NICHOLAS RAY’S BIGGER THAN LIFE (1956)
Based on a New Yorker article by Berton Roueché, Bigger Than Life appears on the surface to be a “social problem” film—an exposé of drug abuse and addiction—although generically the film incorporates elements of black humor and horror, and thematically works as a critique of 1950s consumer society. Like many Ray films, it focuses on a tortured, alienated protagonist, whose complex relationships to those around him, and indeed to his own society, often combine a deep concern for the plight of others and an irrational compulsion to violence. The film was produced by star James Mason, who also contributed to its screenplay. It was the fourth film Mason produced and had a hand in writing. In the late 1940s, he achieved fame in Carol Reed’s Odd Man Out (1947) playing a fugitive IRA organizer, and came to Hollywood to star in two films by German émigré director Max Ophuls: Caught and The Reckless Moment (both 1949).
Bigger Than Life also featured uncredited script contributions from playwright Clifford Odets, director Nicholas Ray and Ray collaborator Gavin Lambert. Odets—one of the founders of the influential Group Theatre in New York and author of the Broadway smash Waiting for Lefty—worked on several noteworthy scripts: Sweet Smell of Success (1957), a scathing critique of gossip columnists and power brokers, and The Big Knife (1954), an equally corrosive depiction of the sexual and power politics of the Hollywood Studio system. Gavin Lambert was involved in the early period of the British Free Cinema movement, along with fellow Oxford student Lindsay Anderson, having edited the influential BFI periodical Sight and Sound from 1949 to 1955. At the invitation of Nicholas Ray, Lambert moved to Hollywood to work as Ray’s personal assistant and collaborator. After Bigger Than Life, they would co-author Bitter Victory (1957), an anti-war film starring Richard Burton and filmed on location in North Africa.
Along with Mason as protagonist Ed Avery, Bigger Than Life features Barbara Rush, as Ed’s wife Lou, who would go on to featured roles in Edward Dmytryk’s The Young Lions (1958) and Martin Ritt’s Hombre (1967); Walter Matthau, as Avery family friend Wally Gibbs, in only his third feature-film role (the next year would see him co-star in Elia Kazan’s A Face in the Crowd); and, as the Avery’s son Richie, young Christopher Olsen, fresh from Alfred Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much (also 1956), and soon to be featured as Robert Stack’s son in Douglas Sirk’s The Tarnished Angels (1958). It is interesting to note that Jerry Mathers, who starred in TV’s Leave it to Beaver (1957-1963), one of the prototypical suburban sitcoms of the decade, makes a brief appearance in the scene set in Pat Wade’s art class.
The film opens with an establishing shot of a schoolhouse, tracking into a set of double doors as a stream of cheering schoolchildren floods out. The musical cue, ominous and almost portentous at first, brightens and becomes cheerful. Many of the children sport bright red articles of clothing: a visual motif that recurs throughout the film, most obviously in Richie’s red jacket, which is a reference to James Dean’s red jacket in Ray’s earlier Rebel Without a Cause (1955). Separate from the body of schoolchildren, a pair of identical twins are the last to emerge. Although the credits play over their exit, the viewer’s attention is drawn to them. Their presence subliminally states one of the film’s main themes—the duality of human nature—and prefigures protagonist Ed Avery’s Jekyll and Hyde transformation. The musical score’s shift in mood also expresses this bifurcation. The opening credits sequence implicitly states themes that the film will develop more fully.
From its earliest scenes, the film depicts the American Dream as fragile and precarious. Schoolteacher Ed Avery is forced to moonlight as a taxi dispatcher just to make ends meet, a job he keeps secret from his wife because of his embarrassment. In her turn, Ed’s wife, Lou, suspects that he’s having an affair. The film expresses the tension and lack of communication between husband and wife in a remarkable, largely silent sequence: After an evening of entertaining, Ed follows Lou around the house as she attempts to clean up, turning off the lights in each room, closing down the domestic space by spreading darkness throughout the home. The use of shadow and darkness points to one of the film’s generic antecedents, German Expressionism, and signals the generic shift later in the film to domestic horror.
