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“In the Company of Strangers “

A Second Look

Amos Lassen

As a reviewer, I see a lot of movies and the majority of them leave me as soon as I write my review. Those that I remember or few and far between but when a movie stays me, I am eager to have others see it so we can talk about it. “The Company of Strangers” is one such movie. It is a film that everyone should see because it has such a strong message. We all face critical decisions in our lives and usually with proper thought, we make the right choice but then we are more mature than the younger generation that does not always do the right thing. It is not always easy to decide between right and wrong and even when we know we are making the wrong decision, we do so because of peer pressure. Thomas Hofbauer takes a look at this decision making by giving us a young man who faces such an issue. Brian Nowicki was arrested after he made the wrong choice—he participated in a hate crime; an attack on a young gay male and he was sentenced to 600 hours of community service at an AIDS hospice where reality slaps him across the face. The men at the hospice are either living with or dying from the terrible disease and Brian has to look at himself and his priorities before he can come to terms with what he has been assigned to do. His judge told him that he hoped that this community service would teach him tolerance (a word I hate because it is just a band aid—I can tolerate mashed potatoes even though I do not like them but I will never accept them as part of my regular diet). With Brian, however, it is a start.

Brian found himself in trouble because he went along with his buddies and that men either persecute gay men or not be a member of the clique. He made the wrong choice and has to pay for it. What we see is Brian’s transition from homophobia to compassion. Brian had never been exposed to people suffering from AIDS and he is forced to face this without knowing what he was in for. When he realized what these men were going through (and it took a while), he began to see that homophobia was wrong but it can be overcome. When we meet Brian, he is a homophobic thug but he is doing his community service. As the film progresses, so does Brian and he becomes more and more involved in the lives of the sick men at the hospice. Mitch, the manager of Trinity House, guides Brian, teaches him about AIDS and tells him stories of those who suffer. Slowly and cautiously, Brian begins to establish relationships with residents of Trinity House and he becomes especially close to James who shows him that AIDS is medical issue and not a moral issue. The more Brian learns, the more he sees homophobia (including his own) as cruel and unfair.

The film looks at Brian’s personal demons and we learn that he is so angry because his relationship with his father is not good. The beauty, though, is watching Brian move from anger to compassion and overcoming his own feelings about gay people. His relationship with Mike, James’s son, reminds him of how he was. Mike refuses to accept his father because of his sexuality. Mike’s homophobia reminds of Brian when we first met him. Brian’s learning that homophobia is wrong is symptomatic of society but seeing Brian change gives us hole that society can as well.

It is very difficult to make a non-political, non-emotional movie about AIDS but Hofbauer does so with sublime skill. The movie doesn’t preach and gives us characters that are real. The actors do wonderful jobs but this film belongs to Ben Perry as Brian and to Thomas Hofbauer whose baby this is. You may need to dry your eyes several times but you feel so much better having seen this film. It is a low budget film that teaches us a very expensive idea.

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