Rodger Streitmatter—Professor of Communications, American University
For anyone who lived through the early days of the AIDS crisis, the memories are so powerful we’ll never forget them. For anyone who didn’t live through that period but is interested in getting a sense of what it was like, my advice is to go see Dallas Buyers Club.
Being diagnosed with AIDS, during that period, was tantamount with getting a death sentence, and the public’s fear was expressed through an unrestrained hatred. And because this was an era when the vast majority of the people with the syndrome were gay men, that hatred was aimed squarely at the gay community.
Dallas Buyers Club captures these and other realities of the era as it tells the true story of the most unlikely of heroes. Ron Woodroof is a hard-drinking, homophobic Texas rodeo enthusiast who has lots of rough sex with lots of rough-looking women. When he’s told he’s HIV positive, Woodroof first denies that such a despicable thing is impossible and then threatens to kill the doctor who asks him if he’s “engaged in homosexual activity.”
Woodroof next throws himself back into his hedonistic life that’s defined by random sex and a constant diet of whiskey and cocaine. But then he turns a corner, deciding he’s not ready to die but is determined to live—by any means necessary. (Matthew McConaughey) lost 40 pounds for this role, and the gaunt figure who appears on the screen with his sallow, hollowed out face is anything but pretty.
The film stars Matthew McConaughey. But anyone who goes to the theater expecting to see People magazine’s 2005 sexiest man alive will be mightily disappointed. The actor lost 40 pounds for this role, and the gaunt figure who appears on the screen with his sallow, hollowed out face is anything but pretty. He definitely is, though, eerily reminiscent of the men so many of us knew—and lost—during those dark days 30 years ago.
But this isn’t a film solely about loss and suffering. At its core, in fact, the story is about taking risks and rolling dice and refusing to accept what the expert swear is inevitable . . . and winning.
Woodroof’s success is aided significantly by a transgender character named Rayon, who’s played by Jared Leto. The star of Fight Club and Requiem for a Dream didn’t lose a massive amount of weight for his role as Woodroof’s business partner in a creative venture, but he holds his own in the many scenes he shares with McConaughey.
There’s been lots of buzz about both men being nominated for Oscars, and that most definitely should happen.
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