Unexpected compassion: Dallas Buyers Club (2013)

Ron Woodroof's story inspired Dallas Buyers Club

Like all the films in our StF goes to the Oscars feature, Dallas Buyers Club is based on a true story. Ron Woodroof, played by an emaciated Matthew McConaughey, was diagnosed as HIV positive in the 1980s. He begins finding alternative drug therapies in foreign countries at a time when little was known about HIV/AIDS or its treatment. And to distribute it back home in Dallas, Texas, he establishes a “buyers club”, an organisation distributing sometimes unlicensed drugs among members for the treatment of their condition.

In this film re-telling of the story, there is very little admirable about Woodroof. Ron “doesn’t become a saint,” McConaughey says, and this is definitely not “a message movie”, but he believes that Ron’s essential humanity reveals itself. “Just follow this man’s life and the message will reveal itself”

And what is revealed, among other things, is a breaking down of Ron’s own prejudices (his business partner is a transgender woman, played by Jared Leto) and a certain crusading determination on behalf of a desperate, confused community of sick and ostracised people.

There are no hymns in Singing the Faith about selling unlicensed drugs or overcoming homophobia or perceiving dislikeable, prejudiced individuals to be unlikely crusading pioneers. But there are hymns about understanding the needs of our neighbours (‘Who is my neighbour?’ asked the Scribe, StF+) and speaking out “for those who have no voices… for the rights of all the oppressed” (I will speak out for those who have no voices, StF 702). “In our day, too, we see the need of victims others would ignore”, writes John M. Smith.

In Show me how to stand for justice (StF 713), Martin Leckebusch has us sing our desire to discover “how to challenge false assumptions” and “learn to share more freely in a world so full of greed”.

Who is my neighbour? - Matthew McConaughey, right, and Jared Leto in Dallas Buyers Club

One view of Dallas Buyers Club is that it reflects a Reagan-era “out for yourself” mentality. Ron Woodroof’s actions are defined in the first instance by moral ambiguity and self-interest. Certainly he could not be said to “embrace a lifestyle modelled on God’s living word”; he does not, as Martin urges, humbly submit to the truths experienced in the life of Jesus (v.3). Yet in Woodroof’s actions we may perceive, murky though the context may be, the ability to “treasure mercy, whether given or received”.

One final thought to ponder: Matthew McConaughey has said of Ron Woodroof: “Ron had an amazing amount of rage and, like it, or not, that’s the emotion that gets stuff done.” It’s an idea that challenges our usual definition of Christian love, and yet… read the words of John Bell and Graham Maule’s hymn, Heaven shall not wait (StF 701) and ask: As Christians should our love not (as Andrew Pratt puts it, StF 253) inspire anger?

Heaven shall not wait
for the poor to lose their patience,
the scorned to smile, the despised to find a friend:
Jesus is Lord:
he has championed the unwanted;
in him injustice confronts its timely end.

2012 marked the 30th anniversary of the death of Terrence Higgins who was one of the first people to die of an AIDS-related illness in the UK. For the Methodist Church podcast series, Karen Burke interviewed three people involved in HIV-related projects in order to find out how far we have come in the battle against AIDS and what Churches are doing to help fight the stigma associated with HIV. Listen to the interviews here: http://www.methodist.org.uk/news-and-events/podcasts?page=2 (scroll down page).

Dallas Buyers Club was nominated in six categories at the 2014 Academy Awards. For best:

• motion picture
• actor (Matthew McConaughey) WON
• supporting actor (Jared Leto) WON
• film editing
• makeup and hairstyling WON
• original screenplay

Read more Oscars-inspired hymn reflections.

Categories: Articles, Hymns and films.

Leave a comment below

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>