Film Thoughts: The Lost Weekend (1945)

Film Thoughts: The Lost Weekend (1945)

Film: The Lost Weekend
Year: 1945
Directed by: Billy Wilder
Starring: Ray Milland, Jany Wyman

A 1945 film directed by Billy Wilder, The Lost Weekend is based on Charles R. Jackson’s novel about an alcoholic writer. It won the Academy Award for Best Picture, and it is considered to be a classic. The film follows Don Birnam, a desperate alcoholic, as he goes on a four-day drinking binge.

We screened this film on Friday, January 27, 2017. We had a decent crowd, though it was lighter than usual, and we had a lively discussion afterward.

Discussion notes

The Hero’s Journey: Jennifer Ericson pointed out the Hero’s Journey of the film, calling attention to the fact that the call to adventure for Don is sobriety. She also pointed out how the ending really fits the “return with the elixir” section of the Hero’s Journey as Don’s typewriter is returned and he can turn his experience into a novel that will help others.

The Ending: Adam Tina discussed the ambiguousness of the ending as he called our attention to the way Wilder chose to end the film. The film ends with a reversal of the opening shot as the camera bans from the bottle to the Manhattan skyline. This can be seen as the beginning of another relapse or the beginning of a new chapter where Don has learned how to conquer his alcoholism once and for all.

The Symbol of the Circle: Peter Thompson brought our attention to the use of circles in this film. In Nat’s bar, this is represented by rings of condensation around Don’s drink. Like the circles, Don’s cycle of binge drinking has no end and no beginning.

The Theme of Drugs and Alcohol: In a heartful and emotional speech, Tara Love told us about her experience with alcoholism and how this film was a very realistic and bleak depiction of everything the alcoholic goes through. Tara expressed her hope that Don did finally get his shit together by the end of the movie and conquer his addiction.

Tara also talked about the importance of seeking out the help that you need when you are in the throes of addiction. She referred us all to a few helpful resources such as The Recovery Village and Smart Recovery. We wrote these resources on the board for anyone to jot down as they were led.

We all left the screening in a bit of a somber mood, but a little more empathetic and aware of the depths of addiction. The fact that The Lost Weekend is still such an accurate depiction of alcoholism over 70 years later speaks to the brilliance of Wilder as a filmmaker.