When does a lost evening give way to a lost weekend? When do lost weekends give way to a lost life? Dorothy Parker’s “You Were Perfectly Fine” addresses some dangers of an evening of drinking to excess. The Lost Weekend, directed by Billy Wilder, addresses the dangers and consequences of years of drinking to excess. There are many movies that address alcoholism that are more recent than The Lost Weekend, but this movie was groundbreaking for its portrayal of alcoholism. Wilder’s movie is worth a view for both its originality and its lasting message.
Billy Wilder’s The Lost Weekend, based on Charles Jackson’s novel, was ahead of its time and earned the 1945 Best Picture Oscar (along with three other Oscars). Movies prior to The Lost Weekend avoided direct discussions concerning alcoholism or often used alcoholism for comic relief. Ray Milland’s portrayal of an alcoholic’s struggle over the course of a weekend was something new to the screen, and under Wilder’s direction, provided a realistic view of alcoholism. This realistic portrayal of the impact of alcoholism on the alcoholic and those close to him is as relevant now as it was when it premiered.
The movie has held up well over the past seventy years. The opening scene establishes the central characters and provides a realistic view of an alcoholic. Milland’s portrayal of a man who is struggling with alcoholism is realistic and allows the viewer to empathize with him. This realism was original for the time and still holds true. A viewer today can feel the same anguish as the viewer of 1945 when Milland says, “I’m not a drinker. I’m a drunk.” There are some contemporary critics who argue the end of the movie is not in keeping with the story and it has become dated. Although the ending of the movie does differ from the novel this can be attributed to Wilder’s need to get approval from the Hays Office censors. But the ending of the movie may not be as upbeat as many critics argue. Milland’s character may want to change, but wanting to change is just one step in a long and difficult process. This interpretation shows the movie’s message concerning the struggle of the alcoholic is as relevant now as it was in 1945.
Billy Wilder’s The Lost Weekend was one of the first honest and realistic portrayals of alcoholism on film. Ray Milland’s performance as an individual struggling with alcoholism rings as true today as it did in 1945. The Lost Weekend is worth viewing for both its historical significance and its message.
The Lost Weekend with Ray Milland and Jane Wyman. Directed by Billy Wilder.