For many American families like the Piersons, the HIV virus seemed like a distant threat that only homosexuals and other “deviants” had to worry about. Yet when their son Michael, now a successful attorney, is diagnosed with AIDs, the epidemic hits home. The news of his diagnosis comes with his revealing of his homosexuality, a devastating blow to Michael’s father Nick, a “man’s man.”
While Nick cools towards his son upon learning about his sex life and infection, his wife, Katherine, is the only family member who shows any sort of support for Michael. Even without truly understanding or even accepting her son’s sexuality, Katherine seems to do her best to care for and support him. Michael’s sister, pregnant, can’t even stand to be in the same room as him.
Her reaction is not unique, however. Outside of his doctor and his mother, Michael is excluded from society because of his illness. This reflects a widespread paranoia in the US about HIV, mostly from an misunderstanding of what it is and how it is spread — a phenomenon well documented elsewhere in this CYOU as well. The film itself explicitly debunks many common and almost cliche AIDS myths to drive this point home to its viewers in 1985.
The film suggests, notwithstanding the bleakness of an AIDs diagnosis, Katherine and others’ undying love and support is the only thing that Michael has left. Yet even though this warm sentiment emanates through the film, the direness of the situation shines through. We hear the doctor say that he is overwhelmed and stressed because he cannot truly treat any of his patients, and Michael’s only friend in the hospital, Todd, dies suddenly. No trace of government presence is seen.
Ultimately, the film shows the tragically human side of AIDS, and brings life to a narrative that was largely misunderstood or dismissed at the time of its making.