"Ray" (2004): Ray Charles Was Married to His Music
Ray is a 2004 biographical film (loosely) based on the life of the blind musician Ray Charles. It stars Jamie Foxx as Ray and was directed by Taylor Hackford.
DISCLAIMER: This article is about the movie as it presents Ray Charles. I can not make any claims about the real Ray Charles or the people in his life. My focus is on the fictional retelling of it.
Whether this film is accurate or not, I love it enough that I've watched it over and over. One thing in particular that struck me was the intense loneliness and isolation Ray Charles struggles to overcome.
Ray allowed his depression about his blindness to ultimately rob him of the ability to love and enjoy life. I believe that is the message of the film.
When Ray first went blind as a little boy, his mother (Sharon Warren) made him promise not to let anyone make him a cripple. She wanted him to be self-sufficient and strong in a world that was cold and cruel. In the scenes where a young and newly blind Ray is learning to listen, you can see the relief in her face when she realizes Ray will survive after all.
Because of his mother's encouragement, Ray worked hard to become a successful musician, and while he was financially successful in the end, he still failed to be successful when it came to life.
Instead of choosing to be happy and grateful, Ray plummeted into a self-pitying depression that eventually led to his drug addiction. Yes, I pity Ray Charles (again, Ray Charles as depicted in this film) but I'm not going to pretend as if he wasn't responsible for his own happiness. We can all make the choice to be happy.
Ray chose to be sad. He sees his mother in a dream at the end of the film, and she tells him that he allowed his blindness to make him a cripple after all. She isn't just talking about his drug addiction.
Aretha Robinson is talking about the depression that led to Ray's drug addiction.
Throughout the film, we see how Ray's blindness isolates him from others and prevents him from connecting with others as a human being. People are constantly trying to rip him off. The first act he joined was in a nightclub, and his partner was making double the amount behind his back. The second group he joined kept cheating him out of pay, making him bitter toward them.
In the image above, Ray is shown sitting alone on the bus while the other band members play cards, laugh, and have a good time. Even if he weren't bitter toward half of them for ripping him off, he can't join in the fun or form friendships because he can't see to do the activities that form those friendships.
And because they fear being asked to look after him, no one in the band talks with Ray except Jeff Brown (Clifton Powell), a man who would later become his best friend and manager.
Jeff is one of the very few people who don't try to take advantage of Ray because he is blind. Unfortunately, Ray's paranoia about being back-stabbed leads him to eventually betray Jeff and every kind person who ever extended love toward him.
Being blind and thus unable to see the hurt he's inflicting -- on top of continuously being betrayed due to his blindness -- Ray loses empathy and the ability to connect emotionally with others.
When Ray met and married his wife, Della "Bea" Robinson (Kerry Washington), and then proceeded to cheat on her, I was floored. He seemed so in love and then turned around and betrayed his wife like that. I couldn't understand why and I had to watch the film a second time before I could.
In essence, Ray's blindness had isolated him so deeply from others that he was incapable of really loving them. He couldn't even love himself. The only thing he loved was his music.
Music isn't something you have to see with your eyes. You feel it with your heart. For Ray, creating music must've been a light in the dark. It was the only thing he had -- or rather, it was the only thing he thought he had.
Once again, Ray could have made the choice to be happy and grateful. He chose to be unhappy about his situation. He chose to place so little value on the relationships he had in his life. He was actually a very wealthy man in that he had a wonderful career, friends, children, and a wife who loved him. But because he didn't appreciate any of it, it would never be enough.
Ray says to Bea toward the end of the film (and I'm paraphrasing):
"Every time I step out that door, I'm stepping out into the dark."
It's not that Ray didn't have affection for the women he slept with, but love and affection/care (i.e. caring about someone's well being, paying their bills) are two different things. When you love someone, you simply don't cheat on them. Yes, it's that simple. If you do cheat, then you never loved them in the first place or else you've fallen out of love.
