Bill W.


Bill W.
Directed by Kevin Hanlon and Dan Carracino
Opens May 18, Quad Cinema

The idea that addiction (drugs, alcoholism) is a disease is still scoffed at in some quarters, but what traction the once-radical notion has is largely due to the work of William G. Wilson (a/k/a Bill W.), co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous and the driving force behind the organization. Since its publication in 1939, the book Alcoholics Anonymous has sold more than 30 million copies and has been translated into more than 40 languages, with its 12-step principles now used as the model for more than 60 different recovery programs. The documentary Bill W., co-directed by Kevin Hanlon and Dan Carracino, is a loving, exhaustive, warts-and-all look at the man who spent years battling his own alcoholism before a spiritual experience in the hospital set him on the course to help others. Employing dramatic re-enactments with narration supplied by audio interviews of the real-life Bill, and supplementing that with lots of old newsreels of Bill and his wife, Lois, as well as interviews with historians and assorted members of AA (some of whom have been sober for more than 50 years), the film is a bit disjointed. Its elements never quite gel. They do, however, serve up an engrossing portrait of a remarkable man who remained humble even as he became something of a revolutionary.

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steve k.
steve k.

I think this is more of an event than a "movie". (The same is probably true of the Bob Marley documentary.) In such cases, standard film criticism just doesn't apply. And neither does the kind of bemused view of this man's work as a kind of interesting chapter in the evolution of addiction treatment. We'd be closer to the mark if the final sentence had read "a remarkable man who remained humble even as he became something of a revolutionary AND SAVED MILLIONS OF LIVES"

Danny Schwarzhoff
Danny Schwarzhoff

There is a sense of revisionism here. Can’t say I blame Mr. Hardy, as the common misconception is as ubiquitous as iPhones. Bill Wilson, in an interview conducted years after the publication of "Alcoholics Anonymous" was asked if he believed in the 'disease concept' of alcoholism.

He stated that he did not – and neither did the co-authors/co-founders and I don’t either.

It is fair to note that the co-founders of AA never once refer to alcoholism as a disease in the Big Book, “Alcoholics Anonymous” – even though they certainly had the opportunity to do so. This is a glaring omission and likely intentional. The word “disease” is avoided like the plague in the AA book.

The disease concept/model comes from the medical industry as it hones in on the recovery business. They are after all in “the disease business” and if alcoholism can be classified as a disease – they’re good as gold! AND they’re successfully doing it too – taking back the business they abandoned years ago because they had no success and couldn’t make money at it – (Alcoholics don’t really pay their bills very often — now do they?)

Now, today – fueled by the health insurance industry, who pays the doctors and rehabs even as the “treatment” inevitably fails.

What a deal! The rich get richer and real alcoholics suffer from a disease that does NOT even exist – and cannot be “treated” — who die from chronic alcoholism stemming from spiritual malady; an affliction that is beyond the capabilities of medical science and "board certified”, approved opportunists - doctors and counselors and clerics who really have little understanding of the cause of alcoholism— and not DISEASE. Nice.

I sure wish those writing on the subject of alcoholism would be just a bit less cavalier in their researching and presentation of here-say on matters which relate to life and death issues, like alcoholism. I also hope the screenwriters of this film didn't join the sloppy pack too. It's really important to a whole lot of people.

Peace & Love,

danny j schwarzhoff – RLRAReal Live Alcoholic


I fully agree with your discussion. It is not a disease, but was "medicalised" as you described.

True, the word "disease" was not used by A.A.A in the Big Book and no medical cure offered, but there is something very close to it. See on page 18, fourth edition:

" An illness of this sort--and we have come to believe it an illness--involves those about us in a way no other human sickness can. If a person has cancer..."


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