Philadelphia is a 1993 drama staring Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington, directed by Jonathan Demme. It is based around the true story of Geoffrey Bowers, a law attorney who, in 1987, was dismissed from Baker & McKenzie, who then won financial compensation in one of the first AIDS discrimination cases. Philadelphia closely follows this story, documenting Hanks’ initial struggles in finding a lawyer to represent him, then his decline in health, and his dealing with the emotion that comes with this, not only for him but for his partner, Antonio Banderas. Finally the film documents his court case, and his eventual win, followed shortly by his death.
The film is emotionally powerful and plays on people’s fear not only of AIDS, but their homophobia as well. Hank’ initial attempts to find representation where a failure, to the point where he even seeks the help of Denzel Washington, a lawyer whom he has recently beaten in court. Washington initially refuses to represent him out of fear for his own health, and goes as far as to go to see a doctor, worried. Eventually however, Washington sees Hanks in the library, resigned to representing himself throughout his declining health, however once the other library patrons notice Hank’s illness, they begin to treat him much the same as Washington had. Disgusted by this, Washington goes to sit with Hanks, agreeing to represent him.
I believe people are more aware of AIDS, how it is contracted and its effect on people, however when this film was made, only the second big Hollywood production to touch on the subject (And The Band Played On being the first), knowledge on the subject was a lot less available. This film took a great step toward helping people understand and get over their fears.
Although Hanks has a partner in this film, there is not a huge deal of reference to his homosexuality, only one big fancy dress party. The story focuses more on his partners anguish and anger at having no control over Hanks health. It is clear they deeply care for one another but it is not flaunted in typical camp style that you expect from 90’s TV, which I think helps the narrative, possibly even making it more accessible to a wider audience, instead of branding it as a “homosexual thing”.
Hanks’ decline in health is obvious throughout the film, to the point that Washington uses it as an obvious sign that no one could have missed it, asking Hanks to show the courtroom his chest, which is covered in visible signs AIDS. After Hanks is dismissed from the company, Demme begins to dress him in a cap, scarf, other casual clothing and a beard, opposed to his very finely cut suit which he was wearing up until this point. I feel that this is a fantastically simple way to emphasize his health, as it makes him look untidy, and further o in the film, very ill.
After watching this film, I felt, which is enough for me to say that it must have been heart wrenching. The topics it covers are difficult and we sometimes forget that millions of people suffer not just with the disease, but the neglect or discrimination as well.
Personally, I think that Hanks was perfect for the role, as his skill sets are not restricted to comedy, but he really shines in this role, and as deserved, received several awards for this film, including a golden globe.