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Film Review: The Lost Weekend
In 1945, Billy Wilder released The Lost Weekend, based on the Charles R. Jackson 1944 novel of the same name. Starring Ray Milland, Jane Wyman, Phillip Terry, Howard Da Silva, Doris Dowling, Frank Faylen, Mary Young, and Anita Bolster, the film grossed $11 million at the box office. Winning the Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, and Best Screenplay, it was also nominated for Best Cinematography – Black and White, Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture and Best Film Editing. It also won the first Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival as well as the award for Best Actor. The film has also been referenced many times in popular culture from such sources as the Looney Toons and Stephen Fry.
Told over a span of six days, alcoholic writer Don Birnam skips out on a weekend vacation with his brother and a concert with his girlfriend, saying that he’s going to spend the weekend writing. However, he instead spends it drinking himself into a stupor.
The Lost Weekend is an interestingly hard-hitting film, looking into the effects of alcoholism while being able to tell a memorable story with interesting characters.
The film is able to portray the effects of alcoholism quite realistically, showing just what lengths Birnam is willing to go in order to obtain something to drink, which is seen all throughout the film. Not only does he sneak past his girlfriend in order to get some cheap whiskey, but when the bar he usually frequents refuses to serve him anymore, he goes to another one, where he has to steal money to pay his bill. That’s also not the only time he steals as he takes a bottle of whiskey from a store. And eventually, the words of Nat the Bartender ring true as Birnham stumbles through town looking for some place that’s open to satiate his desire. One drink was too many, as it got him started down his path of destruction and one hundred drinks won’t be enough to end said path.
The film also gets into how Birnham is affected mentally as he’s not only hallucinating animals terrorizing him, but he even goes so far as to pawn a sentimental item, that’s not even his, so he can end his suffering.
Interestingly, the film’s portrayal of alcoholism is quite different than other films of the time, which usually showed them as the bumbling fool only good for some comedic relief.
And the whole story over which this stupor is told is done very well. Birnam is a writer and wants to spend the weekend writing a story that centers on when he and his girlfriend first met. However, he freely admits that he can’t write without drinking, but the pull of the drink is too strong and he spends no time writing and all his time drinking or looking for his next drink. There’s quite a bit of realism in this story as those who have the desire to do what they really want to do, but are pulled very strongly towards an obsession or addiction, and it doesn’t have to be alcohol, can spend all their time satiating that urge. And while the end result may not be as extreme as Birnam’s desire to kill himself, there is quite a bit of longing to have the time back that was lost.
Also, along with the story and the character of Birnam, the other characters are done very well. Birnam’s girlfriend, Helen, is patient and longsuffering towards him and his alcoholism, willing to help him as much as she’s able to. And she believes herself to be able to withstand quite a bit to help him. And her sticking by him is enough to get Birnam to realize that suicide isn’t the way out of his problem and he can write without alcohol so long as he’s got her. There’s also his brother, Wick, who is willing to throw himself under the bus and take the blame for the bottle of alcohol so Don doesn’t lose the affections of Helen. It shows that he’s always going to selflessly think of the well-being of his brother, even when he’s drinking himself under the table.
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