“Sometimes I feel like I’m fighting for a life I ain’t got time to live.”
Dallas Buyers Club revolves around Ron Woodroof, a man seen as a beautiful painting that hangs crooked. Some might walk past his worn down canvas, not knowing what exactly to make of it. But others, out of curiosity, might cock their head to the side, seeing a loving person from the ugly angle he presents himself at. Stories always seem to be that way…it’s about perception. And this movie is a fictional take on a real man who strove to write his own ending. If possessed, the will to live is undeniably stronger than any disease’s will or ability to kill. Resiliency, that is the key to life.
The Ron Woodroof we meet in this movie is a racist and homophobic womanizer that has no qualms with scamming acquaintances for a quick buck. He’s addicted to the devil’s drink and a complete lowlife, the kind of guy that sells cocaine to coworkers while on break. But beneath that armored suit of hate and greed lies a humanist. So what if he looks out for himself before others? In his mind it’s better to put others second than to not consider them at all, which is more than some people can vouch for.
That’s not to say that the man we see up on screen is an accurate representation of the man that many people actually met and knew. Entire parts of the story are completely made up, but the important part is that we see the journey, the transformation, and how a narrow minded person evolved into the open armed and caring protagonist we see on the film’s poster.
No doubt about it, Matthew McConaughey deserved the Oscar for this career defining role. People have called it a transformative performance. But it’s even more than that. Besides his unique drawl of a voice, you don’t see the A-list actor we all so easily recognize. This is a complete inhabitation of another human being. His wide stanced gate and hollowed out eyes represent a man on the brink of death. He is a man, that for whatever reason, loves to live. Ron tells his doctor, “Nah, sorry lady but I prefer to die with my boots on.” He is who he is, and we just tag along on for the ride.
Ron is a low end Texas electrician in the days of HIV and AIDS hysteria and anxiety. He’s diagnosed and given the classic story device: the countdown to his own death. 30 days. He illegally obtains trial drugs and chases them down with whiskey. It all leads back to the hospital, where he encounters a doctor that bleeds the Hippocratic Oath, as well as a cross-dressing junkie named Rayon, desperate to live a posh and fantastic life until the bitter end. He battles the FDA while starting a service for people to illegally receive medicine that will aid those afraid of AIDS. This takes up a good chunk of the story and is kept afloat for so long because of McConaughey’s determined performance. This gaunt, money crazed man literally buys time for himself and for others.
“I’m gonna be pretty. If it’s the last thing I do” says Rayon (Jared Leto), a woman, who is actually a man, just trying to make it one more glamorous and beautiful day at a time. He is Ron’s introduction to a way of life that he used to loath, and partially only ventures towards for financial reasons. Ron will do anything to survive while Rayon struggles to do what is in his, or her, best interest. Leto is amazingly subtle in the role. It’s an affecting performance that at times makes you laugh, weep, and sympathize. In the arts, anything that makes you run the entire gamut of emotions is an absolute success.
Jennifer Garner portrays the fictional doctor Eve Saks. She is strong-willed with a hidden sadness. Garner is great in the role, which helps show the avarice of the FDA and pharma companies looking to profit off of incalculable human loss. But it’s really not all that needed. It doesn’t add anything besides a subplot, and since it was completely made up, I have to imagine that they could have come up with something besides a feigned love interest. The script goes from way too tight to way too loose in mere seconds, but it finds redemption in the characters as a whole. It’s a character study above all else, one that is wonderfully directed, but also suffers a bit from average editing and lack of a clearly steady tone.
I once had a professor named Dr. E. in college. He gave the freshman address as I packed into an auditorium with hundreds of strangers, not altogether that strange, filled with the same nervous and anxious heartbeat of somebody getting a new lease on life. He talked for a while. Then stopped. Walked around the front, looked at the young adults with his hands pressed against his chest and pupils magnified by his thick bifocals. Out of nowhere, he looked up, hands raised and eyes lifted towards the ceiling and asked, “You know what the difference between us and animals is?” He looked around, somewhat expectant of an answer he knew wouldn’t come. A minute later, with his back turned, he said, “We have the ability to look up at the blue sky and say ‘Wow!'” It was remarkably true.
You would think that the choice between good and bad would be pretty simple. Ron Woodroof had a very philosophical approach, and I have to say that I agree with it. Truly virtuous activity is not all that commonplace. We don’t encounter it often. Aristotle said that what sets us apart from other species is the ability to live a better life. But there is so much more to it. We get to change, transform, grow. To help ourselves and others and things become better. There are countless components. Ron’s heart starts in a lonely Winter and runs a marathon towards a reawakening Spring. He was an entrepreneur in the business of life, and a damn good one at that. Like the blue sky did for my shrewd professor, the movie made me say “wow.” What more could you ask for than that? It’s remarkable.
“You enjoy your life little lady. You only got one.”
Rating: 4 out of 5