2014 Reel Theology: Dallas Buyers Club (Movie #5)

My reactions to Dallas Buyers Club, with an attempt not to spoil anything for anyone who hasn’t seen it.

The pre-movie expectations

I don’t know much about this movie at all; in fact, nothing really. I have rented it on iTunes and am packing for Illinois as I watch it, so I am frankly a little distracted.

The distracted reactions

Matthew McConaughey looks so thin!  This can’t be great for actors.  Christian Bale in Machinist, Tom Hanks in Castaway and not Matthew.  Dropping 2/3 your body weight and then bringing it back up for the next movie.  This can’t be good.  I suddenly realize between these roaming thoughts and my packing, I have no idea what’s been happening on screen.  Some copy is beating up Matthew, and I’ve no idea why.  Ok, time to rewind and pay attention.  

Ok, now I still don’t know why.  Well I understand that he got the cop to beat him up so that the guys chasing him wouldn’t, but why are the guys chasing him?  What did I miss this time?  Is this cop his brother or his friend?  Must be.  I’m guessing brother.  It’s the guy from That thing you do, but with a mustache now.

Ok, so this is how the movie continued to flow for me.  While I did eventually settle into the story, I never found myself engaged by the story.  I never was particularly drawn in.  Was it because I was distractedly packing.  NO doubt in a movie theater I would have been more engaged and yet, I was sort of hoping the movie would pull me away from what I was doing.  Other stories have done so.

I did ultimately understand that the point of the story is how our hero with thirty days to live cheated both death and the system, by avoiding AZT in its early incarnation, and embracing a range of alternative treatments, not yet approved by the FDA; then discovering a loophole in the drug laws which allowed him to bring these alternative drugs and vitamins to other via the Dallas Buyers Club.  I have no idea of the accuracy of the story, but it doesn’t strike me as implausible and my understanding is that it is based on a true story (although so was American Hustle with its “some of this actually happened.”).  What was more interesting to me though was the change in our hero, Ron Woodruff.  I wanted to watch him go from completely selfish and hedonistic, to a caring responsible individual.  I wasn’t completely disappointed in this.  He definitely got more responsible as regards his own health.  He seemed to work harder at the club than the rest of his life.  He does have a scene where he seems to value the people more than the money.  This was the most interesting aspect of the story was his character change, but the movie makers seemed to want to make it more about the message.  My problem was while looking for what I only got a little of, I was not quite clear on what I got a lot of.  What exactly was the message?  Anti-FDA?  Anti-homophobia? Pro alternative medicine?  Anti-doctor?  I was never quite sure.  I’m not saying I would have liked a more messagey movie; as I said I wanted a more character movie in this case.  But if they were deciding to make a message movie, then it should have been more clear.  If they were just telling a story about Ron, then I didn’t get what I wanted from his journey

My reaction

Having acknowledged that my reactions may not be entirely fair, because I was distracted, I would also argue that my distraction is at least part of the movie’s fault.  I’m not sure that in a theater it would have grabbed me much more.  Everything was fine, but nothing really stood out, in my mind, except the tragedy of the FDA’s mishandling and bureaucratic hindrances to people living.  While this is a though provoking discussion point, it’s not movie by itself. Possibly such a message should be enough to grab my attention and it did to a degree, but as a movie, I never knew if it was accurate, I never cared about Ron enough, and I was never drawn into the problem in any sort of personal manner.

I don’t blame this on myself, but on the movie failing to accomplish what it desired to accomplish, which was to make me care.  I already care about dying people for whatever cause.  I am already frustrated and distressed by bureaucracies which allow such deaths to occur when they are preventable. I already grieve at the fallibility of doctors, the horror of disease, and the unhelpful hostility of some. This movie did nothing to enlighten, inspire, inform, or challenge these already present realities in my life.

My Seven Themes thoughts so far.

Fellowship is a big theme. The title hints at it, and the true club is comprised not of the members (whom we rarely see–more of them might have helped the movie in fact.) but of the lawyer, nurse, brother, and others who help him.

Redemption ought to be a big part of this movie, but it never quite flourished as I would have liked.

Alternate worlds is pretty clear in a number of interesting ways.  America, under the FDA and the rest of the world which is not.  Those with Aids and those without.  Those in the club and those not.

Christ figure is pretty obviously Ron, no matter how you look at the rest of the movie.  He moves between all worlds.  He is the initiator for everything.  I suppose that’s the biggest change in him is one from passivity to activity.  That’s a promising angle to explore if I want to insist on redemption 🙂

Resurrection is present I suppose in the man doomed to thirty days living many years. Hope that’s not a spoiler….

Suybstitutionary love is, again a missing component mostly.  I’m finding a lot of these movies would benefit from a little Substitutionary love.  It is here a bit more than some of the other movies, but still deemphasized a great deal.

Current Ranking in my mind.


Captain Phillips


Dallas Buyers Club

American Hustle


I rate movies according to how much of my money and time they are worth.  My rating for this movie is bolded below.

Worth a full price movie ticket 

Worth a matinee viewing.

Worth a dollar movie viewing.

Worth a DVD/itunes rental

Watch it on Netflix

Watch it on TV on a Saturday Afternoon when you’v nothing else to do and you’r sonly laying around anyway.

Not worth your time

Influencing factors in my reactions

I pretty much covered all this already.  I was watching on my TV.  I rented from iTunes.  I was distracted packing.  I was alone.  All these probably work against it.  Except the iTunes rental, that means I spent less then going to a theater.  That works in its favor in this case.  

Politically I’m not an FDA hater, but I can completely believe they could miss important helpful drugs and pass unhelpful ones, given the right context and situation, because it is the nature of bureaucracy to be flawed and full of fallible people who may or may not have the proper motivations at a given point in history.  I don’t find that thread of the story implausible or offensive (unless it’s not true and then it’s just mean and slanderous).  

I don’t rejoice over AIDS as any kind of punishment (even for someone so clearly irresponsible as Ron Woodruff) and have participated in fund raising for research into conquering AIDS.  I also believe there are other very terrible and more prolific diseases for which I’ve also raised funds (Malaria, Heart Disease, Cancer…)  I didn’t feel any sort of political tension during the movie, largely cause I wasn’t sure what the point of the message actually was.  I only mention these things as full disclosure of potential mitigating factors because it seems like it could be a politically charged movie for some, although it didn’t feel so for me.

This is just my reaction.  What was yours?


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