It’s not very often that you get a movie that renders me speechless. In fact, I feel pretty safe in saying that it’s happened only a handful of times in my lifetime. However, yesterday after watching Longtime Companion, I found myself in that position again. More than anything else, I was grateful for the experience, but also entirely exhausted. Not physically, but emotionally.
Longtime Companion came out in 1990 with something that no other movie had offered before. It followed a group of friends and lovers as they tried to make sense and come to terms with the HIV/AIDS crisis in the 1980s. Sure, now we think of movies about HIV/AIDS and we can rattle off at least a few, namely Philadelphia which came several years after. At the time of Longtime Companion, they were breaking new ground. Even watching it now, it’s unlike any other movie that’s addressed the epidemic.
There’s something to be said about the honesty of it, which is what i think I found so captivating. So many other movies try to paint their protagonist’s death with dignity and purpose. The fact of the matter is, that at the time, the most honest emotion would have been fear. Longtime Companion showed that fear and paranoia as well as the toll it took on the lives of those who may not have been suffering from the disease themselves, but had loved ones who were. It was just so all-encompassing in its addressing that crucial period.
Granted, it’s not a perfect movie. the ending was a bit theatrical, but it served its purpose well. There are some melodramatic moments that were distracting, but it was easy to see why they were there. There were even some characters that, as awful as it may sound, seemed like they were supposed to provoke a certain emotional response, but weren’t fully characterized enough to sustain them. Still, like most movies, its flaws are a part of the experience. It in no way detracted from the emotional experience. I still found myself utterly depressed and slightly red-eyed at the movie’s end.
However, up until this point, I’ve ignored the crucial component of Longtime Companion that so many other AIDS-related movies are afraid to address. Longtime Companion is both poignant and political. There’s this political edge to it that caught me so off guard, but I was glad that it did. there was a somewhat unspoken call to action in the film’s conclusion. I felt as if I’d experienced only a fraction of the heartache and fear that these characters had undergone, and I was amazed that they had found the will to move on. By the end of the film, these characters have been through hell and back and the ones that remain have taken up a cause. In their living, they’ve found a purpose; to give a voice to the dead.
Longtime Companion is a movie unlike any other because of this. It is unabashedly political and sentimental. It throws its audience into the lives of complete strangers and by the end, I found myself caring about the fates of those that remained. Its not only important as a contextual piece of film history, but also as a profound and moving experience.