Let It Ride — The Philosophy of Luck

luckWe do not all see the same story even if we watch the same movie or read the same book because we each bring our own feelings and philosophies and perceptions to the experience. I’ve always known this, of course, but now that the internet allows everyone to be a critic, it’s becoming a lot more obvious.

For example, professional critics panned the movie Let It Ride, calling it disjointed and only sporadically funny. The screenwriter herself didn’t like it, and had her name removed in favor of a pseudonym. Nonprofessional critics — those who posted reviews on the Internet Movie Data Base — generally liked the movie. In fact, the majority thought it was one of the all-time most underrated films. Even people who hated it didn’t have much bad to say about it other than it was simplistic and predictable.

In their reviews, the nonprofessionals talked about the great cast, the humor, the gambling. They talked about it being a feel-good film and mentioned how great it was to see an underdog win. And they said fans of thoroughbred racing would love the film, calling it the best horse racing comedy ever.

All that might be true, but it does not reflect the movie I see. To me, the movie is a philosophical gem about luck, about recognizing luck when it makes an appearance, trusting the luck and having the courage to go where it takes you.

Trotter (Richard Dreyfuss) lucks into a hot tip on a race. He has a hundred dollars he’d stashed away for such an occasion, but instead of betting the whole thing, he shares it with the friend who gave him the tip, which makes me wonder about the nature of luck. If he hadn’t been so generous, propitiating the gods of chance with his generosity, would his luck have died right there? (Well, obviously, his luck would have been whatever the writer decided it was, but since this is my version of the movie, I tend to believe that originally luck might have given him a small nod, but his generosity made good luck smile on him.)

His friends and friends-for-the-day envied him his luck, but when he offered to pool his money with theirs and bet it all, they backed off. Although they recognized Trotter’s luck, they didn’t trust it. Or perhaps they simply didn’t have the courage to trust it. It’s this lack of follow-through on their part, this variation on the theme, that helps give the movie its depth, and keeps the story from being as simple as it seems.

One thing I especially like about this movie, and what helps earn its appellation of being simplistic, is that there is no third act where everything goes wrong. I hate such third acts, and the lack of one in this movie keeps the story focused on the premise of a guy courageous enough to trust his luck.

The philosophy of luck interests me. I’ve never considered myself lucky, but overall, I’m not sure I’m particularly unlucky, either. I am aware that much of success in life is luck — being in the right place at the right time, perhaps — but what I don’t know is if we can create luck. Lucky people say yes, and of course they would since lucky people seldom see themselves as lucky — they take their largess as their due, as payment for their work, and refuse to see that others have put in at least as much effort without getting the same results. Unlucky people say we can’t create luck — we are either lucky or we aren’t.

Some people don’t believe in luck — either good or bad — because they believe that we decide before we are born into this life what traumas and situations we will have to deal with in order to learn certain lessons. Perhaps that is true, but what do I know? I’m having a hard enough time negotiating the steep rocky path of this life without worrying about what might have come before or what will come after.

To confuse the issue of luck, perhaps there is a different kind of good fortune, a sort of negative luck that makes us lucky even if we don’t seem to be lucky. In one scene of Let It Ride, Trotter is mistakenly arrested before he can bet what he thinks is a hot tip. And the horse loses. So what seems like bad luck is actually good luck.

Considering my interest in the philosophy of luck, it makes sense, then, that I would see the luck theme in Let It Ride, where others would see merely the wonderful comedy, the great cast, or the racing aspects.

So what does this philosophical vision of the movie teach me? Perhaps that luck — and life — should be taken as it comes, we should trust ourselves, and beyond that, we should just let it ride.


Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+

2 Responses to “Let It Ride — The Philosophy of Luck”

  1. rami ungar the writer Says:

    If you look at it from a fictional standpoint, luck is what happens at the beginning of the story, be it good or bad, and what happens afterward is what the main character(s) do with that luck.

  2. Dan Says:

    Hey there Pat!
    I am doing a podcast about Let It Ride and would love to have you as a guest. If you’re interested, send me an email (dan@moviemaker.com) and I can send you some details.

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