In today’s society, people give the privilege of drinking many purposes. You can learn to taste the subtle differences in fine wine or crafted beers, it can lighten the atmosphere of a party, provide liquid courage, lubricate celebration or just let you feel numb at a loss. Sadly, there are many times when this privilege manifests inside people into a dark obsession. The Lost Weekend is a story where the bottle has become ruler over a man’s life and serves only to destroy.
Wick (Phillip Terry) has planned to take a long weekend with his brother Don (Ray Milland) out of the city. Lately, Don’s drinking has gotten out of control. He has no job, financially depends on his brother and spends all his money on alcohol. When Don tricks his girlfriend Helen (Jane Wyman) and Wick to leave him alone for the afternoon and then doesn’t show up in time to make the last train, Wick gives up on him and leaves Don alone for the weekend. Helen tries to check in and keep an eye on Don, but his weekend binge takes him to darker places than the neighborhood bar, including a sanitarium, stealing booze and thoughts of suicide.
Don uses alcohol as a crutch, a way to deal with his failure as a writer, but he doesn’t realise it is the cause of his failure. The intimidation of a blank sheet of paper pushes him to drink, hoping to become inspired and see the vision of his work. But when one doesn’t do the trick, he reaches for another and again until he can’t see straight. It’s a sad cycle, known to challenge many creative minds that the film illustrates perfectly.
Ray Milland pulls off an amazing Oscar winning performance. It’s one simple task to act like a drunk, but to give a face to all the horrors of alcoholism is quite a feat. We see him trashing his own apartment, scrambling like an animal searching for the bottle he’s hidden. We pity him as he desperately beg his bartender for a drink. At the brink of insanity, we see his hallucinations and his reaction makes the images exponentially frightening. It takes an amazing actor to bring all those aspects of alcoholism to life in a realistic, scary and sympathetic way.
Except for in reading Stephen King’s The Shining, I don’t think I’ve ever been so frightened by a psychological profile of alcoholism. Milland’s perfect performance is only one aspect that brings this frightening illness to life. Under Billy Wilder’s Oscar winning direction, we’re shown some of the darkest places a man and his mind can go. The camera work can transport us through an empty glass and at times there’s ominous music that reminds me of old episodes of The Twilight Zone. At times, it feels like Don is living in a nightmare world, even when things are simply coincidence, but that’s how the mind works when under the influence. Though it may not be a story everyone wants to see, The Lost Weekend is the best film of 1945. Please drink responsibly.
“Of course you couldn’t write the beginning cause you didn’t know the ending.”