CM . . .
. Volume XII Number 15 . . . . March 31, 2006
The Barenaked Ladies musically speculate what they would do "If I had a million dollars." They engage in the fantasies that many have entertained should their lottery number happen to be a big winner. In Winning, written by Catherine Annau, speculation is not required. She follows six lottery winners as they journey from winning large sums of money to the present. This is a bittersweet presentation that shows that, while money is not everything, it certainly does change things.
Two of the winners won their money in the United States. In 1981, a five million dollar win was the biggest lottery payout ever. This feat was enough to propel the winner onto the national spotlight including a visit with Johnny Carson on the Tonight Show and photo ops with some of the biggest stars of the day. Lives were completely altered. From working at what were seen as dead-end jobs, the winners were able to live life free from financial worry -- for awhile. The money was paid out over 20 years, and, at the time of the film, both winners had gone through all of their prize money.
Most of the film is set in Ontario. The winners are more recent and have won much bigger prizes. Their stories are still being written.
Winning is not a cautionary tale on the evils of lottery winnings. None of the winners have any regret, and all feel that the money has made their lives easier. One of the American winners admits that he spent, drank and gave much of what he had away. Now as a preacher and celibate, he devotes his time to his ministry, but he admits that, for a time, the money was enjoyable.
What Winning does show is that the money cannot solve all the problems that afflict people in day-to-day life. One woman winner won $10 million a year after her husband had died. She misses him dearly, and, while she has given a generous amount to her family and church, she admits that she is very lonely. She feels that people do not come to visit her out of fear that she will think they are only after her money. As she provides a tour of her beautiful house, set up exactly as she wants it, there is a sadness mixed in with her win.
Another of the winners is a single man who won $18 million. Like the others, he made large purchases and gave much to his relatives. While he seems happy enough with his new lifestyle, he states that he has become estranged from his older sons. He expresses disappointment in the fact that they seem to be living dead-end lives and only come to him for money. He is willing to help them go back to school or better themselves, but until that time, he has broken off all contact with them and is waiting for them to come to him. At the end of his segment, he is with a new girlfriend and wants to be happy, but he makes it clear that a prenuptial agreement will have to be part of the relationship.
The last featured winners are a couple who look like they will make the best use of the money. They are building their dream home and are excited about moving in. However, before they won, they lost a daughter to breast cancer at age 21. The wife has MS, and the husband lives in fear that all the money could be gone as suddenly as it came. He knows this is foolish thinking, but the thoughts prey at him.
Each of the winners follows a similar pattern. Large purchases-- Cadillacs, boats, cars, new houses; money to family both immediate and extended; major change in lifestyle and being able to buy Christmas presents with cash. Each has stories of lost friendships due to the money. One winner says he is owed $125,000 from former friends. They do not make contact any longer and do not even make excuses for not repaying the loan. The couple states that they were met by a friend as they returned from getting the cheque. The friend wanted some money, and they refused as they had not yet decided what they were going to do. They are no longer in contact with that person.
Winning is an interesting film. Certainly with the lottery culture that Canada has become, these stories have to be told. The film neither celebrates nor condemns lottery winning. Some of the winners feel that they have been selected by God to win; others feel that it was simply Chance. One man states that he no longer has a dime to his name, but he enjoyed having the money while he did.
Maybe Winning is a cautionary tale after all. In all the winners' lives, there are difficulties and sorrows that the money can do little to remove. However, one winner states that he has more money generated by interest than he ever received as salary. This can change the orbit of one's world. How it spins after that is up to the individual.
Frank Loreto is a teacher-librarian at St. Thomas Aquinas Secondary School in Brampton, ON.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.