wogma rating: Beg or borrow, but do watch (?)
One of the only two films to have won the Best Picture at the Oscars and the Palme De Or (Golden Palm) at Cannes Film Festival, The Lost Weekend captures four days in the life of a chronic alcoholic, desperate to get his fix. With a creepy background score and inventive dialogues, writer-director Billy Wilder evocatively captures the helplessness of a struggling writer who cannot help but be lured to the depths of addiction before he begins penning his novel.Read more
Story-tellers have often been fascinated with the depths a man plunges to under the influence of alcohol.
If you can think deep about how addiction affects creativity, career, love, family, society and you've got fodder for a plot, it's good enough to be woven into a screenplay. From India, Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay's Devdas , was spun into various versions on screen. In the West, one of the earliest films made on this theme, is Billy Wilder'sThe Lost Weekend.
Filmed in 1945, after Wilder chanced upon a novel by the same name on a railway journey to Hollywood, The Lost Weekend, a story about four days in the life of a chronic alcoholic, is possibly one of his best written films.
I say so, because there have been few films that have articulated the effects of alcohol on the human mind, the desperation that follows, when one drink is too much and yet, even a hundred more are not enough.
That’s exactly the dilemma of the film's protagonist Don Birnam (Ray Milland, in an Oscar winning performance), a struggling writer who after being hailed as Hemingway as a 19-year old in college, is 33 now and cannot put pen to paper, because his mind is always asking him "to have a drink first".
Wilder makes Birnam express his desperation, frustration and helplessness through memorable lines and while doing so, provides a great commentary about an alcoholic's obnoxious nature in society and his obsession with getting his next fix.
The gravity of Birnam's situation is expressed through fantastic close-ups. In a scene where Birnam is settling down for a drink, he is shown removing his coat and sitting on the sofa - Wilder almost equates Birnam's relationship with alcohol as sexual in nature. There are also scenes where he uses characters to illustrate society's condemnation and lack of hope about the writing profession, something which adds to Birnam's woes and makes him drown his sorrows even more, in alcohol.
What amazes is how little time the screenplay takes in establishing Birnam's condition. As the film progresses through a linear narrative, interspersed with flashbacks, Wilder guides the viewer scene by scene, to what depths Birnam has fallen, to get his liquor. He also uses satire with good effect - a rehab centre is named 'Hangover Plaza' and some regulars there are former advertising professionals!
A special mention about the terrific background score - a classic trademark in all Billy Wilder films - which gives the film an eerie feel, unheard of, in a genre like this. Some scenes are frightening, especially the hospital scene towards the end, which has me squirming, every time I watch it. Wilder uses lights, doors, sounds and Birnam's close-ups to great effect.
In my view, the biggest reason why the story of The Lost Weekend is a classic, is that 65 years later, mankind is still battling with addiction, rehab centres haven’t changed their treatment measures and the expression on the face of a man desperate for his next glass of liquor, is still the same.
Bravo, Mr Wilder.
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This page has additional observations, other than the ones noted in the main review.
Highly dissatisfied with his life, struggling writer Don Birnam (Ray Milland) is an alcoholic for a long time. His brother Wick (Phillip Terry) and girlfriend Helen St James (Jane Wyman) manage to keep him sober for ten days, but he makes arrangements to get away from them, on a self-destructive trip.