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‘Dallas Buyers Club’ celebrates the power of transformation

“Dallas Buyers Club” (2013). Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Jared Leto, Jennifer Garner, Denis O’Hare, Dallas Roberts, Steve Zahn, Kevin Rankin, Griffin Dunne, Michael O’Neill, Deneen Tyler, Scott Takeda, Martin Covert, Ian Casselberry, Bradford Cox. Director: Jean-Marc Vallée. Screenplay: Craig Borten and Melissa Wallack. Web site. Trailer.

When we meet those who are set in their ways, we’re often tempted to think they’ll never change. We frequently assume they’re so entrenched in their beliefs that they’ll always be as they are. But is that really the case? What if dramatically new circumstances arise that significantly affect their realities? What then? That very scenario provides the basis for the storyline of the new, fact-based drama, “Dallas Buyers Club.”

Rodeo cowboy Ron Woodroof (Matthew McConaughey) loves to party. The hard-drinking, fast-living good ole boy likes his liquor and the ladies, and he looks to cut loose whenever he can, usually with his running mate, T.J. (Kevin Rankin). But Ron’s wild man lifestyle eventually catches up with him; after years of uninhibited sexual exploits and relentless drug use, he collapses and ends up in the hospital, where he’s diagnosed with AIDS. His physicians, Dr. Sevard (Denis O’Hare) and Dr. Saks (Jennifer Garner), deliver the sobering news, telling their patient that he has only 30 days left to live. And, given that it’s 1985 and in the early days of the epidemic, there are no approved treatments available. He’s advised to get his affairs in order with what time he has left.

As someone who has always seen himself as indestructible, Ron can’t believe what he hears. He’s especially shocked at the AIDS diagnosis, an affliction predominant in the gay community. As an avowed heterosexual (and card-carrying homophobe), he’s in denial at the prospect of having contracted such an illness. And, given his tough guy persona, he refuses to accept the fate his doctors are attempting to saddle him with. He walks out of the hospital, vowing to live.

Ron quickly discovers, though, that his new challenges involve more than his health. All of his one-time “friends” abandon him, contending that he’s been a closet case all along and that he’s now been justifiably subjected to the death sentence that those of his “deviant” lifestyle deserve. No amount of convincing can change their minds, either. So, with plenty of time on his hands, he turns his attention to more pressing matters – like figuring out how to stay alive.

In researching his options, Ron learns that the hospital to which he had been admitted is about to begin clinical trials with AZT, the first drug to be evaluated as an AIDS treatment in the U.S. He meets with Dr. Saks and begs to purchase some of the medication, but she explains that’s not how clinical trials work. She tells him that, even if he were accepted into the testing program, he couldn’t be guaranteed that he’d even receive the drug, that he’s just as likely to receive a placebo. Those terms aren’t good enough for him, so, with his life on the line, he decides to pursue other options.

At first he obtains AZT by clandestine means, but his health soon worsens, landing him back in the hospital. While there, he learns that he’s probably been taking the drug at a dosage that’s too high, causing a toxic reaction that kills healthy cells in the course of battling the disease. He realizes that more drastic – but safer – measures are warranted. He travels to Mexico to meet with an alternative medical practitioner, Dr. Vass (Griffin Dunne), who treats his AIDS patients with vitamins, minerals, supplements, injectable proteins and other, less toxic drugs. And, remarkably, when Ron tries these remedies, his health starts to improve.

Needless to say, Ron is pleased with the results. He’s also convinced that the good doctor could make a fortune with his treatments in the U.S. with the right distribution channels. Faced with their respective needs to raise cash to stay solvent and to keep the clinic open, Ron and Dr. Vass agree to partner in setting up a domestic dispensary network. By drawing upon legal loopholes, the cowboy entrepreneur justifies his operation’s legitimacy by claiming that he’s importing unapproved, though not illegal, drugs, making it possible to launch the new venture. With the valued assistance of Rayon (Jared Leto), a transsexual AIDS patient who Ron met during his second hospital stay, the network takes off, with demand far outstripping expectations. To keep the venture afloat and to accommodate the expanding client base, Ron and Rayon establish the Dallas Buyers Club, an operation through which patients purchase memberships that entitle them to stocks of the medications.

