After a prolonged absence, Adrian (Cory Michael Smith) makes it back to his Texas hometown to spend Christmas with his family. His parents are Christian Conservatives struggling to reconcile with the wider world around them, while his younger brother cannot shake the fact that he feels separate from the church, his parents and other teenagers. Adrian must do what he can to reconnect with his loved ones for what may be the last time.
It seemed oddly fitting to be watching 1985 in the wake of George H.W. Bush’s funeral last week. A man whose inaction and hollow words are not warmly remembered by ACT UP activists and anyone whose lives were impacted by the AIDS pandemic. In recent years, we have been blessed with several emotionally resonant documentaries and feature films raising awareness of the disease. We Were Here (2011) and How to Survive a Plague (2012) illustrated in vivid detail, the lives lost and the pain felt. Here, director Yen Tan gives a fleeting glimpse into a family dynamic affected by a wealth of things unsaid. From the mother (Virginia Madsen) who harbours a differing political opinion to her spouse, the blue-collar father (Michael Chiklis) who doesn’t know how to connect with his sons, and brothers Adrian and Andrew (Aidan Langford), communicating as equals for the first time.
The performances are each equally brilliant. Adrian’s pilgrimage back to the family home is achingly real. Smith imbues the young man with a pained and haunting air. As someone who has already seen too much death and experienced a lifetime of heartache. Selling a lie to his family and friends, finally living the repercussions of his exile as he hears from the people he left behind. His visit during such a heightened time amplifies the love and the loss, generating an immense pressure for the young man to do or say something to clear the air with those he cherishes.
I very much appreciated by time with 1985. The black and white photography speaks of a life in greyscale. In shades between the contrast. This could represent how Adrian perceives his Texas hometown in comparison to his life in New York or even his life, overcome with illness. This is a film about gestures. About making the most of the time you have left. This film is a thorough recommend from me. I found it deeply affecting in a way that made me briefly pause and consider a world beyond my own sphere. I look forward to whatever project Yen Tan delivers next.
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