Five Views of Drinking and Alcohol
- “Civilization begins with distillation.” -William Faulkner-
- “Good people drink good beer.” -Hunter S. Thompson-
- “I’d rather have a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy.” -Dorothy Parker-
- “There is no bad whisky. There are only some whiskeys that aren’t as good as others.” -Raymond Chandler-
- “The light music of whisky falling into glasses made an agreeable interlude.” -James Joyce-
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.
Drinking a little too much alcohol at one time has been known to induce amnesia in those who imbibe. Those of us who have been known to drink a bit too much on occasion can attest to this. Those of you who haven’t made this mistake please trust those of us who have. If you don’t want to trust us then I suggest “You Were Perfectly Fine” by Dorothy Parker. This short story presents the danger of a little too much drink (without the soapbox condescension).
Parker’s story is primarily of a dialogue between Peter, a “pale young man” and a “clear-eyed girl” the morning after a night of drinking and with friends. She helps him piece together the events of the previous evening. She assures him that his drunken behavior was not that bad and that, in fact, he was “perfectly fine” throughout most of the evening. The key event of the story worth noting is when she tells the man that he revealed romantic feelings for her, and that she has similar feelings for him. The man’s reaction to this turn (as shown in the last sentence) can be viewed as a warning to monitor both the amount of alcohol you drink and what you say when drinking.
“Dorothy Parker and Hamm’s”
If you take the dialogue between the woman and Peter at face value it is a humorous tale of a little too much alcohol being the root cause of some foolish actions and brash statements. But there are a few points that are worth a closer analysis. These points don’t necessarily change the outcome of the story, but they do provide a different view concerning the motivation of the female character. Peter relies on this female companion to remind him of the events and his actions of the previous night. An argument can be made that the female is making light of Peter’s actions because she has feelings for him and doesn’t want Peter to feel bad. Another interpretation could argue that she is deftly manipulating Peter. The story begins at about four in the afternoon when Peter finally gets out of bed with quite a hangover. The female character doesn’t seem to be suffering any ill effects of the previous evening. She obviously has not had as much to drink as Peter, and she is better prepared to discuss the previous night than Peter. Another point worth considering concerns the title of the story. Throughout the course of their conversation she tells Peter, “You were perfectly fine,” on two occasions along with two more variations of this statement. Minimizing Peter’s actions can be viewed as something other than making apologies for a romantic interest. These statements can be seen as a means to convince Peter that his actions were acceptable, and by extension so is his supposed admission of feelings for the female character. The final point for analysis is Peter’s romantic declaration. According to the female Peter’s actions throughout the night had a collection of witnesses, yet their conversation was private. If Peter has a history of blacking out while drinking, which seems to be the case, the female could easily manipulate Peter into thinking he said something he did not. The fact that she suggests they keep their romantic exchange a secret may not be proof of manipulation but does give one a reason to question her motivation.
If alcohol has ever put you in a situation where you felt like a third person character in your first person life then “You Were perfectly Fine” is worth a read as a cautionary tale. If alcohol hasn’t struck you with a bit of amnesia this is an interesting a study of character motivation. Parker’s ability to create characters that conceal more than they reveal is just one of many reasons why her work should be on your shelf.
“You Were Perfectly Fine” from The Portable Dorothy Parker (1944)