While I am not one for watching too many movies, I do see a few now and then. And while quite a few have made me laugh or cry (which, of course, I deny!), made me think or feel outraged, Angels in America surprised me!
Because I liked it.
Angels in America is based on Tony Kushner’s Pulitzer-winning play of the same name. In 2003 it was adapted as a TV mini-series and won a Golden Globe and an Emmy. The screenplay was written by Kushner, with minor changes from the original to help it along on screen.
Though mainly a story about AIDS in the mid-1980s, when it was a poorly understood disease, I suspect it also had a lot to do with various social and political issues of the day in America in that period. I am deeply sceptical of philosophical waffle and stuff like that, and was honestly a bit cynical when I started watching it. However, the dialogue, especially the humour, was quite riveting, and so was the story. And if you’re looking for realistic, once you explain away the appearance of the ghosts and angel as the hallucinations of a very sick man, it’s not so hard to like!
The story in short centres around six people, and some of them absolutely reprehensible. Prior Walters and Louis Ironson are a homosexual couple, lovers for over four years. Prior develops AIDS and Louis, unable to handle it, leaves him. Joe Pitt and his valium-addicted wife Harper are a Mormon couple, and Joe is a closet case. Joe’s mentor, the elderly Roy Cohn, offers him a major posting. (Cohn, by the way, is based on a real-life character.)
Cohn, a manipulating and ruthless lawyer, also has AIDS, but insists on calling it “liver cancer”. He finds himself alone in hospital, in the company of a nurse called Belize, a black man and former drag-queen. Belize is also a friend of Prior’s. Meanwhile, as Joe and Harper’s marriage flounders, Joe’s mother Hannah moves to New York to look after Harper.
Prior’s deterioration is quite shocking to watch, and in my opinion, actor Justin Kirk did a great job. He is visited by ghosts and an angel who tells him he is a prophet. Despite his suffering, he nevertheless chooses life, and the hope that comes with it, over “heaven” and a chance to end his pain-filled existence. Apart from Prior, Belize and Hannah are the only people in the play who seem to have any amount of decency.
The idea that God has abandoned heaven and left the world to its suffering is fascinating. “If he returns, sue him,” is what Prior tells the angels (or something like it) when he refuses their offer to be a prophet in death!
Well, it’s certainly not a warm, light, frothy, family movie. But I’d say, if one has about six hours to spare, one should watch it.