The media, the movie industry included, often glamorize drinking, and relatively few films endeavor to dive deep into the destruction that alcohol addiction can cause. If you or someone close to you is suffering from alcoholism, you know that it is a desperate, chronic disease that can wreak havoc on one’s health and emotional stability, and dramatically impact those around him or her.
The following are five films detailing how an alcoholic’s behavior adversely affects themselves and everyone who loves them. WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD!
Henry Chinaski (Mickey Rourke) is an extreme alcoholic who lives in a dilapidated apartment in Los Angeles and spends much of his time drinking in bars. However, he is also portrayed as being intelligent and an author of short stories and poems. He repeatedly provokes a barkeeper (Eddie), who eventually kicks him out of the bar one night for his drunken antics.
Henry decides to go to another bar where he meets fellow alcoholic, Wanda (Faye Dunaway), a “kept woman” who purchases copious amounts of alcohol with her lover’s money. She invites Henry to come with her to her apartment. Unfortunately, Henry is still obsessed with Eddie, which leads to a fight between the two outside the bar, while patrons place bets on who will prevail.
Hostility between Henry and Wanda develops when he discovers that she slept with Eddie. Despite this, Henry and Wanda continue to live and get drunk together as he continues to submit compositions to publishers. Eventually, a wealthy publisher contacts Henry to discuss the possibility of publishing his work. She gives him a $500 advance, and they end up sleeping together.
Henry contemplates the upscale life he could have if he could be with the publisher, but ultimately, this outcome would be a betrayal of what he considers his true self—the barfly. Henry despises conformity, and it is this characteristic that motivates him to drink and seek out others who live their lives in a similar state of addiction and despair. Moreover, he feels more or less “at home” as a barfly, so he goes back to Wanda and rekindles his feud with the barkeeper Eddie. At the end of the movie, the two are engaged in yet another fight.
Withnail and I (1987)
Withnail and I is a British black comedy about two struggling actors who live together in a rundown apartment. Withnail (Richard E. Grant) is a rather obnoxious alcoholic appalled by life’s injustices and complains about it throughout the film. Marwood (Paul McGann) is Withnail’s anxious roommate, who attempts to moderate his friend’s most excessive habits.
Withnail and Marwood decide to leave their miserable flat in Camden for a holiday in the country. However, when they arrive, it is constantly raining, there is no food, and the basic survival skills of the two turn out to be sorely inadequate.
Withnail’s eccentric gay uncle Monty owns the cottage in which they reside. Marwood narrowly escapes Monty’s unwanted affections while Withnail continues to drink his uncle’s wine. When Marwood is called back to London for an audition, on the way, Withnail is found to be driving drunk. Marwood ends up getting the job, and sadly, Withnail ends up at the bottom of a bottle.
From an entertainment perspective, the film benefits from the hysterically funny Grant as Withnail and his quotable dialogue. However, due to Withnail’s severe alcoholism, it is also a tragic and, at times, gut-wrenching story. Marwood ultimately finds himself a better life and leaves Withnail alone, left to his own devices and his wine bottle as his sole companion.
The Lost Weekend (1945)
The Lost Weekend was the first Hollywood movie to feature alcoholism as the main storyline. Don Birnam (Ray Milland) is packing a bag for a weekend in the country with his brother (Wick). Wick and Don’s girlfriend Helen are well aware that he is an alcoholic, but also believe he is currently sober, a perception he is trying not to shatter.
However, Don manages to delay this trip and instead chooses to get drunk in a bar. He now has no money and is obliged to obtain alcohol using increasingly bizarre means. After an accident in which he takes a tumble down the stairs, he is rushed to a hospital where he is forced to witness alcoholism’s horrors.
He breaks out of the hospital ward, and when a liquor store opens, Don manically demands that the owner give him a bottle. Don goes home and drinks it, and later wakes up with severe alcohol withdrawal syndrome, including delirium tremens. Don then steals his girlfriend’s coat and pawns it for a gun.
After a struggle ensues with Helen over the weapon, Don declares that he, Don Birnam is already dead. She reminds him that there are actually two Don Birnams, and one should not be sacrificed for the other. He resists drinking a glass of whiskey and then begins to compose his story about the lost weekend, which examines the desperation, darkness, and destruction that alcoholism creates.
Days of Wine and Roses (1962)
Joe Clay (Jack Lemmon) is a public relations guide who falls for Kirsten (Lee Remick), a secretary. Joe introduces the relatively low-key Kirsten to the joys of drinking and partying. Eventually, the two get married and have a daughter. Unfortunately, Joe cannot seem to limit his alcohol consumption, and this habit intensifies until he is a full-blown alcoholic. Sadly, Joe is demoted at his job due to poor performance. Kirsten is also using alcohol as a means to escape, and she almost burns the house down as a result.
The couple is desperate to get sober and manages to do so for a while. Ultimately, however, Joe and Kirsten are both seduced by alcohol again. After a particularly desperate attempt to get more liquor, Joe goes to rehab and begins attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. During this time, he commits himself to work and taking care of the couple’s daughter. Meanwhile, Kirsten remains alcoholism’s grips, and the film’s ending shows her going into a bar.
This movie is among the most lauded film portrayals about alcoholism, as it reveals the chronic, relapsing nature of this disease and the devastating effects it has on families.
Leaving Las Vegas (1995)
Ben (Nicholas Cage) is a once-successful Hollywood screenwriter who has lost nearly everything, including his job, as a result of severe alcoholism. He is given a severance and takes off to Las Vegas, intending to drink himself to death. While he is there, he forms a rather odd relationship with prostitute Sera (Elisabeth Shue). The two devise an informal contract in which Ben agrees not to bring up Sera’s unsavory source of income, and Sera is not allowed to interfere with Ben’s dangerous drinking habits.
The film, based on a novel by John O’Brien, successfully avoids making moral judgments about the characters and instead takes an objective look at addiction and life on the street. Ben is a tragic portrait of a person in the grips of utter self-destruction, and he eventually reaches his self-imposed destiny within a few weeks when he dies from alcoholism. For this reason, this film is especially unsettling, as there is no redemption for Ben, an unapologetic alcoholic who feels he has no longer has reason to live.
Getting Treatment for Alcoholism
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If you or someone you love is suffering from alcoholism, please know that this is a battle that need not be fought alone. We urge you to contact us today and find out how we help those who need it most free themselves from the throes of addiction and begin to experience the healthy, happy, and satisfying lives they deserve!