Andreas Pichler’s documentary starts with a stunning assertion. Alcohol is a drug. But most people don’t believe it is (oh, really?) This is followed by various statements of the bleeding obvious. Alcohol can make you feel better about yourself and more confident. It can reduce depression. But if you drink too much, it can make your depression worse.
I’m not exactly sure what Pichler’s motivations were in making the film. Assuaging his own guilt, perhaps? He says that he grew up in wine country and is not averse to the odd glass himself. And most of the experts who he interviews do not roundly condemn alcohol, explaining that (more bleeding obviousness ahoy), most people actually enjoy drinking.
Two case studies are interviewed. There is the journalist who for decades enjoyed drinking, and rarely to excess. Looking back on those days, he says that it was a great time. Then he started drinking too much. Now he doesn’t touch alcohol any more.
Then there’s the woman from Liverpool who’s introduced as being something like a “social media analyst”, which I guess means that she has a facebook account. In her teens she regularly went on the piss, getting blind drunk and having blackouts. Unlike her friends who knew when to stop, she just carried on drinking. But she stopped, and now feels much better.
I am really pleased for both people, who seem a lot happier now then they were in their darkest days, but all their stories show is that individuals can drink to an unhealthy degree, but all is not lost as its possible to give up. In its own way, this is great to know, but its hardly something that can be usefully generalised.
But, the film goes on, the Alcohol Industry is making great profits, which they sustain by organising regular parties with free drinks at the House of Commons. They’re also using sexist imagery in their advertising. Now this is all true and despicable, but this is how capitalism and the PR industry works. In this sense, special pleading is unnecessary as alcohol is not sold significantly differently to any other product.
Now I don’t doubt that alcohol causes many avoidable deaths (3 million a year worldwide according to the end credits) and this is a tragic loss of life, but nowhere does the film seriously address why people drink to excess. Of course the alcohol industry does its best to sell its wares, but the main cause is trying (and often failing) to cope with a profounder feeling of alienation.
We see the weakness in Pilcher’s approach when he tries to suggest what we can do about the problem. We are taken to a project in the USA where hippy instructors explain that if we reproduce the chemical rushes produced by alcohol, people would not feel the need to drink. Cue footage of kids running around blindfolded.
Then we go to Iceland, where its said that alcoholism is treated as a social problem. Great – so they’ve set up projects to deal with the cause of depression? Not quite. But they do have kids’ basketball sessions, which is great as long as the budget doesn’t run out. And there is a sort of Neighbourhood Watch patrol of people wearing hi-vis jackets who go looking for where kids hang out and tell them its past their bedtimes.
We are told that Iceland is a success story and that drinking alcohol has dropped there because projects like these. Now I don’t have the full information in front of me, but I’d suggest that there’s less alcohol drunk in Iceland cos its so fucking expensive. And high prices end up punishing the poor. They are the ones who can no longer afford to go out on the piss, but little has been done to improve the miserable lifestyle that made them drink in the first place.
This is a film that starts superficial and ends up seeking individual solutions which don’t get to the root of the problem. Providing more out-of-school facilities to kids is, of course, a great thing, but this alone will not stop teenage drinking. Nor will telling people that alcohol is bad for you. We know that already. But the reason that most of us drink is that its enjoyable and provides some sort of solace in our otherwise helpless lives.
I think the rot set in with the feigned outrage that most people don’t see alcohol as a drug. For a start, I think they do, but are able to distinguish between the effects of different types of drug. Had the film concentrated on the real damage that alcohol can cause, it may have had a chance. Instead the best we have is a couple of people regretting a past life that sounds like it could have been kind of fun.