Review by Jack Taylor
End of life care was a topic recently touched on by BBC documentary film maker Louis Theroux in his poignant collection of LA stories. A harrowing insight into delicate subject matter that is often viewed as an elephant in the room amongst those not yet ready to accept the temporary nature of their own mortality.
Yet from the unique vantage point of Theroux’s investigative rimmed spectacles, this was an issue not to be handled with kid gloves and instead the documentary was keen to explore the facilities and options available for those facing the inevitable departure from this mortal coil.
Similarly based on true events, the Dallas Buyers Club touches on the same issues here while showcasing the prejudices and attitudes towards AIDS – a terminal illness whose origins and methods of treatment were still very much in their infancy circa 1985. Cold statistics and media conjecture were quick to misalign the disease primarily with homosexual males and intravenous drug users, effectively creating a stigma amongst the public consciousness which reflected the social anxieties propagated throughout the Reagan era.
Matthew McConaughey confirms his status as a Hollywood renaissance man in the performance of, up until now, a chequered career with his captivating portrayal of the seemingly incorrigible gun toting-homophobic-redneck Ron Woodroof. The character represents a certain social archetype with his alpha male, patriarch shtick as he nonchalantly engages in casual misogyny and excess alcohol and drug abuse that serve to outline his flawed and destructive personality traits.
After a work related accident, Ron is taken to hospital for tests that confirm he is in fact HIV positive; a revelation seemingly at odds with the previously invincible wild-eyed rodeo lifestyle of Woodroof. As he struggles to come to terms with his ability to cope with the symptoms and his own acceptance of the disease, he is callously ostracised from a seemingly fickle social circle unwilling to associate with someone whose affliction could potentially threaten their hunter gatherer instincts and social hierarchy.
Feeling somewhat emasculated and dejected, Ron tirelessly searches for under the radar treatment to prolong his prognosis and as a result finds himself battling the bureaucracy of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as he researches the use of unapproved substances while exposing the questionable relationship between pharmaceutical companies and the administrative bodies which regulate and facilitate their corporate infrastructure.
As a reaction to this marriage of convenience, Ron is keen to cash in on the side, while providing an outlet for those in need of medical treatment who were unsuccessful in their attempts to be short listed for approved AZT drug trials. Instead Ron is able to exploit a loophole in this chain of supply by providing effective medication in exchange for a membership fee.
Here he develops an unlikely friendship with transgender activist Rayon, played by Jared Leto, who is able to challenge Ron’s archaic perceptions throughout the changing nature of their relationship. The hopeless predicament of two strangers from polar opposite backgrounds finding a compassionate middle ground here is indeed a testament to the solidarity of the human spirit; a notion which is palpable throughout.
As a result The Dallas Buyers Club succeeds in providing an inspirational backdrop that endeavours to breakdown the social boundaries and prejudice of previously taboo themes surrounding HIV and sexuality.
Hopefully by raising awareness about the plight of AIDS victims through the medium of this film will facilitate a sense of empathy previously absent amongst various societal facets who sought to demonise the disease and create an underclass that felt helpless amongst the weight of misconception.
IMDb: Dallas Buyers Club (2013)
In 1985 Dallas, electrician and hustler Ron Woodroof works around the system to help AIDS patients get the medication they need after he is himself diagnosed with the disease.