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Dallas Buyers Club Detailed Plot

In the 1980s, Dallas good ol' boy Ron Woodroof (Matthew McConaughey) is a rodeo cowboy and an electrician who loves to party and sleep with lots of women. A trip to the hospital after an accident at work reveals that he has the HIV virus. He learns that only an early, experimental drug is available. He obtains some illegally, but his source dries up. He finds an outcast doctor in Mexico who helps him learn about the benefits of simple proteins and vitamins. He also forms a friendship with a sick drag queen, Rayon (Jared Leto), who helps him overcome his homophobia. Together, they form a "buyers club," wherein other AIDS patients buy memberships to receive helpful medicines. But, the big drug companies are not happy about this.

dallas buyers club detailed plot

The film "Dallas Buyers Club," opening today, has, perhaps predictably, been tipped for Oscar nominations for its two lead actors, Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto. Both play AIDS patients in the 1980s who simultaneously fight the disease and the bureaucracy that keeps them from medications for that disease. McConaughey's character starts the "buyers club" that imports all manner of experimental medications into the U.S. as the FDA drags its feet on trials for drugs other than AZT, the one AIDS medication it has approved. The fact that the club the movie chooses to focus on is one run by a straight man with AIDS indicates how carefully "Dallas Buyers Club" curates details to tell an audience-friendly story. Both men are heroic in the extreme, in a manner that's always appealed both to Oscar voters and to moviegoers.

The activism he describes was not happening in the buyers clubs across the U.S. Indeed, while activists petitioned outside the FDA and worked within it -- a combination of infiltrators and "an outside army of activists who were the stick to their carrot," per France -- the buyers clubs were more focused on bringing hope to the dying. "The buyers clubs imported drugs willy-nilly and gave them to anyone who wanted them. That all made sense. Why not give people an element of hope," said France. But though the film frames McConaughey's character's dispute with the FDA as a defining struggle -- and though it may have been for him -- the buyers clubs came before the turn in attention to working within the FDA, the turn from spreading hope that herbal remedies and the like might halt AIDS to putting the scientific method into practice.

"We try to cast that period into a context that lends itself to policy analysis, but it wasn't a time that lends itself to policy analysis," said Denise McWilliams, who in the 1980s was the director of the AIDS Law Project. The film treats the FDA as wrongheaded and unwilling to consider promising options; a doctor played by Denis O'Hare callously dictates to his colleague (Jennifer Garner) that she must stick with the program even despite her belief that McConaughey's medicines might, maybe, be worth pursuing. Neither she nor he is wrong, exactly; stasis was death, but it wasn't the foreign medications buyers clubs imported that put a stop to AIDS.

The delay in expediting trials of AIDS medications was horrible -- and very much of its time, given the Reagan administration's infamous inaction in the face of so much death. But a framing that suggests buyers clubs were the story of the AIDS crisis, the vehicle for scientific progress rather than a tangent to activists forcing real scientists to get to work, is as misleading as a story that positions AIDS as the vehicle by which a straight person learns that gays aren't all bad. 041b061a72

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