SAMIA KEMEL ’14
“Dallas Buyers Club” is a film that strikes at the heart of what it truly means to ‘transform.’ Both within and outside of the film, the characters and the actors experience transformative events. We see health transformed into irrevocable sickness, a rom-com star transformed into a serious and committed actor, and a biopic about a lost man who transforms his life’s purpose. Both the cast and crew set out with a daunting mission, and they passionately deliver one of the best films of 2014.
“Dallas Buyers Club” is no light movie, and the fate of the film seemed to rest solely on the emaciated shoulders of its leading actor, Matthew McConaughey. The rom-com pretty boy turned serious actor stands, delivers, and snatches his first Oscar for his portrayal of real-life Texan cowboy, Ron Woodroof. He carries the burden of the subject matter with grace, determination, and a passionate understanding of his position to shine a light on those who suffered with HIV and AIDS during an era of grave misunderstanding.
The story begins in Dallas, Texas, where we are introduced to Woodroof and his self-indulgent, reckless rodeo lifestyle. After an incident that leads Woodroof to end up in a hospital, subsequent blood-work reveals that he tests positive for HIV. In a fit of deep denial, the homophobic Woodroof rejects the possibility that he could have contracted a “gay disease” and proceeds with his usual debauchery. However, the virus has him in its clutches and it isn’t long before he is forced to come to terms with the gravity of the situation at hand.
In a cruel twist of fate as soon as the reality of death dawns on Woodroof, he is denied access to any possible medicine and is simply given an address to a support group. In ‘true gritty’ cowboy fashion, he presses on in search of any alternative to death and finds himself in Mexico: a paradise for the suffering in comparison to the US. In Mexico Woodroof gains access to life-saving medicine, and realizes the corrupt and “useless” measures that the FDA administers on testing drugs. In an attempt to save his life and make good money on the side, he smuggles over 3000 pills across the border, and sets up what comes to be known as the “Dallas Buyers Club”; a monthly membership card providing access to all the necessary proteins, drugs, and vitamins that an HIV patient would want.
However, none of this becomes possible without the help of Rayon (Jared Leto), a transsexual woman that Woodroof meets in the hospital who later becomes his business partner. The two form a friendship that begins with their shared disease, but reveals to be founded on much more than two failing immune systems.
With the theme of transformations in mind, Jared Leto delves deep into Rayon’s past, present, and uncertain future. Leto embodies Rayon, and he becomes the fictionalized replacement for an entire class of people who, at one point in time, Woodruoof abhorred. As their friendship grows so does their understanding and appreciation for one another.
One of the most notable transformations in the film has to be McConaughey’s dramatic weight loss. Much of the initial attention that the film received was directed at his ‘manorexic’ appearance and concerns for what dropping 40-50lbs meant for his health. The last time we saw McConaughey, his previously buff-bod was on full display in “Magic Mike” (a film in which he coincidentally played a male stripper named ‘Dallas’). There is no doubt that his transformation is astounding, but the weight-loss is only a small fraction of what McConaughey brings to the table in his portrayal of Ron. Even through his lowest and sickest moments, there’s a certain fire that’s continually burning behind his eyes—a fire that belongs to both actor and character.
With two of the film’s actors snagging Oscars, “Dallas Buyers Club” is certainly receiving the recognition that it deserves. Both actors deliver the best performances of their careers and provide audiences with a memorable reminder that though the battle against HIV/AIDS may have improved, it is nowhere near over.