Go Cold Turkey!

I watched the famous cop thriller, The French Connection, recently: a classic film from the 1970s. I felt a bit stupid because I’d heard of it but never watched the movie properly. Afterwards, I googled the film and realised it was considered one of the best movies ever made! So there you go – that’s me, completely unaware. Any prospects of a film reviewing career well and truly over!

A couple of days later I watched the sequel: French Connection II. The follow-on plot sees Gene Hackman’s police detective ‘Popeye’ chase his prey Charnier (a drug dealer, acted by Fernando Rey) from New York to Marseilles. Unfortunately, the tables are turned and he is captured by the criminal who gets his henchmen to regularly inject the cop with heroin, until he is addicted. It’s disturbing to see what happens to the proud, rude detective. He becomes a wretch, a mere shadow of his true self.

Popeye is literally thrown back to his colleagues in the French Police by the drug dealers. And they have the difficult task of freeing him from his new addiction to heroin. The French police chief Barthélémy (Bernard Fresson) then locks Popeye inside a prison cell and forces him to ‘go cold turkey’. It is powerful watching – Hackman won an Oscar for his performance. We see the detective wrestling with demons, so to speak, as he struggles with his carnal nature. It’s very uncomfortable but compelling viewing.

So…. I watched Popeye go cold turkey and the film finished. It was late at night and my house was silent (everyone asleep). I sat on the sofa and thought about what I had just watched. Why did I watch the film? There was a lot of violence and cursing. Wasn’t it wrong to like a movie like that? And why did I find Gene Hackman’s portrayal of Popeye, pushing through heroin addiction, so absorbing?

I found myself talking to God about it. Then I heard this, in my train of thoughts: ‘You’re called to go cold turkey’. And I realised that there was a direct parallel between Popeye struggling as he goes cold turkey, with the calling of Jesus Christ to pick up my cross and follow him.

We can make the narrow path of the cross seem very comfortable. But the struggle to crucify our carnal natures, to die to flesh, isn’t pretty. It’s ugly: involving sweat, some tears, and an overall sense of unwellness – perhaps even paranoia. In a real sense but in a different context, we need to lock our sinful selves into prison cells, just as Barthélémy did to Popeye, and sweat it out. Face up to the reality of ourselves.

The path is full of pain, if we take it seriously, but it’s also the only route to freedom, to God-is-love. A drug addict, such as ‘Popeye’, needs to go cold turkey to be free of addiction. We also need to go cold turkey to be free of addiction to sins in our own lives. To be absorbed into the life of Jesus Christ: The Way, The Truth and The Life.

‘Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.  For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done.


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