Ever since the gin joint in Casablanca, alcohol and film have been intertwined. Booze fuels the brave, nudges the crazed and, in every case, adds to the drama of the silver screen. However, the iconic drinking scene doesn’t typically involve beer: Paul Giamatti chugging wine in Sideways; James Bond ordering his trademarked martini; hard liquor shots — with a sprinkling of something else — on the roof of Caesars in The Hangover.
But when beer does enter into the scene, it’s usually among friends and family. Dramas in which the everyman finishes his beer before skirting over to do what he’s been meaning to do for a while. Here are five of the most memorable scenes involving beer in the history of film.
The Shawshank Redemption
Beers on the Rooftop — No one has better captured the way beer can relax the mind, body, and spirit after a hard day’s labor than Frank Darabont in The Shawshank Redemption. After Byron Hadley nearly throws him off the rooftop he’s been painting, Andy Dufresne uses his intelligence and compassion to strike a deal with the guard. The result? His fellow jail mates get to kick back with a few frosty cold ones in the shade. Morgan Freeman’s soothing voice explains that in that moment of sipping their first beers in decades, these prisoners became free men.
Will Ferrell’s Beer Bonging — In Old School, Will Ferrell plays Frank, a once-legendary drinker become boring married guy whose big Saturday plans are going shopping at Home Depot and Bed Bath & Beyond, if he has enough time. At this depressing admission to three bong-wielding frat bros, we see a flash of awareness come over Frank’s face: had he, the legendary Frank “the Tank”, really just said that? “Okay, I’ll do one, I’ll do one,” he says, bypassing his wife’s decree to remain sober. Ten seconds later and one beer down, he yells, “Fill it up again!” Amidst the screams of joy, a smiling Ferrell utters the iconic line, “Once it hits your lips…it’s so good!”
Dazed and Confused
The Magical Keg — Praised by Quentin Tarantino as the best “hang-out movie” ever made, Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused brings viewers back to the glorious sensation of procuring a keg when no one is of legal age to buy one. The high schoolers of Austin, TX flock magnetically to this fountain of bliss and possibility, gathering out in the woods one the hopes of house party are smothered by parents. But no matter: as the keg’s a-flowin’, the party’s a-goin’, and who’s going to stop them in the middle of the woods? The keg centers this loosely structured film, for it’s the keg that brings the characters together: the jocks, the cheerleaders, the nerds, the wimps, and even Mitch, our favorite freshman. Few directors, if any, match Linklater at capturing and conjuring nostalgia: even if you never partied in the woods with a keg in high school, Dazed and Confused will make you miss the days that you did.
Jack Torrance Offers His Soul for a Glass of Beer — This is an odd choice because once Lloyd the bartender materializes in the haunted hotel, Jack Torrance orders a bourbon (“white man’s burden”), not beer. Yet it is his vocalized admission that he would “give my goddamned soul for…just a glass of beer” that causes the ghostly bartender to first appear. Significant? You better believe it in a Kubrick film. Meaning? Open to interpretation. Amidst the bitter isolation of the Colorado winter, Torrance calls out for a beer among all drinks for proper reprieve. Tough not to sympathize with his situation here. If he didn’t end up becoming a full-blown psychopath who chases his child through a hedge-maze with an axe, we might even wish to join him for that tasty, soul-worthy brew.
Frank Booth and Jeffrey Beaumont Visit Ben — David Lynch uses beer in a way no one has or ever will in his masterful Blue Velvet. Throughout the film, beer acts as the subtle gateway into new worlds, goading protagonist Jeffrey Beaumont onward and seducing him down the rabbit hole of mystery. Yet never is beer more present than when the psychotic Frank forces Jeffrey to visit his friend Ben, the suavest man in town. In the first act, Lynch made it known that Jeffrey is a fan of Heineken, yet when Jeffrey admits this to Frank, Frank screams, “Heineken! Fuck that shit! Pabst Blue Ribbon!” To enter Frank’s twisted world, PBR is the gateway. In the hazy party at this sketchy pad, they toast their PBRs “to fucking.” After a few sips, a drug deal goes down, there’s indications of abuse present, and suave ole Ben starts up a full-length dramatic lip-synch to Roy Orbison’s “In Dreams,” signifying the official entry into Frank’s twisted underworld, made possible with a cold PBR.
Honorable Mention: Keg Cutscene — Adam Sandler’s early classic Billy Madison offers one of the finest sober-to-drunkenness cutscenes committed to film. Having been framed for bribery and therefore given up on his quest to complete his schooling to take over his father’s hotel business, man-child Billy Madison reverts to his drunken ways: basically, he gets wasted all day by his father’s giant pool. During a montage set to Styx’s “Renegade”, we see a fully-clothed Billy dragging a keg into his home, a makeshift tent in his father’s yard. Instantly, the scene cuts to Billy stumbling out of the tent, now shirtless, wearing his jeans on his head, wielding the empty keg overhead and collapsing to the earth. Whether he alone drank the entire thing, we will never know.
Honorable Mention: “Show Me The Way To Go Home” — Just after Quint tells his tale of being stranded with sharks after the sinking of the USS Indianapolis, and just before the title shark comes back for the climax of the film, Jaws features the classic bonding of individuals in distress, with a little help from a bottle of beer. Rumor has it the actors were actually drunk while filming this scene.