After his Double Indemnity failed to win any Oscars in 1944, Billy Wilder was back one year later with The Lost Weekend, a grim tale about two days in the life of an alcoholic, which won Oscars for Best Picture, Direction, Screenplay and Actor. A story about addiction and alcohol from the 40s seems to be in great danger of appearing dated and flawed from today’s point-of-view but Billy Wilder’s shocking tale still gives a surprisingly honest and disturbing look at the inner life of writer Don Birnham and how his drinking affects not only himself but also the life of his brother and his girlfriend. Even though some parts of the movie suffer from exaggerated melodrama, The Lost Weekend is a very strong and memorable winner in this category.
The Lost Weekend is a succession of experiences that happen to Don while his brother, who usually watches over him, is out of town. The movie tries to combine the fictional story of Don with a documentary-like account on the life of an alcoholic and shows Don hiding the liquor in his bags and later in his apartment, getting money from anyone he can (even stealing it from a woman in a bar) until he finally wakes up in a hospital. The Lost Weekend works particularly well because it didn’t try to turn Don into a character who is a victim of circumstances but instead shows how aware he actually is of his problems and how willingly he lies and cheats – his addiction has taken over his life but Don is still in a position to recognize this himself even if he is too weak to stop it. This creates a rather open ending to the story and it would be believable to see Don either drinking again or ending for good.
While the direction of Billy Wilder doesn’t seem very special, it is still to his credit that a movie about a single person, working his way from one drink to another is not only shocking but also thrillingly entertaining. Of course, there are some flaws – the scene when Don visits an opera and suddenly all the singers on the stage turn into trench coats with liquor hiding in their pockets is involuntarily funny and even worse is the infamous scene when a drunk Don starts to hallucinate about a bat and a mouse in his apartment – the bat couldn’t look more fake in a homevideo and the fact that the whole scene had already been predicated by a male nurse in the hospital gives the whole plot a sudden artificiality that is more disturbing than haunting.
Overall, The Lost Weekend is not flawless but is still very strong in its honest and observing moments when the viewer follows the character of Don on an unsettling and alarming route.