Addiction is a compelling topic for literature, art and film. It feels like alcoholism adds layers of the story and gives a dark edge to it. Sometimes, we disgust such characters while in other instances, we pity them. Either way, they bag a lot of attention.
It’s a subject that speaks to the human condition and translates through every culture and society. Many movies have tackled the subject of addiction and obsession. Some of these movies can be hard to watch. For obvious reasons, this subject doesn’t always have the most upbeat and positive story lines. However, many of these films will leave a lasting impact on you as a human being.
Let us not forget that without Bill and Bob, none of these great movies would have happened and I would not have this topic to write about!
Let us also remember to take a moment of silence for the still suffering addict/alcoholics. Their struggle is real and the road is long. Hope to see them soon.
Please add your thoughts about these movies and any other films about addiction, sobriety, and recovery you enjoy. Thank you.
Days of Wine and Roses (1962)
Jack Lemmon plays Joe Clay – a PR guide who falls in love with Kirsten (a secretary played by Lee Remick). Joe introduces Kirsten to the joys of social drinking, they get married and have a daughter named Debbie. Unfortunately Joe cannot keep his drinking to social drinking. His habit escalates until he is a full blown alcoholic and gets demoted at work for shoddy performance. Kirsten similarly finds refuge in booze and nearly burns the house down. The pair are desperate to be sober and they manage sobriety for a while until the lure of alcohol makes them drink. Joe goes to rehab and joins AA. The road is not easy – he has many lapses. But he is determined to work and look after his child whilst Kirsten is totally lost to the bottle. The ending of the film shows her entering a bar. Kudos to the film for being realistic in its portrayal of alcoholism. It shows the many attempts a lot of drinkers have to go through before they achieve sobriety – it is not an easy road as Joe’s travails demonstrate. And further kudos to the film for its depiction of Kirsten’s relentless addiction – there isn’t always a happy ending with alcohol. The film does much to demystify the attraction of alcohol – showing how stupid drunk people really are when they think they are being clever and witty. The chemistry between Jack Lemmon and Lee Remick is incredible and makes the film all the more depressing as a warped love story. Probably one of the best films by director Blake Edwards.
Leaving Las Vegas (1995)
Ben is a Hollywood screen writer who has lost everything due to his affliction with alcohol. He heads to Las Vegas to drink himself to death and while he is there, he forms a relationship with Sera, a street prostitute. They come to an uneasy pact – Ben is not allowed to mention Sera’s line of work, and Sera is not allowed to get in the way of Ben’s drinking. Director Mike Figgis is careful never to make a moral judgement about his characters. They are who they are and that is their choice. The film never sinks to sentimentality. It is a graphic and honest display of alcoholism and those who have lost all hope. Nicolas Cage really deserved the Oscar for his role of Ben – he manages to convey self destruction and doom in some agonising acting. The chemistry between him and Elizabeth Shue is amazing, and she gives a fantastic performance as a woman trapped in a terrible situation, yet totally accepting of its ramifications. Bleak, realistic and depressing, but a fascinating film.
The Lost Weekend (1945)
Directed by Billy Wilder, this film was the first Hollywood movie to feature alcoholism as a major component of a film. Don Birman is packing to go away for the weekend with his brother Wick. He reels in a bottle hanging outside the window. Yes folks, he is a drunk. His girlfriend Helen arrives. Don loves Helen but the relationship has serious problems due to his drinking. Don is thrust into a hellish weekend trying to get money to sustain his habit. This leads to thorough degradation. After he falls down the stairs, he is taken to hospital where he sees at first hand the horrors of alcoholism. Eventually, Don decides to stop his drinking. Ray Milland gives a tremendous performance as Don. He transforms himself into a raging addict and he is not scared to show the desperation and seediness of the alcoholic’s existence. Drinking habits lead to darkness, despair and destruction. In 1945, this would have been a very shocking film, alcoholism was something that went on behind closed doors, it wasn’t discussed in the open. Billy Wilder portrayed accurately the inability of the alcoholic to pull himself together and also the problem of enabling the alcoholic through protecting him from the worst excesses of his problem (for example, paying his rent and his bills). A darker film than most of Wilder’s output, The Lost Weekend is an honest and daring movie.
Everything Must Go (2010)
Nick Halsey (Will Ferrell) is an example of how NOT to work a recovery program. Anyone who has been a stubborn drunk who’s unwilling to comply with family, work and society will identify with this film. I am not sure anyone other than Will Ferrell could pull this off.
Movies like this offer hope to the many who are labeled “Hopeless”. Especially, considering the many souls who walk into AA with said label, eventually finding themselves branded “Miracles”.
Withnail and I (1987)
The tale of two struggling actors who live in a grotty flat while they wait for their careers to take off. Withnail is a flamboyant alcoholic who is disgusted at life and its injustices. He rails and rants the entire film. Marwood (the narrator) is Withnail’s fellow actor buddy who lives with him and tries to mitigate his worst excesses. They go to stay in a cottage owned by Withnail’s eccentric homosexual uncle Monty where Marwood narrowly escapes Monty’s attentions. Withnail just keeps on drinking his uncle’s fine wine. Called back to London for Marwood’s audition, on the way back home Withnail is discovered driving while intoxicated. Marwood gets the job and Withnail gets the bottle. Withnail and I is considered to be one of the greatest British cult movies ever made. With lots of quotable dialogue and an hysterically funny turn from Richard E Grant as Withnail, the film is a terrific comic experience to watch. It is, however, due to Withnail’s alcoholism, quite a sad story too with lots of pathos – such as Marwood disappearing off into a better life and Withnail left with his wine bottle. He quotes Hamlet at the end of the movie, which makes Withnail a figure of tragedy and he knows it. Alternately funny and melancholy.
Drug users often times become just as addicted to each other as they do for their drugs. There is an intoxication in love that is fueled by drug use. Candy tells this story in a deeply realistic way. A poet falls in love with an art student who gravitates to his bohemian lifestyle, and his love of heroin. Hooked on one another as much as they are the drug, their relationship alternates between states of oblivion, ecstasy, self-destruction and despair. Throughout all the pain and heart ache that you feel in this film, it leaves you with a sense of empowerment and gives testimony to the inner strength that addiction and pain can build. Great movie.