Monday, May 21st, 2018
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DALLAS BUYERS CLUB: The Pharmaceutical Industry is Evil

Dallas Buyers Club isn't just a story about a dude in the 1980's that got AIDS and built a drugs emporium - it's much more than that.

Already, I was quite interested to see Dallas Buyers Club before its Oscar nominations were announced, because the premise sounded interesting. After the Oscars were presented and the movie won the Oscars for Best Supporting Actor, Best Actor and Best Hair and Make-Up, I knew I had to see it asap. 

Summary

Dallas, 1985. White trash rodeo homophobe Ron Woodroof finds out he’s HIV positive, the illness he thinks (and his neighbors and friends with him) only gay men can get. He learns he has only 30 days left and desperate to live longer than that, he participates in a trial for a medicine called AZT. The medicine appears to only make the patients sicker, but pharmaceutical companies are pushing AZT and prohibiting other HIV medications from being spread that have become available abroad. Woodroof is desperate to get his hands on the other drugs, and ends up building an HIV drug empire, the Dallas Buyers Club.

Woodroof becomes a boss in the gay community – the community he first so despised but learned to appreciate, particularly through Rayon, his transgender business partner, who is HIV+ as well. They’re an unlikely couple, and the FDA tries to stop them at every turn, but together, they fight to make drugs that kept them alive for longer than they’d ever expected available to other HIV patients in Texas.

The Good

Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto both deserved their Oscars and all other awards they received for their roles, without a doubt. Both were brilliantly convincing and their transformations, Leto’s in particular, were astounding.

source: Focus Features

source: Focus Features

Furthermore, the Oscar they received for the make-up was just as deserved. With only a $250 budget, the make-up department had to create the illusion that the two characters were more beefy and healthier looking than they actually were, as the movie was shot non-chronologically and Leto and McConaughey were at the low weight throughout the shooting of the movie. That’s a great job and absolutely awesome.

The story was very well crafted, introducing us to the coke-snorting, partying, homophobic asshole that was Ron Woodroof. He is a thoroughly unlikable character, for his hateful ways as well as his selfish reasons for exploiting the AIDS drugs market, for most of the movie. However, slowly but surely, Woodroof evolves into a more respectable man.

Woodroof starts to actually care about Rayon, about the gay community, and the people that surround him those that gave him so much more than his former asshole rodeo friends. The most touching scene of the movie, perhaps, is when he meets his old friend in the supermarket and makes him shake Rayon’s hand, and later on forgiving his old friends and even getting them drugs to help treat one of their parents suffering from Alzheimer’s.

Eventually, he finds acceptance in the gay community like he never did elsewhere, and while at first he was hesitant to give back to them, in the end he turns into a man hailed as a hero in the community he has become an ingrained part of, and he’s actually proud to be part of them.

The Bad

Honestly, in my opinion, there was too little of Rayon. I found him (or her? They referred to him as “him” in the movie so that’s what I’ll do) a very interesting and remarkable character, one we so rarely see in big, mainstream movies: a transgender and a good but very conflicted soul. He was introduced fairly late in the film and took a very sad departure a while before its ending. Although we got to see a bit of his history, I’d have loved to learn more about him and I was disappointed we got to see so little of him.

Something that bothered me in Dallas Buyers Club was that some entities and characters in the film were presented as over-the-top villainous: Dr. Sevard was portrayed as the henchman of the evil FDA and pharmaceutical companies in general. Although every movie needs a bad guy to spice things up, it felt like they were overdoing it, almost as if just to cast Woodroof in a good light as the movie’s hero.

source: Focus Features

source: Focus Features

It was too black and white: not just the evil of the FDA, but also Woodroof’s heroic qualities – is a hero a hero if what he does stems from selfish motives?

The Evil FDA & Pharmaceutical Companies That Don’t Care For Your Well-Being

While this movie concerns itself with the pharmaceutical companies of the 80’s, it could be considered a criticism on pharmaceutical companies even today. It sketches a very dark image of the companies: they are unethical and only interested in financial gain, no matter the damage caused.

The FDA (U.S. Food and Drugs Administration) is presented in as dark a light as the pharmaceutical companies, in fact, they are presented to be powerless and good for nothing when it comes to monitoring the drugs industry, forced by the companies to do what they want, instead of what’s right for the people.

In fact, the impression I got was that we’re supposed to be suspicious of these organisations. We had better trust a random man who has the same disease as we who’s selling drugs that are supposed to heal you or keep you from dying, than the (governmental) organisations that are supposed to provide the best care.

source: Focus Features

source: Focus Features

Although the movie is set in 1985, it reminds us of the fact that today, the pharmaceutical industry is as powerful as ever, and continues to put drugs on the market that could (and maybe should) be considered shady. The movie tells its audience to be critical of the industry, to treat it with suspicion and maybe even paranoia.

The movie is on-trend (or hype) of healthy living (showing it through a man’s very unhealthy habits), and it echoes the current ongoing criticism on the food industry. Consider that in this movie, the drugs that kept the HIV+ patients alive were mostly organic vitamin and mineral supplements, and not the synthetic drugs developed by the pharmaceutical companies. It greatly resembles the current issue revolving around food additives and people’s search for healthier organic alternatives.

It’s like Dallas Buyers Club tries to remind us that the food industry aren’t the only bad guys of the present, and that we shouldn’t forget about the pharmaceutical business, either; it tells us to be critical of the medication you take and see if there are other (better) alternatives around. Don’t rely on the FDA and pharmaceutical industry to decide what’s good for you – think for yourself.

To Conclude

Aside from the over-the-top evil presentation of the pharmaceutical and governmental organizations, I couldn’t think of anything else I didn’t like about this movie. Dallas Buyers Club is a gem. I thoroughly enjoyed the story as well as the performances of the two stars. I always knew Jared Leto was an extremely multifaceted talent, but he proves again how talented he really is. I hope to see much more of him in the future (if he doesn’t decide to focus more on 30 Seconds To Mars again, but we’ll see).

Go see Dallas Buyers Club. You won’t regret it. And don’t forget to reflect on what your medications do to you and those around you, too.

Share your thoughts about my review and Dallas Buyers Club in the comments, I’d love to chat with you!

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Opinions expressed in our articles are those of the authors and not of the Film Inquiry magazine.

Manon is the founder and Editor in Chief of Film Inquiry.

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