The Lost Weekend (1945) Dir. Billy Wilder


What is your greatest fear? What things crawl into your dreams turning them into nightmares? Imagine your life being controlled by an addiction, a compulsory urge to drink that transforms everything you fear into reality.

Don Birnam (Ray Milland) is an alcoholic. His life is a failure: his aspirations to become a writer and make it in New York are long gone; his dignity humiliated by being dependent on his brother; any sense of reality and attachment to it washed away many bottles of rye ago. As we see him falling deeper into the addiction, we are presented with flashbacks that trace back its origins.

Alcoholism is the devil incarnate. It grabs Don by the throat and never lets go unless he washes it down with a shot or two or plenty for that matter. The first shot is merely an invitation to get wasted. Don is beyond the point of no return. He no longer takes pleasure from anything in life. He doesn’t taste alcohol. He drinks until he reaches the bottom both of the bottle and his mental state. Don doesn’t care if he embarrasses himself in public, stealing money to pay for drinks, for instance. On the other hand, alcoholism drives him into shame. He doesn’t want his neighbors or strangers in the street to notice he’s drunk. Alcohol seems so precious to him he shelters himself from judgmental looks and hides at home with stashes of emergency booze (emergency being as soon as he starts to feel remotely sober).

The movie brilliantly showcases the toxic relationship between the addict and his loved ones – on the one hand, they devote all their time and effort to help him, putting aside their own needs; on the other, they participate in his addiction, giving him money for more alcohol rationalizing it gives him a reason to live. But the movie also hints at other issues not obvious at once. Don’s brother, Wick (Phillip Terry) introduces a closeted gay (he literally enters a closet, looking for Don’s typewriter). He echoes Charles R. Jackson, the author of the novel the movie is based upon, who struggled both with his closeted homosexualism and alcoholism. Then, there are female characters. Delicate Helen (Jane Wyman) and streetwise Gloria (Doris Dowling) come off as contrasting personalities. However, they both contribute to Don’s addiction. Even after Helen’s long speech, in which she tries to talk Don out of committing suicide, it seems it is the befriended bartender who saves the day by bringing Don his lost typewriter – clearly a sign there’s still a reason to live.

The Lost Weekend is about more than just lost time. Don loses respect, including self-respect, career opportunities, money, friends, reason to live. But he brilliantly walks us through the most horrid period of his life. Pour yourself a glass of wine and savor every scene of this veritable study of an addiction.

Long days, pleasant nights,

Veronica Bazydlo

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