Ray Charles didn't even love himself, so how could he love the women he slept with? He wasn't capable. He lived his life in a very dark place (again, I'm referring to the movie, not the real Ray Charles), and because he was incapable of loving others, all the women in his life struggled in vain trying to make him love them.
Mary Ann Fisher (Aunjanue Ellis) was the original Raelette before the Raelettes. She fell in love with Ray Charles after the two of them had an affair and spent her segment of the film trying to get him to commit to her and leave his wife.
It used to be that I saw people who had affairs like Ray Charles and Mary Ann Fisher as terrible people. Now I just see hurting people. People do these things because they are hurting. Ray Charles was depressed and was trying to fill the void with drugs and sex, while Mary Ann Fisher likely had low self-esteem and didn't think she was worth more than to be a man's side piece.
No self-respecting woman would let a man treat her like a mistress.
Unsurprisingly, Ray moves on to the next woman who can fill the void in his soul, leaving Mary Ann for Margie Hendricks (Regina King).
Ray basically treated Mary Ann the way he treated Della Bea, and unfortunately for Mary, she learned the hard way that cheaters don't discriminate.
Often at times, the cheater is cheating because of some internal conflict they need to resolve on their own. Finding the "right" woman is not going to change their behavior. And yet, women who allow themselves to be mistresses often make the mistake of thinking the cheater is going to change for them.
During the montage, Mary Ann sadly sings, "What kind of man are you? I'm always left alone . . ." while Ray carries on with Margie.
Eventually, Mary Ann leaves after smashing the windshield of Ray's car, and it's Margie's turn to try breaking down Ray's walls.
Except Ray's walls can't be broken down.
Much like Mary Ann, Margie tries to convince Ray to leave his family for her, but he won't. Ray isn't capable of committing to anyone because of his internal issues. He is too depressed about his blindness, too hung-up on seeing his life as a meaningless void. A person like that isn't capable of loving others.
But Margie persists. She wants to be Ray's wife and tries desperately to make him love her.
I honestly think that if more people understood self-love and happiness, there would be less pain in the world. We would not spend all our time chasing people who are incapable of loving us. Instead, we would seek out those who are full of self-love and gratitude, people who are brimming with love and are capable of seeing the value in others.
Ray Charles can't see the value in others when he can't even see it in himself. The only thing he values is his music.
Nothing makes this more clear than the scene where Margie reveals that she is pregnant. Ray offers to pay for an abortion -- as if he had any fucking say over what she's going to do with her body -- and she slaps him silly.
While Margie sobs and cries, Ray calmly sits down at his piano and tells her to use her anger to rehearse a song.
Seriously? Ray is cold as fuck.
He places zero value on Margie or her baby, and because he can't see how his dismissive attitude is hurting her (can't see her pained eyes or twisted face), he doesn't give a shit. It doesn't seem to matter to him that there are tears in her voice. All he cares about is using her pain for his music.
It is in this moment that Margie -- just like Mary Ann -- realizes she can not reach Ray and that continuing to try will only hurt her. She walks away from the relationship and later, from the band entirely.
When it looks as if Ray is going to be charged with prison time for his drug use, Della Bea sums up the entire film: all Ray cares about is his music. She tells him that if he doesn't get clean, he will lose his entire career and won't be allowed to make more music.
This is what ultimately makes Ray get clean -- not the fact that he will lose his family or his friends. And I think it was this way because he already felt he didn't have his family and friends anyway. At this point, he'd already lost Jeff, and when Margie told him he had already "left" his family, she was right. Ray was so far gone, all he had was his music -- but only because he chose it and the drugs over everyone else.
In the end, Ray Charles gave back to the community through his civil rights activism, charities, and the Ray Charles Foundation. He wasn't a bad person, just utterly human and utterly flawed. Jamie Foxx depicted him brilliantly in that regard and his Academy Award was well deserved.
© 2019 Ash