by Sawyer J. Lahr
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In life, we all need each others’ support—especially those who have made mistakes. Life Support, directed by Nelson George for HBO Films and based on a true story, is not about having an unconditionally terminal illness or being a medical vegetable, but living in spite of HIV with the support of a community made of both blood and human family.
It is not divulged exactly how Ana Willis (Queen Latifah) or her husband Slick (Wendell Pierce) acquired the virus but the characters lead us to believe it was through dirty needles. How this happened becomes a frustrating point of argument between the couple and their family, but their ability to forgive one another for an unforgiving virus is much of why they continue to stick together and maintain their support.
A striking theme is that no matter how terrible the HIV virus has the potential to be, it brings people together. The virus is both curse and reward, but more important to the story of this black, female HIV survivor is the rewarding struggle it brings her and the hope that she receives and promotes as an HIV/AIDS counselor for an outreach program in New York City.
This story triumphs over the stigma of what was once called a “gay disease,” propagated in the ’80s, as well as embraces the more recent reality that the virus is survivable.
The filmmakers do convey the troubling consequences of the virus and the personal difficulties coming to terms with its permanence, but all is portrayed with care and empathy for both the suffering living, the deceased, and their families.
There wasn’t a moment that felt like this film was just another movie addressing HIV and/or AIDS, which can often be found depressing and, therefore, avoided. Life Support, contrarily, is uplifting and tearfully touching in that it addresses a sometimes unhappy subject with a personality that only this cast could offer—a lot of heart and soul.
On top of the viral reality, we see subjects including drugs, drug abuse, and addiction in the forefront of the narrative, as they relate to the acquisition of HIV as well as the dangerous and/or deadly consequences of behaviors associated with those who do not help themselves or do not ask for the help of others.
The concept of “life support” is a dual one. It represents both those who support you, and that which you need to stay alive. These meanings are interrelated, because one cannot live well without the support that is available to him/her, whether HIV positive or negative.
Sawyer J. Lahr is a film reviewer living in Chicago.
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