Year 7, Day 266 - 9/23/15 - Movie #2,158
BEFORE: One whole week of McConnaughey, and I'm finally up to the film that won him the Best Actor Oscar for 2012.
THE PLOT: In 1985 Dallas, electrician and hustler Ron Woodroof works around the
system to help AIDS patients get the medication they need after he is
diagnosed with the disease.
AFTER: It's so incredible when an actor is willing to sacrifice his appearance and take a role in a film where he's not concerned about glamour, or his own personal image, where he can transform himself, gain or lose a lot of weight, disappear under a wig and basically get lost in a role, not just look like someone else, but in every essential way, to become someone else. I'm speaking, of course, of Griffin Dunne, who was nearly unrecognizable, playing a down-and-out schlubby doctor who's lost his license and spends his days catering to terminal AIDS patients.
Oh, did you think I was talking about Matthew McConnaughey or Jared Leto? Yeah, I guess they sort of went through the same acting process, and got a little bit of attention for their roles as an HIV-positive rodeo rider/electrician, and a transvestite drug addict. Both roles required them to lose a lot of weight, so I guess maybe that's a little more difficult than letting yourself gain weight and scruffiness to play a discredited doctor.
I don't know what process an actor usually goes through to lose weight, but I imagine that it's not much fun. Ironically both characters have to spend time in the film eating healthy, after changing their diets to remove any processed foods that could be interfering with their vitamin-based treatments, and other medications. (Yet, somehow, alcohol, cigarettes and drugs are still used - guess old habits die hard in Texas...)
When McConnaughey's character, Ron Woodroof, is diagnosed with HIV, he doesn't want to believe it, because at the time it was still associated mainly with homosexual behavior, and in fact was originally called GRID, or gay-related immune deficiency, before scientists determined that the disease was not related to particular sexual behavior, even though it could be spread that way. I remember some people mistakenly calling it "gay cancer" back then, before learning the facts about it. This causes Woodroof to come into confrontation with his friends, and his own homophobia also.
But it's been said that nothing focuses a man like learning that he is going to die. (In country music talk, that means "Live like you're dying.") Instead of giving in, after being told that he has just 30 days to live, Woodruff seeks out new medications, new therapies, new ways of boosting his immune system, and not just accepting the very toxic AZT, which was the preferred experimental treatment at the time. (Sure, it kills the virus - and just about everything else in your body with it...) Woodruff finds a combination of legal drugs that works for him, and then sets about importing large quantities of it, to make money by selling them to other AIDS patients.
This is going to be another case where my rating system falls short, because it's based on how much I enjoy a film. Well, this film isn't necessarily meant to be enjoyed, but it's an extremely important film nonetheless. AIDS was/is the most serious pandemic of our lifetimes, even if you're not a part of the queer movement, if you're a human you should have some compassion for the damage that this disease did over the years. Progress was perhaps slowed because of homophobia, but oddly the gay rights movement became stronger over the years as the result of rallying to fight both the disease and people's stereotypes. (And this topic is certainly more relevant than slavery, which ended in the U.S. about 150 years ago...)
The bull-riding seen at the end is a very powerful metaphor - I'm assuming that the bull is AIDS, but it could also represent life with AIDS, or life itself. Every bull rider knows that he's going to get thrown from the bull - it's inevitable, but he doesn't know exactly how long he's going to last. Nobody knows exactly when their own end will come, but it is inevitable - our goal is usually to stay up on that bull as long as we can, and that's what Ron Woodroof did.
Also starring Jared Leto (last seen in "Alexander"), Jennifer Garner (last seen in "The Kingdom"), Steve Zahn, Denis O'Hare (last seen in "A Mighty Heart"), Griffin Dunne (last seen in "Stuck on You"), Dallas Roberts (last seen in "Shrink"), Michael O'Neill, J.D. Evermore (last seen in "12 Years a Slave"), Kevin Rankin (last seen in "White House Down"), Deneen Tyler.
RATING: 6 out of 10 prescription pads