April 25th, 216
British documentary filmmaker Louis Theroux says he occasionally drinks two bottles of wine after lunch on a weekend. “Drinking is one of our favorite national pastimes,” he notes. But where’s the line between those who drink “for fun” and the subjects of his new documentary Drinking to Oblivion, whose drinking has put them in the hospital—either the emergency room or liver unit?
The powerful documentary, which aired last night on BBC2 (it’ll hopefully be available online in the US before long) and follows Theroux as he talks to patients in King’s College Hospital in London about their drinking, doesn’t have easy answers, but it does raise compelling questions.
For example, do people who seem to be drinking themselves to death really want to die? What can help? And what causes someone to “drink to oblivion?”
Theroux says that he never “reached one conclusion” but that he does see drinking to excess as a “self-anaesthetizing urge.”
This impulse can be seen in Joe, for example, who says that a break-up and a missed job opportunity led him to begin drinking one to two bottles of vodka every day, for two months.
The responses to the work have been mixed. The Telegraph called it “somewhere between unmissable and unwatchable.” Today, the Guardian published some readers’ reactions. Some people, like “ehywhat” saw themselves in the subjects: “The programme scared me for myself as much as those people.” Others drew a range of conclusions about alcohol use. Wiltsbloke said, “It’s interesting that the alcoholics all had low self-esteem” while “LarryDavid” says “Alcohol in the UK is far too cheap.” Viewers also shared their own experience with alcohol use and recovery, as well as those of family members.
The film made Finbar69 reflect on growing up with his mother:
“Christmas ruined? Check. Holidays ruined? Check. Drunk by the time we got home from school? Check. Massive rows all the time? Check.”
Watch the trailer and see what you think: