Tuesday, 27 September 2016
MUCH ADO ABOUT AIDS
There’s been much talk about Xavier Dolan’s new film It’s Only the End of the World. Critics are bitterly divided; there were walkouts at Cannes, but the film went on to win the Grand Prix.
What’s all the fuss?
The film is beautifully shot and acted. All Dolan’s films are. His endless closeups — though not exactly unprecedented — come with with an honourable pedigree: they do homage to the elegant masterpieces of John Cassavetes and Andy Warhol. And Dolan’s radical form seems to suit his subject matter.
Oh yes— and by the way — what is the subject matter?
I must say I’ve never seen a movie in which the subject matter was actually invisible. Perhaps that’s why critics are so confounded by the film.
Not very much happens in It’s Only the End of the World. Set in the recent past, the film tells the story of a man who returns to his family after a long separation. The family argues. He is mainly silent. When the young man phones another man, it becomes clear that he is preparing to talk to his family about something. So what does the young man finally tell his family at the end of the film?
He loses his nerve.
Sorry for the spoiler; but it’s hard to feel bad for revealing that nothing much happens in a movie in which, well — nothing much happens.
What’s astounding is that nowhere does the movie tell us what the young man is longing to tell his family. But, oddly, the reviews all say that the film’s subject matter is AIDS.
How do they know?
The young man is handsome. And he is a playwright. And he has weary eyes (ringed with red). And a flashback reveals that the young man once kissed a boy with long blonde hair.
So, ergo; therefore - what? Well it stands to reason. The young man must be dying of AIDS. If this film was discovered in a time capsule a thousand years from now, no one would have any idea what it’s about, but we sure think we know, because we are, for some reason, so very fondly attached to what are now the much too familiar, old narratives about AIDS.
I’m tired of this. As a gay man who has lived in a community dealing with this illness for 35 years, I’m tired of the shame, the secrecy and the lies. Very few young gay men die of AIDS these days. Most who are diagnosed with HIV live to a ripe old age. And most HIV positive gay men are not getting all red around the eyes because they have to tell their parents they are going to die. Instead they are negotiating condom-less sex on GRINDR with guys on PREP, while dealing with the fact that although AIDS is now a chronic, manageable illness, they still have to fight the stigma of being a ‘Truvada Whore’ and the fear of being criminalized for spreading a so-called lethal disease.
When do we stop imagining we are living in Larry Kramer’s The Normal Heart and face the future? Or even just live in the present?
No, for some reason, gay men would rather not be honest about the realities of AIDS. Instead we prefer to imagine ourselves as the sexless, pitiful characters from those ancient AIDS plays, men who cried in the darkness about their secret affliction — men painted as enduring lonely, tragic deaths, harangued by angry families, supported only by tortured lovers and the requisite caustic nurse.
All I can say is, I wish it would just stop.