Director: Jean-Marc Vallee
Screenwriters: Craig Borten, Melisa Wallack
Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Jared Leto, Jennifer Garner
Nominations: Picture, Actor – Matthew McConaughey, Supporting Actor – Jared Leto, Original Screenplay, Editing, Makeup & Hairstyling
Wins: Actor – Matthew McConaughey, Supporting Actor – Jared Leto, Makeup & Hairstyling
The doctor-heroes in this week’s films had their flaws and weaknesses, but ultimately, their primary concern always came back to the people they care for and care about. They are altruistic, charitable, and selfless. In Dallas Buyers Club, Matthew McConaughey’s Ron Woodroof represents the furthest extreme of those characters. First off, he’s not a doctor or medical professional; second, he’s arrogant, greedy, and self-centered, focused primarily on his problems, his desires, and his needs. It’s been said that tragedy and crisis can bring out the best in people—as Ron sets out to find ways to stay alive, he slowly opens himself up to helping others. His journey from misogynistic, homophobic, redneck electrician to humanistic, open-minded, redneck “drug” smuggler is memorable and inspiring, as highly contradictory and confusing as that journey is.
There’s a saying that goes, “Not all heroes wear capes.” In the case of Ron Woodroof, not even all heroes are out to help others unless there’s a quid pro quo that pads their wallet. The irony is that by helping others, there’s a bigger gain to be had than financial: learning that we’re all essentially the same. We all want to be happy, healthy, cared for, accepted, and Ron provides those desires to everyone he helps. Yes, at first it’s about making money, but as Ron’s fight against the FDA and U.S. government grows and constricts his ability to help money becomes secondary before it ultimately has no real meaning. Despite his abrasiveness, Ron is a genuinely generous person.
Let’s take another quote, said by Buster Moon (voiced by Matthew McConaughey) in the movie Sing (Garth Jennings, 2016), that could have easily been uttered in Dallas Buyers Club is, “You know what’s great about hitting rock bottom? There’s only one way left to go, and that’s up!” When told he has AIDS and at best another 30 days to live, Ron’s first inclination is to drink and do cocaine and continue the (presumably) same reckless behavior that led to his infection. However, and this really gives a fantastic look at the intelligence and resourcefulness of the character, Ron visits the library and researches all possible sources for how he could have gotten sick and what treatments are available for him to try. His then-in-the-1980s death-sentence diagnosis sends him on an unexpected journey of re-birth; he’s a phoenix given a new purpose in a life that has a foreseeable end date.
Ron’s drive is inspiring because it shows us how even with the worst news in the world, we decided how that news affects us and how we react to it. Of course, not everything has a “look on the bright side” angle to take, but instead of dwelling on the negative and letting it fester and metastasize in our mind and body, we should take some time to figure out how to make the best of the bad. A current, real-life example is the massive unemployment caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Losing income is one of the worst things many people could face because so much of what humans need to survive requires an exchange of money in some fashion: food, water, shelter, healthcare, etc. Some people will linger on the fact that they’ve lost their jobs—which is expected—but others will brood briefly before taking steps to recover at least some of that lost income. Numerous essential businesses are hiring, so jobs are available, and in times of need, any little bit helps. As we witness with Ron, don’t be too proud to find ways to survive. He overcomes his homophobia and disgust for “others” to make money; that in turn, allows him to buy more medicine; that in turn, gives him the idea to form his own business; that in turn, helps more and more people.
Ideally, not many of us will experience the degree of devastating news that Ron did. But keep it wouldn’t hurt to keep him in mind in case you do find yourself in a similar situation. Remember that Ron Woodroof was given just a month to live and he beat that prognosis by more than seven years. When the chips are down, try to keep things alright, alright, alright.