When I chose Lost Weekend and Deliverance as a Blindspot pair, I did it with a vague idea of a common theme of men overcoming major obstacles. As it turns out, the biggest obstacle each central character faces and needs to overcome is staring right back at him in the mirror. That’s not to say there aren’t a few other hindrances in their way throughout each story (addiction and hallucinations in the first, raging water and crazy backwoods hunters in the other), but each man has to come to the realization that he has worth, courage and the ability to “dig deep”. For some, it takes desperate and dire circumstances to finally get the message across.
In Billy Wilder’s Lost Weekend, Ray Milland plays Don Birnam – a miserable alcoholic who (even though he has managed 10 days sobriety) continues to be his own worst enemy. We actually meet one of his bottles of rye (hanging out the window in one of the few hiding spots his family haven’t found yet) before we meet him. As the camera moves into the apartment, we learn that Don is preparing to go to the country with his brother for a weekend away from all temptation. However, Don has every intention of bringing along some of his favourite refreshment if he can just divert his brother’s attention for a few minutes. If he plans to get some writing done, he needs to be creative and he believes that alcohol allows his mind to “toss the sandbags overboard so the balloon can soar”. But that’s the thing about someone in Don’s condition – they can rationalize just about anything and lie as easy as most of us breathe. And not just to his brother or girlfriend (Jane Wyman with the loveliest set of cheekbones you ever did see), but mostly to himself. He may become far more loquacious when liquored up (or “tight” as they used to say in the old days), but he hasn’t made a lick of progress on his novel. “Suddenly I’m above the ordinary. I’m confident, supremely confident” he says as he riffs on other supremely artistic people and he may very well feel that way, but Don is far too scared of failure to truly commit to his writing. Hence the booze and the roadblock that is himself.