In many ways, Dallas Buyers Club feels like a period piece. You’ve got the seventies outfits and hairstyles, the classic microfiche research scene, the vintage newspaper headlines, the boxy Cadillacs, and, of course, the early days of the AIDS virus.
For all those reasons, it is a film worth seeing. It is a documentary of an important time in American social and medical history, and it paints an incredible portrait of the impact one man had, not only on the way institutions responded to the virus, but also on the way people did. The film does an amazing job of balancing both the broad strokes of the virus’s impact, but also the intimate personal ones, as well.
All that acknowledged, there is another element of the film that feels eerily prescient and relevant to us, today, in 2013.
Ron and Rayon, two of the primary characters in the film, and two people battling with the AIDS virus, go to the grocery store.
(I’m not giving away any spoilers here, but for those who are not familiar with the plot, Ron and Rayon actively fight with the FDA throughout the film to maintain access to non-FDA approved drugs. The FDA will only approve AZT, which trials have documented could have toxic effects on many AIDS patients.)
Rayon wants to buy some processed meat. Ron makes her put it back, saying that the meat is processed and full of toxins. Rayon then tries to buy potato chips, but Ron makes her return those, as well.
Forgive me for not remembering the exact line, but it’s something like: “All that food is FDA-approved, with all its toxins included, and we can’t get our medicine.”
There’s another scene, where Ron barges into a presentation by the FDA and the Center for Disease Control and several of the big pharmaceutical companies. He explains to the audience how drug approval works, and how if you want to get a drug approved, you’ve simply got to have the big pharma bucks in order to do it. Of course, he gets thrown out.
And all I could think about, in addition to what an amazing acting performance Matthew McConaughey was delivering, was how some things never change.
I won’t eat half the food sold at my local grocery store. You don’t have to dig deep into the Internet to find out which ingredients are proven to cause cancer. Ingredients found in everyday food and everyday beauty products. You certainly don’t have to dig deep to find out about Monsanto. Or even to find which foods Americans eat that the rest of the world won’t.
As a judge proclaims near the end of the movie, the FDA is supposed to be helping us, protecting us.
The most poignant element of this film is the story of these men fighting to stay alive, fighting to get hold of drugs that will prolong their lives, even ever-so-slightly, and the stubborn FDA literally snatching these drugs out of their hands.
The judge goes on to say that a terminally ill man should be allowed to put whatever he wants into his body, if he thinks it will keep him alive — and what a shame that the government is doing everything it can to prevent that.
At one point, someone, somewhere, thought the FDA was going to be on our side. It was going to promote safety and health standards, and as far as I know, that is what it still says it does.