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The following is the third of three papers written by students in a "Sociology of AIDS" class taught at the University of California Santa Barbara. The papers were written after the students had viewed "In the Company of Strangers" in class.
In the Company of Strangers, a film directed by Thomas Hofbauer, is a low budget film about a boy who has to confront his own prejudice about homosexuality and AIDS. The story begins when Brian and friends beat up two gay men walking home from a bar. When the cops show up, the others get away, but Brian was arrested. Upon sentencing, a judge decides he needs a lesson instead of jail. The judge assigns Brian six months community service at Trinity house, an AIDS hospice. At the hospice, Brian spends months sitting in the hallway doing nothing, refusing to be involved. One day, a patient has a seizure and Brian is the only one there. He is forced to act to save the man's life.
From that point on, Brian confronts his own fears of death and AIDS, and his prejudice against homosexuals. He begins to work with the patients. He and James, the man he helped to save, become friends. James shares pieces of his life, stories of his family, his decision to be gay, and how he got sick. With the help of the staff at Trinity House, Brian is able to see the patients as people who need support in their final days, instead of a group of gay men with a disease. The strength he gains from being involved in the program also helps him stand-up to his friends, win back his girlfriend, and confront difficulties with his own father. When James takes a turn for the worse, his dying wish is to see his son. Brian goes out of his way to make this happen. Mikey, James' son, arrives at the hospital and is hostile towards his dying father, criticizing his father's choices, and telling him to go to hell. The parallel between the two boys is evident. The viewer is able to see how far Brian has come in his acceptance of people. Brian has to throw Mikey out of the room. At this moment, James dies.
As the film ends, Brian has to deal with what it means to lose a friend. In the closing scene, Brian takes James's ashes to the Baseball field where he and James had once shared stories and dreams. It is clear that the lessons Brian learned from his experience at Trinity house opened his mind and changed him.
This film is intended for a younger audience and portrays a message of standing up for what is right and defying prejudice, more than it deals directly with AIDS. But, issues surrounding AIDS are addressed. The film shows sick patients, but also people who look healthy. It briefly deals with issues like the lack of education surrounding the transmission of the virus, and that the medications can cause terrible side effects. It also points out some of the challenges gay people face. For instance, being disowned by their families. Or, being beat up just for being gay. There is also some discussion that AIDS is not only a gay disease but only people shown with AIDS in the film are gay white men.
I found the film to be entertaining but it lacked depth. It does have a good message, and it would be appropriate for middle school aged children. After watching it, I wished that it incorporated more races and cultures. I also wished that it addressed pertinent issues surrounding AIDS more thoroughly. Many issues were only briefly touched on with one liners, while others were left out completely. There was no discussion of transmission, other than that you can't get AIDS from just touching someone with it, and there was never any discussion of prevention. I was left with a final question. Why make a ninety-minute film about prejudice and AIDS and leave out these important messages?
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