Film: The Lost Weekend

"Most men lead lives of quiet desperation. I can't take quiet desperation!"
Don Birnam

A 1944 novel by Charles R. Jackson, The Lost Weekend entered the Pop-Cultural Osmosis once the film version was released the following year. Directed and co-written by Billy Wilder and starring Ray Milland, the film won four Oscars, including Best Picture. Miklós Rózsa provided the film's score, notable for its prominent use of Theremin.

An alcoholic writer, Don Birnam, leads a tough existence in New York City. His girlfriend, Helen, is one of the few people out there who can hopefully lead him on the straight and narrow. However, Don's personal life has been at a crossroads due to his insecurities. After ditching his brother's suggestion for a weekend in the country, Don begins a long drinking binge (the titular lost weekend). Of course, the more he drinks, the closer it may be to his last one...

The Lost Weekend won Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director for Billy Wilder, Best Actor for Milland, and Best Adapted Screeplay for Wilder and Charles Brackett. It is on the National Film Registry.

This work features examples of:

  • The Alcoholic: Possibly the first Hollywood film to treat alcoholism in anything resembling a realistic way.
  • Ambiguously Gay: "Bim", the male nurse at the alcoholic ward.
  • At the Opera Tonight: In flashback, where Don meets Helen.
  • Bowdlerize: The novel pointed to a homosexual affair as the root of Birnam's troubles; the film version replaced it with writer's block.
  • Cold Turkeys Are Everywhere: Don has gone to the opera. Unfortunately for him the opera has a party scene in which everyone is drinking and bottles of champagne are everywhere. He has to leave.
  • Drunken Montage: This film features the Ur-Example of the drunkard wandering through the city-streets, while neon-signs float eerily around him. Yeah, that effect that has been endlessly imitated, it started here.
  • Extremely Short Timespan: The title isn't random; the whole movie, minus the flashback sequence, takes place as Don goes on a bender over a single weekend.
  • Eye Open: Closeup on Don's eye after he wakes up after drinking until passing out.
  • The Film of the Book
  • I'll Tell You When I've Had Enough!: Says Don to the bartender who suggests he take it easy.
  • Local Hangout: Nat's Bar
  • Meat-O-Vision: A variant comes when Birnam attends the opera and hallucinates that the chorus is a row of empty, swaying trenchcoats, each with a bottle of rye in its pocket.
  • Meet Cute: Don and Helen, when their coat-check tickets get mixed up at the opera.
  • Moral Guardians: On both ends: the liquor industry tried to sway Paramount from releasing the film, allegedly even going as far to bribe Billy Wilder. On the other hand, the more traditional folks tried to keep it from release for fears it would encourage drinking.
  • Most Writers Are Writers: Don is a frustrated author with writers' block. Whether the inability to write has exacerbated his drinking or his drinking has robbed him of the ability to write is unclear.
  • Off the Wagon: The flashback reveals that Don had stayed sober for six weeks after meeting Helen. Then, nervous because her parents have come to meet him, he goes on a spree.
  • Pink Elephants: A particularly terrifying use of this trope, as Don hallucinates a bat swooping in and eating a mouse in the wall.
  • Shout-Out to Shakespeare: Don has a habit of quoting the Bard when getting hammered. His first quote, "Purple the sails, and so perfumed ... " is from Antony and Cleopatra, and his second, "Yea, all which it shall inherit ...", is from The Tempest.
  • Tropaholics Anonymous: Averted. AA had been around for a decade when this film came out, but the widely accepted idea that 12-step programs are necessary to conquer substance abuse had not really caught on. The film ends with Don determined, with Helen's support, to quit drinking cold turkey and write his book.