The club’s phenomenal success attracts widespread attention, prompting Ron to circle the globe in search of additional sources of supply to keep up with rising demand. However, his operation also draws the scrutiny of the pharmaceutical industry and its government lapdogs at the Food & Drug Administration. Concerned that the DBC is cutting into their market (especially given that the products it distributes appear more effective than those offered through official channels), the powers-that-be do all that they can to shut it down. But their retaliatory tactics are hampered when the DBC receives the support of an unlikely ally, Dr. Saks, who comes to share the same conclusions that Ron and his clients have discovered for themselves. These circumstances eventually lead to a showdown in which the needs of sick, desperate people come squarely into conflict with the aims of an industry and a bureaucracy seeking to maintain the status quo, one that’s more concerned with serving their own needs than those of their constituents. It’s unclear how things will shake out, but at least the oppressed have a committed hell-raiser in their corner to make their case and help them get their needs met.

The conscious creation lessons the protagonist seeks to learn should be fairly obvious, particularly those related to thinking outside the box to overcome hindering limitations. With virtually no officially sanctioned options available to him, Ron must get creative to come up with envelope-pushing solutions to address his circumstances. It’s especially important for someone with his condition, which, at its core, is an affliction that embodies the perils that come from personal disempowerment (if you doubt that, look at the nature of the debilitating physical effects this disease causes and the constituencies it initially affected). By refusing to buy into the beliefs associated with the prognosis offered up by the “experts,” Ron confidently chooses to chart his own course. He forms beliefs in line with that thinking to manifest a different outcome, one intended to bolster his well-being.

In doing so, Ron also creates the conditions required to live out his value fulfillment, the conscious creation concept having to do with us becoming our best, truest selves for our own satisfaction and the betterment of those around us. In addition to addressing his own health concerns, he helps many others experiencing comparable challenges, improving their health and restoring their sense of personal empowerment. It’s an unlikely outcome fostered by an unlikely advocate, but, on some level, he obviously recognized his reason for being and didn’t hesitate to act upon it.

It’s particularly ironic that someone so homophobic could find his calling by being of service to those of whom he was once so critical. By becoming subjected to the same sort of discrimination, hostility and disempowerment that he once so freely dished out, he discovers what it’s like to walk in the shoes of those he mercilessly scorned. His outer world reflects back to him the beliefs that he had been holding on the inside, providing him, fittingly enough, with a potent taste of his own medicine. And, fortunately for his sake, he has the presence of mind to realize what he had been doing all along, making it possible to change his ways. That’s truly a prime example of someone being able to overcome acutely limited thinking and attain a previously unenvisioned degree of personal transformation.

Ron’s metamorphosis also illustrates why we sometimes create circumstances of a “negative” nature. At first glance, one might wonder why anyone would intentionally manifest such a horrific scenario for oneself. But gaining the wisdom and experience that come from these kinds of conditions is often essential to be able to transcend such situations, to move past the self-imposed restrictions and become aware that we truly possess reserves of personal power beyond measure. Many of us would probably like to think that we shouldn’t have to resort to such extreme tactics to realize such goals, but sometimes there may be no other way to do so to achieve the sought-after degree of success. As in most situations like this, the greater the risk, the greater the reward, not only for the creators of such circumstances, but also for those who benefit from them.

The inspiration afforded by examples like this is indeed impressive. It shines a spotlight on conditions in need of change, particularly those that are seen as patently unfair or unduly unrealistic. With hordes of deathly ill patients desperately seeking help to ward off the inevitable, concerted action is needed to address their needs. Sympathetic lip service from those in a position to help does little to alleviate suffering, as Ron and his clients discover for themselves. Thankfully, his outspoken, impassioned attitude, backed up by bold gestures, do much to raise public awareness of the need to pursue and develop alternatives that go beyond the limited offerings being made available. Such calls to action can work wonders, fueling the formation of beliefs that lead to manifestations capable of implementing significant, meaningful, effective change.

“Dallas Buyers Club” is a top-notch production all the way around, excellent in virtually every regard. Its greatest strength lies in its performances, especially McConaughey and Leto, both of whom went to the extremes of losing upwards of 30 pounds for their roles (and who have undeniable locks on consideration for awards season honors), as well as Garner, who has significantly upped her game from her more typical lightweight portrayals. The pacing sometimes drags a bit in the second hour, but that’s more than offset by all of the movie’s many other fine attributes. Look for this release to receive a wide range of accolades as the film year draws to a close.

Even under the direst of circumstances, there’s always a way out. Indeed, change is always possible, and “Dallas Buyers Club” drives home that point with remarkable clarity. So the next time you think your life offers you no choices, consider what Ron and his peers went through, and you’ll see that solutions are always at hand, even if not readily apparent at first glance. Under those conditions, don’t be afraid to leave yourself open to the possibilities; after all, your life may depend on it.

Copyright © 2013, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.

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