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To the Battlements

How to Survive a Plague chronicles AIDS activism in the ’80s and ’90s [ok]

October 16, 2012, 10:00 pm

How one survives a plague (according to How to Survive a Plague) is to go on the offensive, relentlessly, until you get what you want (or really, deserve). It makes things even more immediate when you’re fighting hate, bigotry and government inaction, which is what ACT UP fought (and later, so did its offshoot, TAG) in the 1980s and early ’90s as it shouted, marched and sat-in for AIDS research and gay rights.

Some of the relentless rhetoric and emotions can almost overwhelm, but when the goal is stopping a pandemic killing millions of people, it only makes sense that passions run high.

At one point during a period of infighting, playwright and activist Larry Kramer shouts, “PLAGUE! WE’RE IN THE MIDDLE OF A FUCKING PLAGUE! AND YOU ACT LIKE THIS?”

That moment, and others like it—we see activist Bob Rafsky and then-candidate Bill Clinton tangle, which results in “I feel your pain”—humanizes people who, at times, come off as just another group of shouting activists.

But the stakes were high. The participants were fighting for their lives, and they made a difference.

How to Survive a Plague isn’t really entertaining, but is it supposed to be?

It’s worth seeing, and it will leave a lump in your throat.

Directed by David France / With Peter Staley, Bob Rafsky and Larry Kramer / CCA Cinematheque / NR / 109 min.


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