It seemed fitting to see Dallas Buyers Club on this November 17th, Rock Hudson' s 88th birthday. Largely responsible for publicizing the so-called "gay disease" upon his death in 1985, every film about AIDS manages to make reference to this game-changing headline in the news. In Dallas, Texas, amid oil workers and God-fearing folk, the relevancy of this epidemic, on the surface, would appear remote and unlikely. Friends of Ron Woodroof (Matthew McConaughey, in all his Christian Bale in The Machinist glory) are so ignorant of the situation that they say, "You know, Rock Hudson...the guy in North by Northwest."
The symbolism and intensity of the film is established from the outset as Woodroof engages in an orgy (condomless no doubt) while the bucking bull outside the pen where this little burst of passion takes place is the sole point of focus on Woodroof's mind. He watches with alert anxiety as the rider on the bull tumbles to the ground. It is, truly, a filmic metaphor at its finest. His awareness of his condition is triggered after getting electrocuted at the oil plant where he works (after refusing to go to the Middle East to work for "sand niggers," a term that seems both quintessentially 80s and Texan). Upon awakening to the sight of Dr. Sevard (Denis O'Hare) and Dr. Saks (Jennifer Garner, who also appeared with McConaughey in the much schmaltzier Ghosts of Girlfriends Past), Woodroof is appalled when said doctors inform him his blood work has tested HIV positive.
After the pronouncement that he has approximately thirty days to live, the phases of denial and acceptance occur fairly rapidly. One minute, Woodroof is having another coke-addled orgy, the next he's seeking the help of a hospital orderly to provide him with the then unapproved drug/"cure" AZT. But, before this occurs, one of the most memorable scenes from director Jean-Marc Vallée (best known for The Young Victoria) takes place in a strip club. Initially, it looks as though Woodroof is praying to God and seeking redemption over the candles in a church, but the camera quickly pans up to reveal a stripper hovering above Woodroof as his attention is drawn to the man sitting nearby who can sell him AZT under the table.
In the long run, this plan fades out as the hospital orderly no longer has a supply with which to furnish Woofroof. Instead, he gives him the address of a doctor in Mexico who provides Woodroof with an arsenal of natural vitamins, supplements and fatty acids to restore his immune system. Around this time, Woodroof encounters a transgender AIDS victim named Rayon (Jared Leto, who makes everything come full-circle back to My So-Called Life as Rayanne sounds quite akin to the sound of Rayon). In spite of his extreme homophobia, Woodroof agrees to give Rayon a cut of his profits, knowing that he needs her to gain buyers in the gay and transgender community--effectively initiating the network that ultimately becomes the Dallas Buyers Club. During one scene that shows Woodroof finally shedding some of his prejudices, he enters a gay club with Rayon as songs from 80s staples like the Pet Shop Boys play exuberantly in the background--exhibiting a sense of deliberate irony as everything and everyone surrounding this happy music is crumbling apart at the foundation.
At last given his due for the contributions he made to improving the quality of life of other AIDS patients, Dallas Buyers Club takes several creative licenses without tarnishing the memory of Woodroof--a feat that is always difficult to achieve in a biopic. The timeline of the real Woodroof's AIDS diagnosis began in 1986, at which point his prognosis was six months to live. It wasn't until 1988 that the Dallas Buyers Club was actually formed. In many ways the Erin Brockovich of FDA battles, Woodroof's fight and desire to live propelled him to do an immense amount of good for others suffering from the isolating and ostracizing nature of the disease.
The most memorable aspect of the movie, of course, is Jared Leto. How much of Rayon is real or imagined may be something only screenwriters Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack can reveal. Suffice it to say, this character is one of the richest in the echelons of 2013 moviemaking. Using Marc Bolan as a talisman for existence, Rayon is likable not only for her taste in pop culture, but also her essence as a whole. In many ways, it's easy to relate Bolan's own premature death in a car wreck at the age of 29 to the tragic nature of Rayon. Incidentally, Gloria Jones, Bolan's girlfriend at the time, wrote the famed song "Tainted Love," a pop ditty that is all too appropriate when it comes to having sex with someone who has AIDS.
As one of the most perilous and equivocal times in twentieth century American history, Dallas Buyers Club addresses a topic that so many still struggle to deal with--and one that is all too fresh in the memory of those continuing to deal with the loss of loved ones. And so, it isn't just the weight loss and the acting of the film that is notable, but the bravado and candor of the subject matter itself.