Louis Theroux: Drinking to Oblivion full movie review - Powerful Documentary that Nonetheless Flirts with Exploitation
In this documentary looking at those who drink to excess, Louis Theroux visits King's College Hospital in London to focus on the lives of four different people.
They include Joe, a thirty-two-year old former medical worker unable to cope with the loss of his girlfriend; Peter, a South African prone to unimaginable panic-attacks; Oriole, a French-Cameroon going out with an alcoholic boyfriend; and an antiques dealer suffering from cirrhosis of the liver.
The stories they tell are quite harrowing, not only for themselves but their loved ones. Joe has been all but abandoned by his family, and now uses the Emergency unit at King's College as a kind of refuge to shelter from the World. Oriole has an appointment with a senior professor who tells her that her liver is in such a bad state that she is on a crash-course towards death unless she quits at the earliest possible opportunity; while the antiques dealer is told - albeit with the kind of indirection characteristic of many medical professionals - that he has a 70+% chance of dying within three months.
Theroux, as a ubiquitous presence in the documentary, finds the experience difficult to fathom; he does not judge those who drink to excess, nor does he feel especially sympathetic towards them. What matters more to him is to find ways of reacting to them; to provide support, or at least to discover alternative means of support by which they could manage their lives.
Such intentions are laudable, and we can only congratulate Theroux for being so honest in front of camera. On the other hand, as with many documentaries of this type, especially those fronted by a star presenter, there remains a nagging feeling that the interviewees have been exploited for dramatic purposes; all of them are carefully chosen by the production team so as to provide as negative an impression as possible of the dangers of alcoholism. They are all aged between thirty and fifty - supposedly the prime of human life. Due to various reasons, however, they have not been able to enjoy their lives; and are hence represented as somehow deviant.
The documentary makes for good television, giving Theroux the chance to make observations direct to camera or through voice-over, but perhaps this effect has not achieved at the subjects' expense.