Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...

Drink Up: 5 Movies About Alcoholism

The Playlist By Simon Abrams | The Playlist November 1, 2012 at 11:00AM

“Flight” is as strong as it is because it never pulls punches when it comes to portraying the dark side of protagonist Whip Whitaker’s (Denzel Washington) alcoholism. Whip’s character arc is as moving as it is because he’s surrounded by people that don’t know how to help him and people that want to hide him away so he can’t further embarrass them. Addiction is presented as an individual’s choice, albeit one that is incredibly hard to stop making, and “Flight” is just the latest in a line of humane and unsentimental dramas about alcoholics. From the horrors of finding one more drink in “The Lost Weekend” to the bitterly funny skid row life depicted in both “Barfly” and “Factotum,” this list is dedicated to films that neither baby their audience nor judge their protagonists too harshly. So before you see “Flight,” check out these five superior alcoholism dramas.
Leaving Las Vegas

Leaving Las Vegas
While it’s tempting to compare “Leaving Las Vegas” to “The Lost Weekend” (see below), the key difference between Billy Wilder’s wrenching drama about alcoholism and Mike Figgis’ darkly romantic neo-noir is that there’s no hope of recovery for the latter film’s lead protagonist. Washed-up screenwriter Ben Sanderson (Nicolas Cage) goes to Las Vegas to drink himself to death. And in spite of her best efforts, Sera (Elisabeth Shue), a lonely prostitute that’s instantly attracted to him, yet can’t steer Ben clear of his suicidal impulses. Worse still, Ben doesn’t have the luxury of being surrounded by a community of friends or loved ones. There’s no kindly bartenders here, nor any magically redemptive qualities to Sera’s love. All that’s left for Ben at this point is a grinding and inevitably fatal binge. Figgis refuses to pity Ben: he’s pathetic and often slovenly but he’s also not without a certain three-sheets-to-the-wind kind of charm. Likewise, it’s to Figgis’ great credit that Sera’s character arc isn’t contrived. Even when Sera hits rock bottom hard, the new low that her own powerlessness brings her to never seems gratuitous within the context of the story that's being told. And when the film ends, Ben leaves Sera to hit a new low all by herself.

“The Lost Weekend”

The Lost Weekend
Billy Wilder's “The Lost Weekend” is basically a horror film about a washed-up writer whose addiction has taken over his life. The film begins with a long crane shot that initially surveys the buildings on a city block and then hones in on a bottle of whiskey that Ray Milland's haunted Don Birnam has secreted in case of such an emergency. Don's brother Wick (Phillip Terry) and his girlfriend Helen (Jane Wyman) want to take him away from the city for the weekend to help him sober up, but Don is already doing everything short of cartwheels to get that bottle of Rye back. Don's fears of being alone and desperately in need of a drink in a city full of people that pity him are well-founded. Once he's pushed Wick and Helen away, Don stumbles around the city alone in search for money enough to buy his next drink. The universe seems to conspire against Don, an alcoholic that's always perilously close to hitting rock bottom but never quite makes it, until he's made to see that he's never really been alone or without resources. Miklos Rozsa's theremin-heavy score compliments nightmarish scenes like when a bat devours a rat hiding in Don's apartment, or when Don stumbles around looking for a pawn shop but finds they're all closed for Yom Kippur. “Lost Weekend” is potent nightmare fuel, right up until its sobering finale.

This article is related to: Flight, Denzel Washington, Features

The Playlist

The obsessives' guide to contemporary cinema via film discussion, news, reviews, features, nostalgia, movie music, soundtracks, DVDs and more.

E-Mail Updates