Top 5 Movies About Alcoholism – The media, including the movie industry, often romanticizes drinking, and few films actually explore the devastating consequences of alcoholism. If you or someone you love suffers from alcohol addiction, you know that it is a desperate, chronic condition that can wreak havoc on a person’s health and emotional well-being, as well as dramatically impact those around them.
The following are five films that detail how an alcoholic‘s behavior affects themselves as everyone they love.
Warning: spoilers ahead!
Withnail And I (1987)
Withnail and I is the story of two struggling actors who live in a shabby apartment. Withnail (Richard E. Grant) is an extravagantly-acting alcoholic who is appalled by the injustices of life, and rants about it throughout the entire film. Marwood (Paul McGann) is Withnail’s roommate who tries to moderate his most excessive habits.
Withnail and Marwood decide to leave their dismal flat in Camden for a vacation in the countryside. When they arrive, it rains constantly, there’s no food, and their basic survival skills turn out to be somewhat inadequate.
The cottage is owned by Withnail’s eccentric gay uncle Monty where Marwood barely escapes Monty’s affections while Withnail continues to drink his uncle’s fine wine. Called back to London for an audition for Marwood’s, on the way back home Withnail is found to be driving while intoxicated. Marwood ends up getting the job and Withnail ends up at the bottom of a bottle.
The film has lots of quotable dialogue and benefits from the hysterically funny Grant as Withnail. However, due to Withnail’s severe alcoholism, it is also quite a tragic story, what with Marwood finding himself in a better life, leaving Withnail alone with his wine bottle. Withnail quotes Hamlet at the end of the movie, further solidifying him as a self-aware figure of tragedy.
Henry Chinaski (Mickey Rourke) is a severe alcoholic who lives in a rundown apartment in Los Angeles and spends most of his life drinking in bars. However, he is also intelligent and a writer of short stories and poems. He frequently antagonizes a barkeeper named Eddie, who tosses him out of the bar one night for his drunken escapades.
Still, Henry goes to yet another bar where he meets a fellow alcoholic named Wanda (Faye Dunaway), a “kept woman” who buys copious amounts alcohol with her lover’s money. She invites Henry to come back with her to her apartment. But Henry remains obsessed with Eddie, which results in fights between the two outside the bar, while patrons bet on who will win.
Rancor breaks out when Henry finds out Wanda slept with Eddie. Nevertheless, Henry and Wanda continue to live and drink together as he submits his manuscripts to publishers. Eventually, a wealthy publisher tracks down Henry to see about publishing his work and ends up giving him a $500 advance, and they sleep together.
Henry thinks about the upscale life he could have if he could just be with the publisher, but ultimately that would be a betrayal of his true self—a barfly. Henry hates conformity, and it is this that motivates him to drink and seek out others who live in a similar fashion. Moreover, he feels at home as a barfly, so he instead goes back to Wanda, reignites his feud with Eddie, and at the end of the film, they are in another fight.
The Lost Weekend (1945)
The Lost Weekend was the first Hollywood movie about alcoholism—that is, to feature true alcohol addiction as the main storyline. Don Birnam (Ray Milland) is packing for a weekend in the country with his brother, Wick. Wick and Don’s girlfriend Helen knows that he is an alcoholic but believes that he is “on the wagon,” a perception he is careful not to shatter.
However, Don manages to postpone the trip and evade it all together to instead get drunk in a bar. He has no money, so is forced to get his alcohol by increasingly bizarre and nefarious means. After an accident in which he falls down the stairs, he is rushed to a hospital where he witnesses the horrors of alcoholism first-hand.
He breaks out of the ward, and at dawn when a liquor store opens, in a state of mania, Don demands that the owner give him a bottle. Don goes home and drinks it, and later wakes up suffering from delirium tremens.
In the morning, Don steals his girlfriend’s leopard coat and pawns it for a gun. After a struggle over the gun with Helen, Don bitterly declares that Don Birnam is already dead. She then reminds him that there are two Don Birnams, and that he should not sacrifice one for the other. He resists a glass of whiskey and then begins to compose his “lost” weekend story.
Throughout the film, watch Don transform into a raging addict, revealing the desperation and seediness of an alcoholic’s existence. Moreover, alcoholism leads to darkness, despair, and destruction. The alcoholic, here, is portrayed accurately as someone who is seemingly unable to pull himself together.
Days of Wine and Roses (1962)
Joe Clay (Jack Lemmon) is a PR guide who falls in love with a secretary named Kirsten (Lee Remick). Joe introduces Kirsten to the pleasures of drinking, and, eventually, they get married and have a daughter. Unfortunately, Joe cannot limit his alcohol consumption, and his habit intensifies until he is a full-blown alcoholic and is demoted at his job. Kirsten also finds refuge in alcohol and nearly burns the house down as a result.
The couple is desperate to be sober and does manage for a while until the lure of alcohol leads them to drink again. Joe checks into rehab and begins attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. But he is determined to work and care for his daughter while Kirsten is totally lost to alcoholism, and the film’s ending shows Kristen entering a bar.
Days of Wine and Roses is one of the most famous movies about alcoholism. Indeed, it may be one of Hollywood’s best films about its chronic, relapsing nature and devastating effects on families.
Leaving Las Vegas (1995)
Ben (Nicholas Cage) is a Hollywood screenwriter who has lost everything, including his job, due to his alcoholism. He is given a severance and heads to Las Vegas to drink himself to death. While he is there, he forms a strange relationship with Sera (Elisabeth Shue), a street prostitute. They settle on an uneasy agreement in which Ben is not allowed to bring up Sera’s line of work, and Sera is not permitted to impede Ben’s drinking habits.
The film, which was based on a novel by John O’Brien, is careful to avoid making moral judgments about the characters and is a graphic and honest portrayal of alcoholism and a person in its grips who has lost all hope.
Ben is a portrait of utter self-destruction as he eventually reaches his goal by dying in just a few weeks as a result of his disease. For this reason, this film is one of the most tragic movies about alcoholism, as there can be no redemption for Ben. He fulfills his self-imposed destiny as an alcoholic that feels he has no reason left to live.
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