Matthew McConaughey’s transformation into an oscar-nominated actor has been fairly startling. Known as the romantic lead leaned on things in the last decade, he has quickly turned into the go-to southern actor for indie films.
In Dallas Buyers Club he takes on true tale of Ron Woodroof, a working class, womanising Texan who finds out he has 30 days to live, having tested HIV-positive. It being 1985 there are no approved treatments for AIDS. However, the FDA is running a trial of AZT, and although Ron isn’t eligible convinces the hospital’s porter to sell him the drugs on the sly.
When his supply runs out, Ron tries going to Mexico where a doctor tells him that AZT is killing him, and that alternative treatments would be far better. Ron lives past his 30-day sell-by date and is convinced this doctor is right. He decides to set up the “Dallas Buyers’ Club” for fellow AIDS patients who want the latest in non-FDA-approved treatments from abroad.
Dallas Buyers Club is in many ways a contradiction of a film. It some ways in seems anti-American, in the sense it is against the government and the apparently ridiculous rules which prevent terminally ill patients from choosing their own treatments, rather than those from abroad. Yet at the same time it has an undeniably American ideology that underpins it. That is the little man standing up against the big guy and winning, aka The American Dream.
Dallas Buyers Club would have us believe that the story of the little guy who overcomes disease, his own homophobia and a governmental organisation is an inspiring one. Perhaps it is.
Yet if we look closer and read around the story portrayed on screen we might find interviews that say Woodroof was never that homophobic to begin with. We also may find out that AZT was never as toxic as Woodroof thought, and that all these buyers’ clubs were really offering was hope.
The truth, as always is a more complex beast than any film (especially a Hollywood one) would dare to portray. In choosing to portray Woodroof like this we perhaps learn little about him and more about the stories Americans love to tell themselves, and the rest of the world loves to hear.
And so while the original Dallas Buyers Club sold cocktails of drugs that were in reality little more than placebos, it is perhaps fitting that the movie that bears its title is selling something equally hopeful yet unproven, the American Dream.