Wednesday, June 7th, 2023

De-gayed “Philadelphia”

Philadelphia PosterPhiladelphia

Directed by Jonathan Demme

Written by Ron Nyswaner

Released January 14, 1994
125 min. • Find on imdb

Review by Stephen O. Murray

February 11, 1995.


Finally I forced myself to watch Philadelphia.  Since my lawyer told me that it had made pressing wrongful termination claims easier, I have to like it.

As with all the TV movies with gay characters (until Glen Close played Colonel Margarethe Cammermeyer last week in Serving in Silence), it is predominantly about straight characters agonizing over accepting them (here, Denzel Washington tolerating Tom Hanks).

Hanks and BanderesAlthough Tom Hanks’ family is too good to be true, I take it as a model of what families should be like: providing unqualified support. The waste of Antonio Banderas bothers me more (he mostly hovers and looks concerned). He and Hanks barely touch (in what is left of footage shot of them as lovers). The audience has no idea what kind of work he does and very little of what he feels.

As usual, what broke me up wasn’t the suffering of the person with AIDS but the pain of a loved one being left behind (in this case a brother who breaks down instead of making keep-up-the-brave-front remarks). Insofar as this means “I’m not feeling sorry for myself,” this is probably good, though it seems perverse (evidence of denial?).

I was not impressed by Hanks’ explication of Callas singing Puccini. For me the highlight was Denzel Washington overcoming his repugnance and coming to Hanks’ defense in the law library when he sees the social death being enacted by a clerk who strongly suggests that Hanks be secluded.

As antiseptic as the gay representation is, I think that the film gives straight audiences some sense of the virulence of homophobia and AIDS-phobia we face. It is a gripping film with some fine performances (and Bruce Springsteen’s haunting title song over the opening credits).

11 February 1995
©1995, 2016, Stephen O. Murray

About The Author

Stephen O. Murray grew up in rural southern Minnesota, earned a B.A. from James Madison College (within Michigan State University), an M.A. from the University of Arizona, a Ph.D. from the University of Toronto (both in sociology), and was a postdoctoral fellow at Berkeley (in anthropology). He is the author of American Gay, Homosexualities, etc. and lives in San Francisco.