RATING: ★★★★ (4/4)
Given the solemn, grim nature of HIV/AIDS, it is no surprise that Hollywood has traditionally shied away from films which chronicle the tragic disease. The 1993 film Philadelphia, released at the height of the U.S. AIDS epidemic, was a monumental milestone in cinematic history. The movie not only earned Tom Hanks his first Academy Award for Best Actor, but also introduced many Americans to an important public health issue we are still battling today. Although Philadelphia may be the pioneering film of its genre, Dallas Buyers Club is a compelling, forward-thinking movie that views the AIDS crisis from an alternate, more inspirational point of view.
Matthew McConaughey (The Lincoln Lawyer, Mud) portrays Ron Woodroof, an alcoholic electrician who contracts the HIV virus through unprotected sex. Given only days to live, Woodroof initially self-medicates by entrapping himself in a drunken stupor of sex, drugs and denial. However, he soon realizes that death is an impending reality, prompting him to obtain non-FDA approved medications. Realizing the effectiveness of these drugs as well as their economic viability, Woodroof begins to sell them for profit.
It would be easy to assume Dallas Buyers Club is a left-leaning film that seeks to invoke cheaply won sympathy for AIDS victims. However, unlike Philadelphia, a politically charged film with liberal overtones, Dallas Buyers Club turns away from simple pandering to illustrate a variety of American dogmas. As a result, the film is able to chronicle a remarkable true story in a straightforward manner that appeals to the audience’s innate emotions.
First and foremost, the movie glorifies capitalism and the free market system while at the same time demonstrating the inefficiencies of bureaucracy and government regulation. Woodroof’s ingenuity allows him to develop a lucrative business that sells a superior product at an affordable price. His innovative methods provide for a level of efficiency that literally empties hospitals, as thousands of AIDS patients opt for Woodroof’s course of treatment. On the other hand, the film conveys the FDA as a corrupt and counterproductive entity that provides an inefficient, inferior treatment for AIDS.
Jared Leto (Lord of War, American Psycho) plays a transgender woman named Rayon who becomes Woodroof’s business partner and close friend. Distressed by her own AIDS diagnosis as well as her father’s disdain, Rayon resorts to intravenous drugs as a method of coping, which leads to a premature death. On the other hand, Woodroof’s optimism provides him with a renewed sense of energy and purpose, which ultimately allows him to exit the world on his own terms. The movie brilliantly crystallizes upon this theme of self-determination in the final scene, where an AIDS-stricken Woodroof is shown pursuing his lifelong passion of bull riding.
As a native of the Lone Star State, I am drawn to this film as a result of Woodroof’s Texas swagger and his “Don’t Tread on Me” mentality. I admire how the movie highlights the benefits of capitalism and its inherent superiority over a government-driven system. On this note, Dallas Buyers Club also defies the media-driven perception that conservatives are intolerant lunatics, as Woodroof and Rayon are able to develop a friendship despite their difference of opinions on LGBT issues. Even if you aren’t a native Texan or politically conservative, Dallas Buyers Club is a universal film which appeals to all Americans due to its inspirational message regarding the will to survive.
Check out the trailer here!