- 1985. US, 2018, Black and white. Starring Corey Michael Smith, Virginia Madsen, Michael Chiklis, Jamie Chung, Aidan Langford. Directed by Yen Tan. 85 minutes. Rated M (Coarse Language)
1985 was the year that Rock Hudson died, died from AIDS. With the death of such a movie celebrity and the revelation about his disease, the wider world, at least the English-speaking world who had seen his movies, began to speak about AIDS which had already caused the death of so many men in the United States in the first half of the 1980s.
There will be a variety of responses to this film. Those who remember the times, the feelings, the controversies, the condemnations, the scientific developments for a cure, apprehensiveness about contact with blood… will be taken back to the period, enabling them to remember, see what their attitudes and stances were, whether they have changed or not since. For some there will be nostalgia. For some there will be regrets. A regret about things that might have been different, more understanding, more compassionate.
For audiences for whom this story will be part of history, before their times, it is a good reminder of what those times were like and, again, the possibility of reflecting on attitudes towards AIDS, towards gay men, have changed over the decades.
For many, for those who remember and for those who don’t, this is quite an emotional film. It is small, film in a rather stark black and white, songs of the time, Christmas songs, religious songs. The setting is Christmas in Texas, the son of the family returning home to celebrate with his family. He is played by Corey Michael Smith. He is Adrian and he has a younger, much younger, brother (Aidan Langford), Andrew.
His working father, Michael Chiklis, meet him at the airport, one of those hard men from the past, explaining that his father disciplined him and made him the man he was, not a hugging type, who served in Vietnam and still has resentment towards the Vietnamese, has been traumatised but does not realise it. He is a strict evangelical Christian. And his wife, a housewife of the times, devoted to her husband, to bringing up the children, serving at the church. She is played by Virginia Madsen, caring for her children, revealing quietly that she had been thinking over political matters and had not voted for Reagan in 1984.
Audiences realise that Adrian is gay but has not revealed anything to his parents. And we realise very quickly that he has AIDS and seems terminal, that this is his last visit to his family.
This is very much a film of dialogue, significant conversations. There are surprises in the family’s responses to Adrian, Andrew resentful that he could not visit him in New York and was put off, but reconciling because of their bonds in music and Adrian affirming him. There are gentle conversations with his mother – and the audience suspecting finally that she knows the truth. One of the best sequences is the frank talk with his father, quite surprising. And then there is the past girlfriend, Carly (Jamie Chung) who resents being left behind, is now a successful stand-up comedian, clashes with Adrian because of his treatment and neglect, finally understands.
The writer-director was born in Malaysia but has been making films in the United States since 2002.
The question now is how much society, especially in the English-speaking world, has changed – or not.
Icon Released May 2nd
Peter Malone MSC is an Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.