Another early scene establishes Ed’s domestic conditions. Coming home from work, his son greets him, “Hi, Dad. What’d you bring me?” Richie expects some kind of reward for playing the role of dutiful son. The television in the living room broadcasts a clamorous Western. Ed expresses disdain for such pap: “Doesn’t this stuff bore you? It’s always the same story.” The pernicious influence of television—also a subtle theme in Douglas Sirk’s All That Heaven Allows (1955)—points to Ed’s self-image as an educator, above the “bread and circuses” of popular culture. At another level, the remark indicates that the film we are watching will not be the same old story, at the level of either genre or theme.
When Ed goes into the kitchen to greet Lou, a faulty water heater stands in mute reproach in the background. The framing of the shot expresses the tension between them as explicitly as the dialogue. The details of set design, highlighted by Ray’s widescreen mise-en-scène, emphasize Ed’s growing discontent: Numerous travel posters advertising escape to exotic locales, as well as ancient world maps, festoon the walls. Ed entertains the suspicion that he doesn’t belong in this domestic space, doesn’t feel truly at home, and therefore wants to extricate himself from a stifling, claustrophobic situation—a condition he cannot quite articulate to Lou, opting instead for a discussion of their “dullness,” which precipitates his collapse.
Throughout the film, Ray employs what could be described as “expressionistic naturalism”: the symbolic use of everyday objects. Two objects stand out in this regard: 1) The glass of milk Ed drinks during the bridge game, echoed by the glass of barium drunk during the X-ray exam, culminates in the contentious pitcher of milk during the final dinner scene. 2) The football Ed keeps on the mantelpiece, a trophy of his high school glory days, first becomes an object for play (horsing around the house), then an instrument of torture (the athletic drills in the back yard), and finally a peace offering (during Ed’s murderous assault).
When Ed suffers his second attack, he clutches desperately at the doorbell, and its discordant drone serves as an exteriorization of his physical agony. The staircase serves as the focal point for many of the film’s scenes of confrontation and conflict, and also links the semi-public space of the downstairs, where the Avery family entertain friends and coworkers, to the privacy of the upstairs. (A staircase also features in a key scene in Ray’s earlier Rebel as the site of a murderous struggle between Jim Stark and his father.) Ray’s handling of architectural features and domestic spaces hearkens back to his association with Frank Lloyd Wright: as a youth, he participated in one of Wright’s Taliesin Fellowships, studying set design and dramaturgy.
The subsequent course of Ed’s medical treatment is also handled in an expressionistic manner: the shot of Ed in an X-ray machine, bathed in eerie red light; the milk-white barium he swallows; shots of Ed writhing in pain with his medical chart superimposed over the scene. The film often shows the doctors in groups of two or three, practically interchangeable, and whereas they are not portrayed in the simple broad strokes of the mad doctors in earlier horror films, they emblematize a kind of faceless authority: the medical establishment against which Ed will unwisely rebel.
Ed Avery’s confrontation with his own mortality forms the philosophical core of the film: The possibility of death, not at some abstract point in the future, but imminent and perhaps unavoidable, forces Ed to reevaluate his station in life, his goals and desires. Rejecting the various institutions he finds himself enmeshed in—the school, the family, the church—Ed must take on the responsibility of forging his own new values and new codes of conduct. In this way, he stands as a sort of existential hero, a figure out of Sartre or Camus, whose writings (popular in certain circles in the 1950s) posit that the meaning of a person’s life comes to no more than the sum of their actions. It is Ed’s abuse of cortisone, the so-called miracle drug, which perverts his existential quest into a nightmare of domestic horror. And yet, as the film is careful to establish, the cortisone merely amplifies certain tendencies already extant in Ed’s outlook. Such complexity of psychological motivation and human behavior elevates the film above more standard treatments of the dangers of drug abuse, such as Otto Preminger’s The Man with the Golden Arm (1955).
A brief scene establishes Ed’s state of mind after being released from the hospital. Lou drives Ed to work. Deprecating his vocation as a “male schoolmarm,” he claims to feel “ten feet tall”—not coincidentally the title of the original New Yorker article—as the camera shoots him from below, so that his figure dominates the schoolhouse behind him. The subsequent discussion in Ed’s classroom references Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, in particular the moment when Cassius refers to Caesar as a “colossus”. Not only does this further elucidate the notion of seeming “bigger than life,” prefiguring Ed’s grandiose schemes, it is also something on an in-joke: James Mason had starred as Brutus in a recent film version of the play (1953). directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz.
