I hadn’t paid much attention to Dallas Buyers Club, until it won two acting Oscars. So when I went to see it the other day, I didn’t know much about it. I actually thought it had something to do with medical marijuana or cancer drugs, but learned that it was actually about AIDS drugs in the 1980′s. That it was partially based on a real person was interesting, although as with most Hollywood films, many facts were altered in service of the story. But the acting was amazing and several interesting questions were raised.
Not many actors would lose 30-50 pounds to play the role of a person battling H.I.V., but in this case both of the main characters did. Amazing dedication, which really added to the authenticity. I understand that the film was low-budget, but it was very well done. The shaky hand-held camera work only annoyed me in one or two scenes. I rather liked the editing that showed you just enough of each scene to give you an understanding of what was happening, without dwelling on it. So they were able to cover a lot of ground to show how things progressed over several years.
The film really raised issues of how the “establishment” (the government and drug companies) really failed to step up in the early days of the AIDs crisis. While showing the desperation and frustration of the people trying to get access to medications that would help them, at the same time you realize that adequate testing takes time and effort, and runs the risk of hurting people who are being given untried drugs (or getting the placebo). Even if the government had been fully behind the effort, it’s not clear that there is a solution to this basic fact. Still, I’m of the opinion that people should be allowed access to drugs, even untried drugs, if they can be given access to all current knowledge and understand the risk they are taking. In this case, when that wasn’t possible legally, people found ways to do it illegally, and many of them managed to save their own lives by doing so.
And you also get a reminder of how badly people with AIDS were treated back in those days, as the main character is rejected by his macho friends and is thrust into uncomfortable association with the gay community, as personified by the transvestite Rayon, stunningly portrayed by Jared Leto. Referred to throughout as “he” (which feels so foreign now that we recognize that trans people should be addressed by the pronoun of their choice) your heart just aches when “he” dons male clothing for a significant scene with his father.
Lots of good stuff in this movie – well worth seeing.