‘1985’ makes bounds in film representation, normalizing social differences

It is easy to forget the extent of social progress while living in the present. However, those attending the screening of the movie “1985” were transported into the past and reminded of struggles gay men faced 33 years ago.

The drama, written and by directed by Yen Tan, follows Adrian (Cory Michael Smith), a young man returning home to spend Christmas with his family in Fort Worth, Texas. He has not yet divulged his sexual orientation or AIDS diagnosis. The feature premiered the first day of this year’s South By Southwest Film Festival and was based on Tan’s SXSW Special Jury Prize-winning short by the same name released in 2016.

Throughout its third screening, the audience at the Rollins Theater witnessed Adrian wrestle with the idea of coming out to his parents and revealing the tragic truth of his situation in New York while wishing to maintain the facade of a perfect life. Shoot using Kodak black and white film, it transports them back to the first wave of the AIDS crisis in America and made the film feel incredibly intimate as if the Tan had trusted the audience enough to share someone’s real old family tape.

The film counts with an exceptional cast that delivers compelling performances. Smith’s portrayal of Adrian’s internal struggle to come out while dealing with a diagnosis that at the time painted a bleak picture of the future for its carriers is bound to strike an emotional chord with audiences now who live in a world that has witnessed drastic improvements for those in the LGBT community as well those who currently live with the same diagnosis.

His conservative parents (Virginia Madsen and Michael Chiklis) hold views on homosexuality and manhood which are heavily rooted in Christian belief that prevent him from coming out. Interactions between them and Adrian range from frustrating to optimistic and hopeful. As the film progresses, initial assessments of these two characters are challenged by intentionally nuanced dialogues and actions meant to reveal their complex perspectives.  

Adrian’s private battles also help him improve his relationship with his brother Andrew (Aidan Langford) and mend his friendship with his high school love Carly (Jamie Chung). Feeling like an outcast in the confines of their home connects them to one another making them feel less isolated and even empowered. This is a universal theme SXSW festival goers, with tear-filled eyes vacating the venue, seemed to know very well.

Only because progress has been made does not mean there is no progress to be made. Despite great progress being attained in the gay rights front, issues of visibility in media still persist. Films like “1895” with gay characters as leads and are also directed by openly gay directors like Tan then hold great cultural value. They represent the progress that has been, bring attention to issues being addressed and shines a light to the dark past so that one day, no one ever is forced to silence their true self.