Dallas Buyer’s Club will make you uncomfortable. From the opening scene of promiscuity to the overt challenge of the FDA, from confronting straight fears about gay men to seeing a 47 pound lighter Matthew McConaughey, this movie does not want you to leave undisturbed.
And that’s exactly why you need to see it – just not with your kids.
I never thought I’d utter these words, but I believe Matthew McConaughey deserves to win a Best Actor award. He plays Ron Woodruf, a man’s-man electrician from Texas, who, due to his promiscuous lifestyle, contracts HIV. Coupled with his drug addiction, he is given one month to live.
Set in the mid-1980’s, when HIV and AIDS were still thought of as the “gay cancer,” Woodruf’s friends assume he’s been violating the sexual boundaries of traditional Texan masculinity. Further, because it was assumed AIDS could be contracted through simply touching a sick person, they were fearful of making physical contact with him – not that they would touch him anyway, considering they were disgusted by his alleged sexuality.
This film traces the redemptive journey of Woodruf as his character is forced into situations in which he has to confront his own fears and stereotypes regarding the gay community, as he has pretty much had his lot cast in with them.
After losing all his friends, one of the first people to befriend Woodruf (though, at the time he is hardly friendly in return) is a transvestite man, Rayon, played by Jared Leto. Rayon first encounters Ron when they’re sharing a hospital room, and he teaches him how to endure the various ailments associated with their disease. In that specific scene, Ron gets a vicious leg cramp and Rayon helps him rub it out. After (and only after!) the cramp is alleviated, Ron pushes Rayon away telling him not to ever touch him again and calls him a gay slur. Ron’s fears and stereotypes inhibit his ability to befriend a man who just helped him.
But in a beautiful scene toward the end of the movie, after Ron’s friendship with Rayon develops through pragmatic concerns, he not only warmly and tenderly embraces his Rayon (even though he still cannot conceive of what would be desirable about being attracted to men), but even violently defends Rayon in the supermarket when one of Ron’s former friends uses gay slurs to mock Rayon.
This is a redemption movie for all of us, no matter what our sexual ethics. Its’ redemptive, not because it’s too preachy or has a political agenda, but because it shows true redemption – for all of us – is only possible in the context of genuine friendship with people who are not like us. A community of diverse people who do not share our assumptions and values can deeply challenge us to understand more about what it means to be human and to love our neighbors – and enemies – like we love ourselves.
For the church, in particular, this movie calls us beyond ourselves. It does not ask us to accept Rayon’s sexuality any more than it calls us to accept Ron’s. But it calls us to see that people in our world, no matter their sexuality, are in need of community, friendship, grace, and love. It calls us to see that, no matter what a person is dressed like, no matter who they’re having sex with, no matter how queer they seem to us (pun intended), they are persons created in God’s image and therefore deserving of our respect.
Dallas Buyer’s Club is not a movie about heroes. It’s a movie about mixed-bag human beings who stumble into one another’s lives and are able to work past their stereotypes in order to be a genuine force for good in the world. You don’t have to agree with the characters or the various messages of the movie to see that this is something all of us need to hear. In an overly black-and-white world, there’s something refreshing about seeing people forced into uncomfortable situations that destroy their too-easily constructed worlds, only to reconstruct a world of friendship and respect from the ashes of their mistakes.