Fire Island was a free zone for the gay community for sex, drugs and disco, and continues to remain as a memorial to all who lost their life due to the AIDS virus. Back before it was known as HIV, "the gay cancer" brutally murdered innocent young men who only knew about sexually transmitted diseases discussed in their high school health classes, and many of them were barely in college, let alone grown up. Along with "And the Band Played On", this drama about the early years takes an unflinching, unapologetic look at those early years. Featuring Julia Roberts as a wheelchair bound doctor fighting to discover what is killing gay men, this also casts many actors, best known for their stage roles, a few who have moved onto the big or small screens, but put their hearts in contributing to this outstanding film version of the controversial play.
Fighting against the bigotry and often closeted politicians of the early 198O's, this doesn't shirk in exposing the sexual freedoms of the times, featuring complete male nudity and obvious simulated sex that was obviously unsafe. This dramatizes the issues within the gay community itself as well as understandable prejudices that plagued them through heterosexual fear and even social outcasts within the community itself. Some of the gay men are presented as bitchy or overly effeminate, but that doesn't dilute the impact of their suffering. With an allegedly gay New York mayor and a president who had gay friends yet did nothing to solve this crisis, AIDS had no reason to infect as many people straight or gay, as long as it did.
A scene in a disco where a fund-raiser is going on really hits the emotional cord by showing the determined ailing men covered in Kaposi's blotches, unable to dance to "I Will Survive" yet determined to go on as long as they can, even if it's just another couple of hours. Ghostly visions, pleading for one last moment with their beloved pet and pleading with family members for acceptance and compassion are dramatized with a plainly made up Roberts tough but filled with compassion. Young lovers watching their partner suffer and ultimately pass on. Sharing those few moments they have left, yet paranoid over being abandoned. This shows it all. Superb makeup artistry shows the deterioration of healthy, handsome men who turn into barely walking skeletons.
Among the superb cast are Jim Parsons who makes a funeral speech that sums it up for hundreds of thousands, Danielle Ferland as a woman volunteer at the gay men's health crisis who lost her best friend just hours before, Alfred Molina as an attorney who promises to help his gay brother yet is filled with prejudices and fears that he can't escape from. One truly haunting moment shows a mother's reaction to her son's death, something I had to see at several memorial services
For those of us old enough to remember this era and still suffering from the memory of losing a loved one, we sit nearby those empty chairs at empty tables, grateful to be alive yet longing to once again hug those we loved and lost. I came out after seeing the early AIDS drama "Parting Glances" and dealt with my share of loss with friends and lovers, some whose deaths I only found out about recently. 35 years later, I find that I am out of tears. Fortunately, that number is decreasing, but this shows some of the horrific experience experiences that the world suffered through. At times hard to take, like "Schindler's List", this shows what we must not go through again.