The antihero and the villainous virus
by Megan Smith
Picking a film to watch can often be a difficult task. Luckily, you pretty much know what you’re getting yourself into based on a film’s genre. Romantic comedies are most likely going to be relatively feel-good. Horror flicks make hearts race and viewers cover their eyes. And a movie about HIV and AIDS, an epidemic that hit our community with such force and that continues to negatively impact millions? Probably going to be a downer. I’ll admit, I fell victim to this mentality when approaching Dallas Buyers Club. Boy, was I wrong.
Directed by Jean-Marc Vallée (The Young Victoria) and based on true events, Dallas Buyers Club presents a story about strength, breaking all the rules, and truly owning life. The film follows Texas cowboy Ron Woodroof (Golden Globe Award-winner Matthew McConaughey), who lives life fast and hard and has a love for drugs, alcohol, and women—usually multiple women each night. His life is turned upside down after he is diagnosed as HIV-positive with a nearly nonexistent T-cell count and given 30 days to live.
Refusing hospitalization, Woodroof takes matters into his own hands. “I prefer to die with my boots on,” he says. Despite trying to hold his macho reputation intact, Woodroof is rejected by his friends and coworkers, as they believe he has the “faggot” disease.
After being refused a spot in an AZT drug research trial—and later finding out the dosage being given to patients is highly toxic to the body—Woodroof finds himself crossing borders to Mexico, where he finds a doctor who prescribes nontoxic vitamins and proteins that are not approved by the FDA but work wonders with treating the symptoms experienced by HIV-positive individuals. Deciding to make some extra cash while helping others like himself to survive, Woodroof loads his car with as much of the medicine as possible with the intent to sell it to folks back in Texas.
Once home, Woodroof forms an unlikely friendship with Rayon (Golden Globe Award-winner Jared Leto), an HIV-positive transwoman who serves as his business partner and liaison to the gay community. Together, they form the Dallas Buyers Club (and, in turn, start a battle with the FDA and IRS), where HIV-positive individuals can purchase monthly memberships that provide them with all the vitamins and proteins they need for “free.”
Dallas Buyers Club proves that even the most closed-minded can have life-altering experiences that change their worldviews for the better. One of the most defining moments of the film occurs when Woodroof runs into one of his old buddies at the grocery store, and puts him in a headlock after he refuses to shake Rayon’s hand. The idea that this once-homophobic rough-and-tough cowboy is now choosing to stand up for a transwoman reinforces the truly dynamic nature of Woodroof’s character.
Despite controversy surrounding both McConaughey and Leto’s speeches at the Golden Globes, their performances in Dallas Buyers Club are astounding and career defining. The film reminds us where we’ve come from, where we’ve yet to go, and what value should really be placed on life and survival. As the movie ends with a still of Woodroof, hand raised toward the sky, riding a bull in the rodeo he loved so dearly, it draws to mind the iconic final imagery of The Breakfast Club—a sense of rebellion and strength that screams, “This is my life. I dare you to try to take it from me.”
Dallas Buyers Club is available from Universal Studios Home Entertainment (universalstudiosentertainment.com).