The Dallas Buyers Club features an unlikable protagonist.
He is a misogynistic, homophobic, drug-using, straight piece of white trash who is kind of proud of being those things. But there is something about him that makes him likable. And to me it’s not because he eventually has a (slight) human revolution that softens his views of others, although that helps and is part of the based-on-true-life story.
Instead, it is his uncompromising view of — and confidence in — himself that makes me nod in affirmation and admiration, much in the same way I do when I read and reread the late great poet and professional drunk Charles Bukowski.
The general story:
Ron Woodruff (played exceptionally well by Matthew McConaughey) learns he has AIDS, a disease which he had previously thought only affected homos: a “faggot disease“. How would he have thought otherwise, considering the apathetic response of the nation?
At the time the movie takes place, during the reign of Reagan where that misnamed great communicator’s greater silence permitted many to die and many more to get infected, accurate information was not widely disseminated.
The only treatment for AIDS in the US was high doses of former cancer drug AZT, originally shelved because it didn’t work on cancer and had high toxicity. Human trials started being rolled out, and you may or may not have gotten access to even this drug that may or may not work.
There were other things being tried in other countries, vitamins and other supplements as well as different medicines, but they were not FDA approved. They were also difficult to obtain and some of them were even illegal to buy/sell in the states.
But not to possess.
So Ron traveled abroad. He bought them, used them and discovered they sometimes worked. They sometimes didn’t. And they sometimes caused problems. But sometimes they worked. And compared to the known-to-be-toxic AZT, the working / not working ratio proved worth the risk.
A risk he rightly wagered others would likewise be willing to take.
Ron didn’t sell such non-FDA-approved formularies, which would have been illegal. Instead, he sold memberships to the Dallas Buyers Club, which entitled members to have access to the vitamins/medicines/supplements for free. See the clever distinction?
Not everyone agreed with such technical splicing of legality, and much of the movie revolves around that disagreement.
But far more interesting than the basic plot is Ron’s determination to always be the author of his own life. It reminds us that ultimately we are the only ones with a truly vested interest in ourselves. For:
The pharmaceutical company had a capitalist orgasm over bringing AZT back on the market. Exorbitant pricing and rising stock prices made rich people richer. It was a happy, profitable time for the drug manufacturer and its stockholders as they reaped obscene benefits from this latest exploitation of another person’s tragedy.
Doctors might care, then and now, but the nature of research necessarily tempers such caring. In a trial, a certain population gets a placebo. That’s the only way to be sure of efficacy. Like it or not, the most efficient way of determining if something works is for the control group that doesn’t get that something to, well, die.
Death is a good measurement for such things.
Oh, sure, there is surely at least some minimal altruism there that would keep the above two goals — profit and research — from being the only driving forces for the people swept into those two broad categories. I’m not trying to diminish that important aspect of human nature and I certainly wouldn’t be one to go all Ayn Rand.
But there is never just one goal involved. We are far too complex, far too evolved, for it to be otherwise. We all have multiple goals, and more importantly, cross-purposes. Our hundreds of daily interactions and tasks both major and minor reflect that. It is fine for others to champion us, and it is certainly welcome when they do; however, we ultimately should be – and we actually have to be if we are going to survive and thrive — our own, most vocal cheerleader.
When adversity comes your way, do you glance left, right, and maybe upwards praying for a rescue that is always outside your realm of control? Or do you cast your eyes forward and take another bold step, letting the coals burn your feet as they may beneath your smiling face?