This is probably one of the greatest and most powerful stories about alcoholism that has even been depicted. This is probably also the most moving film about any kind of addiction, and the daunting struggle to overcome it. The Lost Weekend certainly still carries an enormous message more than 65 years after its first screening.
Billy Wilder took up a really hard challenge of adapting Charles Jackson’s emotional novel in the times when film studios weren’t so keen on producing controversial pictures like this one. He wanted to show the world the disastrous effects of a drinking problem in a very graphic way. I must say that every time I watch it it still sends chills down my spine.
As we meet Don Birnam, played brilliantly by Ray Milland, he is already affected by the omnipresent power of alcohol (Rye Whiskey, to be more precise). We don’t know how long has he been fighting with this brutal ‘cancer’, but we find out that he has been 10 days sober as of now. His brother and girlfriend are trying to send him on a trip out of town, so he can rest and forget about his troubles. Oh, if it was ever so easy. His extreme needs and possessed cunningness eventually lead to a moment when his brother goes away all by himself, while Don stays at the nearby bar taking one shot after another. And that’s when the ‘lost weekend’ begins.
During his four day drinking rampage he tries everything to put his hands on many of the precious bottles of spirit. At first, he is even able to pay for this murderous pleasure. However, when he pours all of the cash down the drain he resorts to really desperate measures in order to satisfy his deepest cravings. He tries to persuade himself that booze makes him happier, as in the scene when he so poetically explains the way he perceives the world after a few drinks. Under the influence he may become every person that he wants to. He is almost invincible. But then comes the day after and the horrible pain and fear. So he has to tackle another few shots to feel at ease. And round and round it goes.
The true power of the movie is contained in the psychological overview of Don and the constant battle that he fights in his mind. There are, in fact, two men locked in one body – The Writer and The Alcoholic. Unfortunately, the latter has got more strength and is slowly killing the former. Even the beautiful Helen isn’t able to stop that process, with all her strong heart and tremendous bravery.
All of this leads to an unavoidable disaster. When he ends up with no money whatsoever he attempts to sell his properties, even the only thing that still keeps him alive – the writing machine. The next step is even more pathetic, as he starts stealing cash from purses and bottles from local shops. Eventually he ends up in a hospice for addicts.
This is where he meets, in my opinion, one of the most memorable characters of the film – ‘Bim’ Nolan. He so calmly tries to explain to Don that this isn’t even the worst stage of them all.
The worst stage, and perhaps the most thrilling scene, happens during the chilling and disturbing climax of the movie, when Don starts imagining the mouse coming out of his wall and the bat that flies in to eat it. This horrifying scene carries the true, and at the same time deeply metaphorical, meaning of Don’s delusional state of mind. By then he finally realizes what has happened to him and that there may be a way to stop it…
Undoubtedly, even in the group of such wonderful pictures (i.e. Spellbound, Mildred Pierce) The Lost Weekend truly deserved all of the four Oscar awards that it got. Great visionary Billy Wilder’s genius directing, a fantastic and thrilling script, and excellent work by the cast all combine for a picture that will still be compelling for everyone.