Coming home from school that night, Ed insists on taking Lou and Richie out on a secretive “big occasion”—an excursion to an expensive dress boutique. The trip takes the Avery family to an unfamiliar part of town. Unable to get the salesgirls’ attention, Ed starts shouting, to which Lou responds, “I know you’re feeling your oats, but an upper-crust sugar daddy never shouts.” Cornering a salesgirl at last, Ed advises her, “My wife and I aren’t used to places like this, so it’s only fair to tell you that if we don’t get a whole lot of high-class service, and in a hurry, there’s likely to be a terribly embarrassing scene in this sanctum. You know, dear? Vulgar shouting.” Beneath the sarcastic veneer is a remarkable acknowledgement of class relations, the economic hierarchy of postwar America. The rhetoric fashionable at the time supposed society to be egalitarian, offering equal access to the American Dream which increasingly meant the acquisition of good and services, the burgeoning postwar consumer society.
There is also the whiff of popular revolt in Ed’s threats. Ray had witnessed the agitation of the disenfranchised at first hand during the 1930s, when he took part in such New Deal programs as the Federal Theater Project, and travelled the country with John and Allan Lomax, collecting folk music for the Library of Congress. His experiences left an abiding concern for the downtrodden and marginalized: “I’m a stranger here myself,” as he often said, a line of dialogue from his truly perverse Western Johnny Guitar (1954), borrowed from the eponymous poem by Ogden Nash.
Ray uses the widescreen composition to maximum effect in this scene. One shot in particular shows his masterful handling of Cinemascope’s horizontal axis: On the far left stand three assistants advising Ed, who is seated slightly to their right. In the middle of the frame, a mirror shows Lou’s reflection, balanced by the real Lou standing farther off to the right. Richie sits looking on at the far right of the frame. The mirror also reflects a glove on a stand, which would be situated behind the camera, further emphasizing the depth and width of the 2:55 aspect ratio. It is as balanced a composition and as full of telling detail as any oil painting by an acclaimed Old Master.
The scene ends with a sheepish Richie, concerned about his father’s spendthrift fervor, asking Lou, “Mom, isn’t Dad acting a little foolish?” Tensions between father and son—an Oedipal dynamic familiar from Rebel—will soon come to the narrative forefront. If in Rebel, the problem was Jim’s lack of a father figure, here the case is inverted: There will be altogether too much patriarchy.
Subsequent scenes slowly ratchet up the tension. The expressions of Ed’s new outlook seem at first harmless, even if ill-conceived, with Ed and Richie playing football in the house with reckless abandon. Lou’s frustration at essentially having two kids to contend with now finds vent in a remarkable scene: Having used up all the hot water washing dishes, Lou must heat kettles to take upstairs for Ed’s bath. Ed preens in the medicine cabinet’s mirror, arranging a towel around his neck like a cravat and trying out various dapper poses with his cigarette. (As the cabinet door swings shut, the viewer gets a fleeting glimpse of Nicholas Ray himself in the mirror, crouching down just behind Mason: an authorial signature not unlike a Hitchcock cameo, showing Ray’s identification with his protagonist.) When Ed serenely demands one more kettle, Lou bellows “You’re not in the hospital now!” and slams the cabinet door shut, shattering the mirror. Ed clutches himself in defense, confronting his shattered reflection. The scene contains a reference to Jekyll and Hyde (most likely to the 1941 film version starring Spencer Tracy) and a nod to the use of mirrors in German Expressionism. At the same time as the film hearkens back to earlier influences, it also anticipates the revisionist horror films of the late 1960s and 1970s, where the horror comes not from some monster “out there” but from squarely within the nuclear family.
