Angels in America
Somewhat surprising for a movie dealing with HIV and AIDS, this is a celebration and a cry for life.
For a while I was put off by the title, I’m not a fan of “the great America” and I thought that this would be a bit of propaganda, so I didn’t watch it until recently. And I’m glad I got beyond the title, because these are 6 hours of pure brilliance – in writing, in acting and in directing.
The play started in 1990, when the first part Millennium Approaches was developed by Tony Kushner at a theatre in Los Angeles, and it premiered in 1991, while Perestroika, the second part, premiered a year later. In 1993, Angels in America began its run on Broadway. So, it was quite a long standing success story when HBO picked it up 10 years later. The HBO version was adapted by Mr. Kushner himself, and directed by Mike Nichols, so it’s very faithful to the play, with actors playing several characters, with monologues and with somewhat theatrical special effects.
In short, the story goes like this: Louis Ironson’s (Ben Shenkman) grandfather dies and, after his funeral, his partner of 4 years, Prior (Justin Kirk), tells him he’s got AIDS. At the same time, the hot-shot McCarthyist lawyer Roy Cohn (Al Pacino – no link needed here 😉 ) is also diagnosed with AIDS, and a Mormon couple, Harper (Mary Louise Parker) and Joe (Patrick Wilson) Pitt, have yet another fight about her pill taking. As the story developes, these seemingly unconnected personal tragedies will be interconnected, in fantasy or reality. I would write more, but I don’t want to spoil the surprise of fitting ancestors, an angel (Emma Thompson) and a possible prophet, Ethel Rosenberg (Meryl Streep), trips to Heaven and to Alaska and the statue of Bethesda in New York, all in 6 hours worth of film.
It’s beautiful while being somewhat moralizing and displaying a view both on Regan’s America and on life itself, if you will. Big words, but not in vain:
“But still. Still bless me anyway. I want more life. I can’t help myself. I do. I’ve lived through such terrible times and there are people who live through much worse. But you see them living anyway. When they’re more spirit than body, more sores than skin, when they’re burned and in agony, when flies lay eggs in the corners of the eyes of their children – they live. Death usually has to take life away. I don’t know if that’s just the animal. I don’t know if it’s not braver to die, but I recognize the habit; the addiction to being alive. So we live past hope. If I can find hope anywhere, that’s it, that’s the best I can do. It’s so much not enough. It’s so inadequate. But still bless me anyway. I want more life. And if he comes back, take him to court. He walked out on us, he oughta pay”
” I am the continental principality of America! I am a bird of prey! I will not be compelled!”
” I hate America, Louis. I hate this country. Nothing but a bunch of big ideas and stories and people dying, and then people like you. The white cracker who wrote the National Anthem knew what he was doing. He set the word free to a note so high nobody could reach it. That was deliberate.”