Director: Jonathan Demme
Sadly the underlying topic and themes (homophobia and misunderstanding of the disease AIDS) are still relevant today nearly 20 years later.
Joanna Berry says “Some may argue that Demme sanitizes the ravages AIDS inflicts on a person in the film, but Hank’s sympathetic, passionate performance more than makes up for any attempts at softening the subject for a mainstream audience” and I totally agree! It’s important to remember that the subject of AIDS was still fairly taboo in the early 90s and not really understood as a disease so it isn’t really surprising that the movie is not as explicit as it could be. The scenes in the hospital where they are all receiving their treatment are subtly moving – and reminiscent of chemotherapy rooms – as any degenerative disease is when witnessed. The film shows that AIDS affects the lives of more than just the sick individual and has some extremely touching moments.
Tom Hank’s performance as Andrew Bennett is stoic and beautifully moving and well worthy of the Oscar win. I love the relationship that Andrew has with his family – they are accepting and supportive of his lifestyle and consequently his disease. Joe Miller’s (Denzel Washington) initial views seem massively outdated especially given what we now know about AIDS. I admire Andrew’s bravery in the face of such blatant discrimination and his unwillingness to allow anyone to put him down – I think this is what Miller sees (in the library) that leads to his decision to put aside his own prejudices and help Bennett.
The relationship between Miller and Bennett is obviously the central focus point – indeed it is the development of this relationship that leads Miller to realize that gay people are people too and not just an infection to avoid. Hank’s portrayal of Andrew Bennett humanizes the gay community! Bennett’s final moments are heart wrenching – made all the more moving by his ultimate demise so soon after the verdict. Ending the film on home movies reminds us that Andrew was so much more than his sexuality or the disease that beat him!
I remember watching this in my early teens at school (in R.E. though the reason why escapes me!) and knowing that it was important but not really connecting with it. Now as I am more sure of who I am as a person and the ideals I have I know without a doubt that this is one of the most important movies I have ever seen and one everyone should see for the sympathetic representation of how a life plunged into extreme prejudice can be lived with dignity despite all that you are forced to contend with.
Demme and the cast have created a film that unashamedly says that everyone deserves rights no matter who they are or what their circumstances are!