Skip to comments.'Angels in America'miniseries about AIDS(Roy Cohn,Reagan,Mormons,gay fantasia)
Posted on 12/05/2003 4:38:06 PM PST by fight_truth_decay
You know you're in for a grand odyssey when you embark on "Angels in America." The epic six-hour flight is composed of two parts, the first showing on HBO at 8 p.m. Sunday and the second set for Dec. 14.
The first view is intoxicating. You sail above cotton-candy clouds drifting over San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge; it feels like heaven, until the clouds clear and we're staring down at the gray Mormon Temple in Salt Lake City. We cruise next past the Gateway Arch in St. Louis and end up in New York City, where we meet the five people with whom we'll become intimate over the next three hours.
They take us into hell with them: The hell humans create on Earth.
It's hot, it's humid and it's irresistible. Tony Kushner's adaptation of his Pulitzer- and Tony-winning play is easily the most absorbing story to hit any screen, big or small, in a long time. Director Mike Nichols deploys a dream team of actors: Emma Thompson as the Angel, among other characters; Al Pacino as the devil, specifically Reagan crony Roy Cohn; Mary-Louise Parker as Harper, a Valium-gulping Mormon housewife; Patrick Wilson as her porcelain husband, Joe; and Meryl Streep as his Mormon mama. In a concurrent plot line, Justin Kirk and Ben Shenkman are Prior Walter and Louis, lovers ripped asunder by the AIDS virus. Jeffrey Wright also mesmerizes in two roles: Belize, a nurse and friend of Prior Walter, and Mr. Lies, a figment of Harper's hallucinations.
The movie is about AIDS in 1985, closeted gay men and the currents of hate swirling around them. Though set during the Reagan years and subtitled "Millennium Approaches," the story is not stale. That's because it is also about the power - and the necessity - of unconditional love.
"Angels" is a seething masterwork of political drama, but it works on an intensely personal level. By the halfway point, we care about the two couples as if they are family. To say they're dysfunctional would be an understatement - but that's what makes us relate to them deeply.
Kushner's characters, like most of us, struggle to live their lives according to narratives they had all mapped out: If I do this, then this, then this, I'll be happy. I've found a life partner, we're doing our darnedest to make it work, so we deserve some peace.
In come the forces of intolerance. The world's going crazy around us, in ways we couldn't have anticipated. Power-ravenous people such as Roy Cohn and Ronald Reagan - according to Kushner - rewrite the rules to fit their appetites. They poison the environment, placing their personal clout above any kind of human connection they might have created with family or life partners.
Pacino is by turns terrifying and pathetic as the Reaganite with AIDS. His opposite is Joe, the beautiful blond Mormon who believed he could quash his homosexuality if he prayed hard enough. The camera drinks in his and Harper's faces, until we're swimming in their tormented eyes. That's something television can do that theatrical productions of "Angels" cannot: The extreme close-up that provides a look inside a character's soul.
Kushner's dialogue devastates even as it howls with humor. Certain bits summarize the scenes, while relieving the gravity of the situation like magic pills.
"We're happy enough," Harper says to Joe. "Pretend happy; it's better than nothing."
In Prior Walter's hospital room, nurse Emily (played by Thompson) asks Louis, "Are you his, uh ...?" He replies, deadpan, "Yes, I'm his uh."
Kushner has his characters sum up his recollections of the Reagan years: Cohn's doctor (James Cromwell), says, "Sometimes the body even attacks itself," while Cohn himself is more blunt: "This is not a good world," he tells Joe, in an effort to bring his protégé down to his level.
Joe, by rejecting his true nature, already put himself in his own region of hell. So has Louis, by abandoning his lover. He says he wants to be with Prior Walter, but can't summon the strength to stay at his side.
Meantime, Cohn carries on as a ringleader in the Reagan circus. We can only imagine how the current Bush administration, with its unfulfilled promises of help for AIDS-afflicted Africa and its stance against gay marriage, would fare if Kushner unleashed his wrath upon it. The playwright recently told The New York Times that he's determined to put Bush out in 2004.
The movie makes use of grand pullbacks over New York City, periodically widening our perspective. By contrast, the interior scenes, such as one inside Joe and Harper's kitchen, wrench us into the characters' inner anguish.
There's Harper, desperate to get past her husband's prim facade. She rattles around the apartment all day, leaving the refrigerator and oven doors open. Joe comes home and closes them carefully, trying to defuse the household's imminent implosion.
Then we come around a corner and see the characters transcend, for a moment, their earthly suffering. They do it by connecting with and accepting each other. Prior Walter, in one such moment, stops writhing in his sickbed long enough to have his role as a prophet affirmed by a pair of ancestors. It is at these points of acceptance, of comprehension, that heaven comes down, like a shaft of light, to Earth. When an individual understands his connection to the universe, that's the moment at which the Angel appears.
Overwrought? Yes, oh, yes. "Angels in America" is refreshingly high drama. It's nothing less than a trip to heaven and hell, with a motley and fascinating crew of travelers.
Mike Piazza? Roberto Alomar?
And I'm supposed to be moved by this movie?
Doncha love how they scream "what we do in our bedrooms is our business" and then proceed to plaster what they do in the bedroom all over the TV, in parades, to our children at school, and on and on, ad nauseum.
NOMINATION FOR QUOTE OF THE DAY!!!!!
Back the history truck up here. Cohn was an advisor to McCarthy, not Reagan. Cohn is the reason RFK left McCarthy's staff.
Yes. The Left adores the Rosenbergs for that reason.
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