The following scene—perhaps the funniest in the film—takes place during a PTA meeting. After an ironic exchange with another teacher about parents not being any worse than their children, the camera follows Wally Gibbs into the building, where he peeks into a classroom while a female teacer discusses “examples of their little hobbies—butterflies, home weaving and so on. We call it sharing.” He wanders down the hallway to another classroom, where Ed Avery harangues the assembled parents: “Every year whole forests are cut down to supply the paper for these grotesque daubs. And we coo over them as though they were van Goghs or Rembrandts.” The parallelism between the two types of pedagogy is apposite. Challenged by a mother about the “unspoiled instincts of childhood,” Ed retorts, “My dear lady, childhood is a congenital disease and the purpose of education is to cure it…But ask yourselves, how do we describe the unfortunate individual who carries his unspoiled childhood instincts in adult life? We say he’s arrested. We call him a moron.” Over a parent’s objects, Ed continues, “We must try to examine the problem without prejudice or sentiment. The hard fact remains that your daughter, at her present stage of development, is roughly on an intellectual par with the African gorilla. What, after all, from the Stone Age to the present day has been the greatest invention of mankind? Fire? The wheel? Safety pin? The hydrogen bomb? No, ladies and gentlemen, the alphabet. And persons like myself are required to teach these poor, bewildered kids to read by a system of word recognition as though the mighty English language were a collection of Chinese ideograms. And then we’re surprised when Junior can’t even wade through the comics.”
This screed is worth quoting at length. While at this point the viewer might be tempted to dismiss these remarks as the fulminations of a disordered intellect—Ed has already begun abusing his prescription—his ideas do not meet with universal disparagement. One of the fathers comes forward, expressing his encouragement and agreement. It is clear that “getting back to real fundamentals” and proscriptions against “breeding a race of moral midgets” strikes a chord with certain elements in contemporary society. When Ed cautions against “committing hara-kiri…right here in the classroom,” the film suggests some kind of covertly fascist impulse within patriarchal authority. The scene concludes with the man saying, “This man should be principal.” The reaction shot cuts to an exaggerated close-up of Ed, smoking contentedly and looking pleased by the suggestion, a moment of narcissistic gratification.
The following scene shifts to the Avery household, with Wally reporting back to Lou about Ed’s recent behavior. Lou’s concern over Ed’s current predicament is partly economic: In the same way that Ed pursued a course of self-medication without doctor approval due to his concern over mounting medical costs, now Lou balks at the suggestion that anything remains wrong with Ed, anything that might jeopardize his job, or force him to take a vacation, because of the cost of the cortisone he takes. The film consistently places the Avery family’s situation in a broader social and economic context.
When Ed comes home, he is immediately suspicious, taunting Wally and berating them both for their “short memories” under cross examination. He expounds upon his new project—a series of magazine articles calling for sweeping education reforms—then claims that it can’t be worked on in such an atmosphere of “petty domesticity,” and decides to leave Lou. Only when he sees Richie coming home from school does he decide that “a man’s first obligation is to bring up his own son”.
His program involves running roughshod over Richie during football practice, bracing him up with a little penalty when he inevitably fails: withholding lunch from the boy. He browbeats Richie intellectually, tormenting him with an elaborate word problem, postponing dinner until Richie can successfully solve the problem. While Ed is away taking his medicine, Lou slips Richie a glass of milk to tide him over. As we have seen, the milk works as both a plot device (leading to the divorce decree in the next scene) and as a symbol of sustenance (mother’s milk). In this context, it is interesting to note the brief scene where Wally teaches Richie how to make “Tiger’s milk,” a man’s milk that circumvents the maternal. “It’ll put hair on your chest,” he tells Lou. Wally serves as a viable surrogate father and, in some ways, it might seem that Ed’s jealous suspicions are not entirely without justification.
Formally, the scene in the study shows to superb effect Ray’s use of both camera position and lighting: the father’s shadow as he looms over his son becomes truly monstrous. And here again, the shadow is given an explicit source in a desktop lamp, naturalizing the expressionistic content. When the scene shifts to the dining room, Ray expresses the growing distance and tension within the family through the widescreen composition, with husband and wife separated by the length of the dinner table, Richie the focus point between them. The cutaway shots frame mother and son together, while showing Ed in isolation. After Ed discovers the missing milk and begins his “divorce proceedings” against Lou, the camera slowly zooms in on Richie’s face, registering his confusion and terror.
