February 3, 2014
A couple of disclaimers:
I chose this graphic to represent the film even though Reagan was never mentioned, Washington was never visited and protests of the era were left largely unseen. Toward the end, when the mechanisms of the plot truly reveal that this story is larger than the characters housed within, this AIDSGATE poster shows up in the Dallas Buyers Club office.
As I stated in my debut post: I view the Die-Off as a manifestation of the ignorance promulgated by the Khristian Konservative Koalition, and personified by Reagan. I DO blame Ronald Reagan for this "Reign of Terror" in U.S. history -- perhaps why I can't respect modern RepubliKKKans, as they cite Reagan as a saint.
The characters in this film are stripped bare, and are developed ONLY where it builds the macro story: AIDS, the FDA and early AZT trials. As such, the last third of DBC seemed at times like it was dragging -- mechanisms moving the plot along had to be conveyed (vis-a-vis court trials that didn't have much specifics conveyed, et al), in the interest of that larger story.
What we know already, or the blurb you read in the movies section beforehand: big bad homophobe gets AIDS in 1985, realizes the only hope at prolonging life is experimental drugs, comes to find out that the FDA is problematic/corrupt, then decides to break out on his own as a pseudo-Messiah entrepreneur-type. With Jared Leto in drag. And Jennifer Garner ... as some kind of love interest?
At times I almost found it frustrating that the humanity breathing life into these characters was not explored more. It made some of their actions seem disjointed, which I suppose is good for DBC's bottom line in that it invites a re-watching.
The research I've done into the movie since then indicates that Garner and Leto may have been fictional characters -- meant to move the mechanisms of the plot along. As stated above, hadn't been sure what Garner was supposed to do for this story. For those who've been exposed to the "AIDS movie" genre, she actually pulled double duty: straight-laced medical nerd type (for conveying actual medical and health industry data to the audience), but also as the "Mary-Louise Parker" of the film. It's revealed at some point that Garner and Leto's characters had been high school friends. This ... really hit me hard, as no single demographic has reacted to my recent news more sensitively than old high school lady friends. You knew us and cared for us when we were bullied mercilessly -- the last thing you want to think about is us then growing frail and dying. Even if that doesn't happen anymore.
There are 2 scenes that I really, really liked and strongly identified with: earlier, Rayon (the Leto character) and Woodroof are arguing in the supermarket over whether or not bologna is a good idea. Rayon mentions it's got protein, Woodroof complains about the sodium nitrates being poison (in 2014, my mother is telling me to eat more ice cream because it's high in fat/calories and it tastes good; keeping weight on is currently a concern of mine). A few minutes just prior to that scene Woodroof was downing AZT horse pills with a bottle of whiskey, so again: more info into Woodroof's personal evolution would have been much appreciated.
This ... was the mid-1980s. Nobody "normal" was discussing sodium nitrate. I seriously thought my household had been the only one having this sort of discussion. I have equal parts hippie granola and gourmet foodie backgrounds, and I knew almost as far back as I could talk that the USFDA is a total joke. Back then, however, the proof was indicated by its lax rules allowing sugar substitutes into the US market [just google: saccharin (Sweet&Lo), aspartame (NutraSweet) or sucralose (chlorinated sugar, aka Splenda)]. The problem isn't "let's come up with something sweet like sugar," the problem is "we are addicted to sugar." Since there's very little money to be made in the latter, of course the FDA prefers the former.
The other scene I loved spoke more directly to that personal evolution I wanted to see: because Woodroof is a "Redneck 'n' Proud," he can't really navigate the "market" where his life-prolonging goods are most needed; that's where Rayon comes in as sales rep. At one point, the pair go to a gay bar together (really weird to think about AIDS meds being sold in gay bars alongside party drugs -- this generation was 1 or 2 before my own).
Woodroof had indicated many times by this point in the film that he "ain't no f***ing f**got." The viewer is reminded just how homophobic straight, white, male society used to be (sometimes still is). However, it's in those moments were he comes to terms with his shared humanity with gay men, as well as realizing they are his customer base, that Woodroof evolves.
I have personally observed this phenomenon for over 20 years: straight men are better at being social chameleons than they give themselves credit for. Homophobia can be defused by either of two simple social principles:
Because Woodroof's social circles changed, he had to as well. Because "f**gots" were now his customer base, he had to treat them as human beings.
There was one scene, very early on, that hit me very hard. I should mention that, being a total drama queen, I took my T/t cocktail during the opening credits (generally I time my meds for Rachel Maddow: I take them at that time to honor her early work in ACTUP. It's hokey but I imagine on some level I'm honoring her activism).
The meds kicked in during a scene after it's clear Woodroof is losing his job and all of his "friends" think he's gay because he's dying of AIDS (ponder that for a moment: dying and being forsaken. It makes me cry). Driving along a road, he suddenly begins to sob. Like. One of those bawl-seshs that resembles the kind of tantrumed crying you did as a small child. No clue where the energy comes from, but it's an exorcism of raw emotion, breath, tears and snot. Woodroof has a loaded gun in the front seat with him, and you can see the contortions in his face as he just wails out loud at his circumstance. It was commonplace for those living with AIDS back then to kill themselves before things got "too bad," I would imagine for no other reason than to leave a more handsome corpse, and to make sure you weren't remembered as a wraith.
Dallas Buyers Club should make you happy to be alive -- positive, negative, gay or straight. A side effect is that the movie has really motivated me to study up on herbal medicines -- I may even take ayurvedic/Chinese medicine classes. Just because the man in the white lab coat hands you a blue pill doesn't mean that's all there is to making you whole again.
I'd like to live in an America where DBC is taught in high school. Minus the hookers, of course (side bar? Those poor, poor hookers ...)