, businessmen, and the elites of society looking for a good time together. It’s a $10,000 entry fee and it only goes up from there. As the players are introduced to us we learn their ticks, their interests, and their playing styles.
As we flash back and forth we meet Molly’s lawyer to be Charlie Jaffey (played by Idris Elba), and after some level 900 cat and mouse between the two of them, its clear that Jaffey will represent her but only because his young daughter convinced him to. Ahh. A strong father figure mentoring his daughter, reaching a helping hand out to a woman that was damaged by her father? Are we sensing echoes and echoes within the echoes yet? If not, you should not be here. No offense. But you caught that. Mainly because it was pounded into your head for 140 minutes.
Jaffey needs information to help Molly. Jaffey needs bargaining power. Something to convince the State to cut a deal, to give Molly a little slack. But Molly isn’t playing at that particular game. She ducks and weaves every attempt to get at her client list.
Then back to the poker nights and the building of Molly’s empire. At first, in L.A. Molly is growing her player list slowly but surely. All with the hopes of bringing pigeons to Player X (Played by Michael Cera). Wait, is pigeon a thing? Maybe not? Like, do you know it? Maybe not, when I played Volleyball in college we would always keep an eye out for the ‘pigeon’. The pigeon was the player that couldn’t pass. Usually they were the biggest hitters. And teams would protect them, keep them from having to pass, but if we knew who they were, we could target them. They were pigeons. So where were we anyway? Oh yes, Molly was bringing pigeons into the game. Players that were just good for their money. And soon Molly takes over the game, and moves it to more impressive digs. But eventually she pisses off Player X and he takes the game away from her.
And as the historical context progresses, we cut back to Molly and Jaffey as they continue struggling to understand one another. Molly isn’t budging on her desire not to flip on her clients, and Jaffey is convinced of her need to do that very thing. As time goes on, she is implicated in the Russian Mafia and Molly’s troubles multiply.
Flip backwards again, and Molly infiltrates the New York scene and starts her own exclusive game. Word on the street spreads and she is now beginning to let her drug use spiral out of control. Drugs to sleep, drugs to stay awake, drugs for the hell of it. And all the while the stakes at the tables she is running continues to grow all the more.
Which is when the most important thing in the movie happens. During one particularly enormous pot, Molly and her dealer decide on the fly to begin raking from the pot. At first, I was completely lost as to what was happening. There was so much talk about whether she raked the pot, but I didn’t get any of it. Until it actually happened and I got it. Raking the pot was pulling a commission from the money on the table. Now, this is an ignorant question – I assume that that is how Vegas casinos stay afloat, via raking? Right? So it’s probably legal in Nevada, but not in Los Angeles or New York, right?
And when Molly starts to get really big, and begins allowing Russians into her games she gets into big trouble. The mafia offers to protect her from danger. Which, was just a threat wrapped up in a nice pretext. And when Molly declines the help, they send someone to beat the crap out of her and rob her. And that was the motivator to cause Molly to leave the game. She needed to get back in and collect the money owed, but she needed to get out now, she knew that.
Cut back to Jaffey and Molly’s attempts to cut her loose. Molly is the least cooperative client that Jaffey is ever going to encounter because Molly has decided she’s not giving up names, or information on her hard drives. And even worse? Molly has decided she is going to plead guilty. And thankfully, the Judge decides that she doesn’t deserve to get the book thrown at her and has pity on her.
But most importantly, Molly’s dad Larry Bloom (played by Kevin Costner) finally get a chance to talk. And in a 5 minute scene Larry walks Molly through 3 years of counseling. And this scene, this single scene is the pièce de résistance of the whole film. Its when we figure out that the reason that Molly and her dad have had a horrible relationship is because Molly, at a young age, had seen her father and some other woman, and he knew that she had known what was happening.
When I first watched this film, I felt fairly betrayed that Molly plead guilty. Sure, plead guilty. Fine. But don’t make a big deal about it. Don’t spend 250k dollars for nothing. Just plead and move on. But 30% of the movie was all about their court case and opportunities. But Molly was going to plead all along. So why bother?
Ultimately the defense wasn’t about the case at hand at all. eh? THEN WHAT WAS IT? Well, that is easy. It was a proxy war for Molly. It was a war with her father without having a war with her father. It was 3 years of counseling without having the counseling. It was Molly’s realization that she dove head first into this illicit life style because of a massive hole in her chest left from the damage her own father had given her.
The movie was about a gal who was damaged. And in that damage, she went looking for a place that she could control, manhandle, powerful men. Mr. Sorkin even spells that out for us at one point towards the end of the film. So then why did you think it was about poker? BUT THAT’S WHAT IT WAS ABOUT. Ok captain obvious. But it wasn’t – Molly’s Game wasn’t poker. Last I checked, Molly didn’t play poker once. Then what game was Molly’s game? Men of course. Which were just another proxy war for her to have with her own father.
I have proxy wars with my own father all the time. Don’t you? Yes, yes you do. Trust me. After you’ve been to counseling for 3 years straight, like I have, you can tell me that I am wrong. But until that time. Got it?
Some of my Favorite Quotes
Alright, so with the heavy lifting done… let’s have a little fun. Here were a few of my favorite quotes from the movie:
Molly: “I googled ‘what kind of music do poker players listen to’ and then tried to learn how to make a play list out of one song.”
Come on. That is funny! No? Alright, what about this one…
Lawyer: “Don’t break the law when you are breaking the law.”
Molly: “Am I breaking the law?”
Lawyer: “Not really.”
Molly: “We can know for sure, right? Laws are written down, aren’t they?”
Someone please tell me, was this stolen from West Wing at some point. Seems like such a familiar line.
Molly to a new dealer: “Slow it down, the players don’t like fast hands…”
[Dealer slows way way way down]
Molly: “sarcastic dealing, cool”
Alright, with all but 3,000 words under the bridge I’m calling this one done. What did you think the movie was about? Did I miss it?