A dissolve links this scene with an exterior shot of a large church. One final institution—the church and its authority over moral and theological matters—comes under Ed’s scrutiny. The family listens to a reading from scripture concerning the Prodigal Son, emblematic of forgiveness and family cohesion. The irony is palpable, increased by Ed’s arrogant refusal to bow his head in prayer. Returning home, Ed expresses only scorn for the preacher and his sermon: “A man who couldn’t earn a living selling neckties has the audacity to stand up and talk ethics to 500 people.” Interestingly, Ed conceives of the pastor’s vocation in terms of salesmanship. “Trusting the moral guidance of our children to these sanctimonious stuffed shirts. Now I’ll have to take all that on.” In his Promethean revolt, Ed must now forge a new ethics and morality: “The duty of parents to children, and children to parents. All that fuzzy-minded sentimentality. Love? Of course. It’s built in. Nature takes care of that. But the first duty is to principle. So much has to be reevaluated, explored.” The viewer has no way of knowing at this point what Ed’s first principle might be, but it is clear what he denigrates: familial duty and biological love. His notion of “reevaluation” links his project—however misguidedly—to Nietzsche’s call for a “revaluation of all values”: the rejection of the Grand Narratives of religion and morality, which necessitates the quest for new values. However, as this scene makes clear, Ed cannot reject his patrimony wholesale, he can only reevaluate (and radically reinterpret) the narratives he already knows, with disastrous results.
As Richie rifles through Ed’s belongings, looking for his cortisone stash, Ray uses a mirror once again to “reveal” Ed, this time looming behind Richie, in a shock cut worthy of a horror film. At the head of the stairs, Ed sardonically informs his wife, “Lou, you’ll be happy to know you’ve won. All my efforts have been too late. In this house our son has become a thief.” Richie has committed a transgression, now it must be atoned for.
Richie runs into the bathroom with the phone, saying he’d rather Ed were dead than the way he is now. The death wish constitutes a threat, one that Ed can only counter with violence. But first he severs Richie’s connection with the outside world. The scene is reminiscent of Kubrick’s The Shining (1980), another film about the murderous power at the heart of the paternal.
Ed descends the stairs, reading aloud the story of Abraham and Isaac: God “tempts” Abraham. Temptation is a test, an attempt to prove one’s worth. Lou interrupts the bible story, trying to head off the confrontation she sees brewing by leaving the house, but Ed forces her to stay and discuss “this terrible thing” that’s happened to Richie: “What’s to become of him? He’s ignored all my teaching. What future can we reasonably see for him now? Growing up into a man who feels himself above the law, above ethics. When we’re no longer here to restrain him, watch over him, who knows what crimes…? Even murder.” Of course, Richie has already wished murder by wishing his father’s death. Ed interprets this assault on his authority by describing a grown-up Richie as a kind of Raskolnikov figure from Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment, a man who feels himself superior to the herd of humanity and human laws.
In Fear and Trembling, a extended meditation on the story of Abraham and Isaac, the Danish existentialist Kierkegaard writes: “The ethical expression for what Abraham did is that he meant to murder Isaac; the religious expression is that he meant to sacrifice Isaac—but precisely in this contradiction is the anxiety that can make a person sleepless, and yet without this anxiety Abraham is not who he is” (30). For Kierkegaard, sacrifice is murder, except for the fact that Abraham had faith. The “single individual” puts himself above ethics “by virtue of the absurd,” which for Kierkegaard denotes a passionate expectation that what is humanly impossible is yet possible for the divine. In his readiness to commit murder, to sacrifice his son Richie, it is in fact Ed who puts himself above ethics.
“We’ve got to save him from all that,” Ed concludes and, by way of explanation, continues the story of the Binding of Isaac: God orders Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac by “offering him there [at Mount Moriah] as a burnt offering”. It is remarkable how naturalistically Ray integrates the reading of this text, down to Mason using a pair of scissors to keep his place. So that when the text reads “And Abraham stretched forth his hand and took the knife to slay his son,” Mason can reenact this action with the scissors.
Lou tries to prompt him: “But, Ed, you didn’t read it all. God stopped Abraham.”
“God was wrong!” Ed pontificates as he shuts the Bible. By reading the biblical narrative in his own fashion, Ed has managed to usurp the authority of God. Like any good exegete, he offers his own gloss: “I know what’s in you mind. Here, in the same book it’s written, ‘Thou shalt not kill.’ So Richie remains innocent. We take the guilt. We incur the damnation in mercy to the boy.” Ed suggests, in effect, that he and Lou become the scapegoat: As part of the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) in ancient Judaism, one goat from the herd was selected to bear all the sins of the people, and was driven off into the wilderness to perish. Traditional Christian interpretations substitute Jesus for the scapegoat, redeeming humanity’s sins through his self-sacrifice. In Ed’s reading, this skews into eternal damnation, since he has already decided that he and Lou must kill themselves after sacrificing Richie.
