D: Yen Tan / 86m
Cast: Cory Michael Smith, Viriginia Madsen, Michael Chiklis, Jamie Chung, Aidan Langford
Returning home for the Xmas holidays after having been away for three years living and working in New York, Adrian (Smith) arrives back in Fort Worth, Texas with a number of misgivings. Adrian is a closeted homosexual, and his parents’ conservative Christian values are at odds with his sexual orientation, making his return a potentially difficult occasion. Appearing to be successful in his work at an advertising agency, but “too busy” to be in a relationship, Adrian seems a little bit adrift but assures his mother, Eileen (Madsen) and father Dale (Chiklis) that everything is okay. Reconnecting with an old friend, Carly (Chung), Adrian finds it just as hard to tell her what’s really going on in his life (which isn’t what he’s told his parents), and an evening spent with her ends in disaster. Matters are further complicated by an unexpected admission from his father, and Adrian’s own inability to be honest with himself. When Carly tells him she doesn’t want to lose him as a friend, Adrian finally reveals what he’s been wanting to say the whole time he’s been back, but hasn’t dared to because of the reaction he’s expecting…
Adapted and expanded from a short of the same name that writer/director Tan made in 2016, 1985 is set in that hysterical time period when AIDS was seen as an untreatable, ultra-contagious pandemic, and discrimination against homosexuals for carrying what was unfairly regarded as the “gay plague” was prevalent. Adrian’s situation was by no means unusual – many young gay men fled their conservative, judgmental small town communities for the anonymity of big cities – and his decision to return home “for one last time” speaks to the pressure that must have affected other young men who still yearned for the love and support of their families, even when it was unlikely to be given. Such are Adrian’s concerns when he arrives home. He has so much to tell them, but his father’s disdain for the work he does (Dale is blue collar through and through), his mother’s constant referrals to Carly (she’s a matchmaker, but is it through ignorance of her son’s sexual preference?), and the open antagonism of his younger brother, Andrew (Langford), for being away for so long, hinder matters, and Adrian avoids the inevitable fallout from making any confessions. Unable to settle his emotions due to the fear and paranoia that he feels both from being at home, and from what he has to return to in New York, it’s no wonder that Adrian feels lost and alone.
Tan makes all this look and sound as realistic and truthful as possible, and avoids any unnecessary melodramatics by ensuring that any emotional outbursts are kept to a minimum, and even then they’re as restrained as they can be without feeling muted. It’s the emotion that’s bubbling under the surface of Adrian’s need to be at home that matters, rather than any overt display that would feel out of place against Tan’s carefully assembled mise-en-scene. It’s also as much about Adrian coming to terms with his situation; only when he’s done that will he be ready to tell his family. It’s all rendered in grainy yet evocative black and white, with DoP HutcH using light and shadow to highlight the conflicting emotions felt by Adrian, and to emphasise the dark time that he’s going through. There are moments of quiet power, too, such as a shot of Eileen praying that makes her look beatific. In exploring both the period and the effects on individual AIDS sufferers during that period, Tan has assembled a movie that pays tribute to those who were unfortunate enough to succumb to the disease, and the struggle they had to be accepted by society. Adrian’s fate is left unresolved, so there is a degree of hope for him by the movie’s end, one that you can’t help but feel will bring him back for another Xmas… and maybe another one after that.
Rating: 9/10 – an exceptionally honest and at times, intentionally raw look at impending mortality and the need for reconciliation with those who matter most in your life, 1985 is a complex, sensitively handled drama that doesn’t skirt the issues it raises, and which doesn’t offer any easy solutions; with excellent performances from all concerned, and a claustrophobic atmosphere that fits well with the narrative and the movie’s visual design, this is deeply moving and beautifully observed.