Latvian Film 'Modris' Shows Price Of Teenage Slot Machine Addiction

By John Lavitt 12/04/15

Writer-director Juris Kursietis presented the film at the 2015 Los Angeles Times Envelope Independent Screening Series.

Juris Kursietis
Director Juris Kursietis Photo by John Lavitt

At the Arclight Cinemas in Sherman Oaks, Calif., a screening of the Latvian film Modris with writer-director Juris Kursietis revealed the harsh price paid for teenage slot machine addiction.

Part of the 2015 Los Angeles Times Envelope Independent Screening Series, the film showed how both the family and the state prove to be extremely ineffective when faced with the title character’s debilitating desire to gamble. The overall ambivalence and apathy at the heart of the film makes it difficult to empathize with any of the central characters. Still, the connection between teenage rebellion and the dangers of gambling’s quick fix is well established in the narrative.

Since the televised celebration of Texas HoldEm Poker with the best players presented on cable as sports superstars, gambling addiction has erupted as a major problem for youth across the United States. Modris reveals how such a problem takes root in a vastly different way in the post-Soviet harshness of Latvia. Similar to all gambling addictions, the slot machines provide the escapist dream of easy winnings for Modris, played by Kristers Piksa.

In the slow bleakness of a story where the title character is in every scene, the only happiness ever expressed by Modris is when he’s playing the slots. He is willing to sacrifice family and love for the clicking companionship of the machines. Raised by an angry single mother (Rezija Kalnina), Modris lacks a male role model to emulate. His mom taunts him with the threat that if he doesn’t stop stealing, he’ll end up being one more loser in the family. He’ll also end up being imprisoned like his father, yet she then becomes the impetus for this threat flaring up into a blemished reality.

After the screening, The Fix asked Kursietis why the development of the gambling addiction of Modris was not shown. Why did the film start with Modris already addicted to the slot machines? Why didn’t the audience see how it first happened and then progressed?

“It’s nothing new that teenagers have their addictions. It’s something I saw in high school," Kursietis said. "My classmates would go to these dodgy bars after school and play the slot machines. This is just what is happening. The gambling is escapism, but I didn’t feel the development of it needed to be shown. It seemed obvious to me.”

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Growing up in Manhattan as a stutterer, John Lavitt discovered that writing was the best way to express himself when the words would not come. After graduating with honors from Brown University, he lived on the Greek island of Patmos, studying with his mentor, the late American poet Robert Lax. As a writer, John’s published work includes three articles in Chicken Soup For The Soul volumes and poems in multiple poetry journals and compilations. Active in recovery, John has been the Treatment Professional News Editor for The Fix. Since 2015, he has published over 500 articles on the addiction and recovery news website. Today, he lives in Los Angeles, trying his best to be happy and creative. Find John on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.