Lou has an odd reaction to the suggested double suicide: “Ed, our own home. Tomorrow, or the next day, when they come and find us…” Is she worried about what the neighbors will think, even at this point, exhibiting a dogged insistence on keeping up appearances? Or is she thinking about what they’ve built up in their life together and what will happen to it after they’ve gone? It’s a strange moment, and Barbara Rush’s delivery leaves open several possible readings. Whatever the motive, Ed dismissively concludes, “None of us will know.”
Lou employs several tactics to postpone Ed’s plan—an appeal to the nostalgia of baby pictures, gripping him in a loving embrace and, finally, luring him out for a walk. Locking her in a closet, Ed turns on the television to cover her screams: whirling rides and demented carnival music. The music serves as a kind of Brechtian “alienation effect”: disrupting the naturalism of the scene with a startling incongruity worthy of the Surrealists. It is also in keeping with what the Russian literary theorist Mikhail Bakhtin called the carnivalesque—an expression of the topsy-turvy world of Ed Avery’s mind.
Ed hesitates in the doorway as Richie holds up the memorial football as a sort of peace offering. Like the glass of milk that recurs throughout the film, the football works as a “natural symbol,” indicating not only the bond between father and son, but the bone of contention as well, the lies Richie accused Ed of telling him: the story about his high school football win.
The screen flashes red, a swirling maelstrom that stops Ed in his tracks. He throws up his hands in an expression of terror and bewilderment. The moment can be interpreted in a number of ways—as evidence of some kind of physical attack (possibly a cerebral hemorrhage), as the protective hand of God reaching down to protect Richie, or as a rather precipitous deus ex machina resolution—“a deliberately inadequate way of resolving something,” as Geoff Andrew suggests in his DVD commentary track. Given the ambiguity of the film’s conclusion, this seems the likeliest reading.
Now Wally—the surrogate father—arrives on the scene just in the nick of time. The brute physicality of their struggle shatters the stairway banister and they plunge to the hallway floor, spreading the wake of destruction into the living room, until Wally knocks Ed unconscious. Ironically, it is now Richie who shuts off the television, in an ironic inversion of earlier scenes. Lou moves into the hallway to phone the hospital. The final shot of the scene frames the domestic space so as to emphasize the division between the stairs and the hallway, with Lou’s figure in the background, the shattered banister in the middle ground symbolizing the fractured family.
The epilogue finds Ed back in the hospital, his prognosis still uncertain. It is unclear at first whether or not he has recovered from his psychosis, sustaining the tension held over from the climactic confrontation. When the red light beside his door goes out—the final iteration of the color—Lou and Richie enter his room. At first, Ed complains that the sun is blinding him, causing some consternation, until he “naturalizes” his request by referring to the overhead light. He expresses disappointment: “You’re a poor substitute,” he tells Dr. Norton, “for Abraham Lincoln. You’re not Abraham Lincoln, are you?” Now he surveys the scene and discovers his family. “Was there some kind of car accident?” he asks. “You sort of fell down the stairs,” Lou tells him, in a subdued, yet humorous moment. Seeing his son triggers the recollection: “I was dreaming. I walked with Lincoln. He was as big and ugly and beautiful as he was in life.” Musing: “Abraham.” Remembering, with alarm: “Abraham! Did I hurt you? I tried to.” The various qualities Ed attributes to Lincoln express his confusion (ugly and beautiful) and point to a residue of his feelings of grandeur (Lincoln’s imposing height). This wonderfully-crafted chain of associations was scripted by Clifford Odets, whom Ray reputedly brought in to buttress this scene in particular.
Nevertheless, this prototypical happy ending, with Ed’s return to sanity and the restoration of family unity, remains fraught with uncertainty. As Doctor Norton pointedly informs Lou before Ed awakens, the course of treatment remains the same: there is no alternative to the cortisone. This is a significant departure from the original New Yorker article, in which the patient was simply switched to another drug. For Ray and his collaborators, there is no alternative because each person must confront their own mortality and struggle against similar sets of social and cultural forces. Furthermore, the treatment may not even work: Ed could still be dead within the year. And there is the distinct possibility that he will relapse and begin abusing his prescription again, inaugurating another cycle of mounting delusion and megalomania.