Study Guide

The Lost Weekend Helen St. James (Jane Wyman)

Helen St. James (Jane Wyman)

Helen St. James is the archetypal Midwestern girl in the big city—she's sweet, curious, and she's more than a little naïve. Unfortunately, this archetype has never encountered someone quite as messed up as our man Don Birnam.

Big City Dreams

In contrast to her bae, Helen seems to have her life together. She works at Time magazine. She makes good money. She goes to fancy cultural events (and her older brother doesn't even have to pay). Basically, we're left questioning how a high class broad like Helen ended up with a schmo like Don Birnam.

So what's the answer? Part of it seems to be Helen's belief in Don's talents. Just check out what she says to Wick regarding Don's failure to become a successful author:

HELEN: I could never understand that, why somebody like Don, a person with such talent, such flashes of real brilliance [could not become a writer.]

That certainly makes sense, but there's another option—maybe Helen loves Don because he's a drunk, because he's a fixer-upper she can dedicate her life to repairing. In fairness, one could argue that Helen was already in love with Don when she found out that he was a drunk, but the question still remains—why does she stay with him?

You Can Lead a Horse to Water...

Ironically, Helen's unwavering drive to save Don ends up pushing him away. We can see this represented in the perpetually ringing phone at Don's apartment, which he shamefully ignores knowing that Helen is on the other side of the line. For more evidence, look at how he reacts to her in the opening scene of the film:

DON: Helen, will you stop watching me all the time? Let me work it out my way. I'm trying. I'm trying!

Still, Helen doesn't keep away, even after learning that Don is planning to kill himself, and that decision ends up saving his life. You can talk about Nat and magically appearing typewriters all you want, but the truth is that Don would be dead a million times over if it wasn't for the insanely loyal woman in life. (Emphasis on the insane.)

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