AIDS and Generational Changes
Director Vincent Gagliostro’s “After Louie” is about Sam (Alan Cumming), an artist who is working on a documentary about his friend, William who died during the AIDS crisis. However, it was heartbreaking for him to learn that there are not many people interested in this project. Then he meets young Braeden (Zachary Booth) and thinks that he is probably a hustler and Sam pays him for a sexual escapade. What he did not know was that Braeden has a boyfriend yet he and Sam continue to get together on a fairly regular basis. This causes them to challenge what each thought about the other and Sam becomes quite angry that the younger generation doesn’t seem to care about the AIDS crisis and the battle against straight society that culture he and his friends are so wrapped up in. Braeden shows him that his generation has a very different experience in the world and regarding HIV and that while Sam’s generation’s battles helped change things for gay people, they cannot understand what it was like to watch so many people die in a society that didn’t care and in many cases attacked them.
All of the characters have flaws but the film (that could easily have become a “preactfest”) is really interested in more complex ideas than just the impact of AIDS on the generation that survived how it is difficult it is to compromise the tremendous number of gay men that died with the way young people think about AIDS today. “After Louie” tries to be fair to the lives of younger gay people, for whom AIDS/HIV never completely went away, but who have a very different relationship to it.
Because LGBT history is not fully taught in schools, gay people who grew up in the 90s and beyond see the AIDS epidemic as a slightly tangential issue. They do not feel it is about them or that it affects their lives. They do not understand that the freedoms that they have today, in many cases, have come into being because of the number of people that died and that the disease was a unifying factor for both LGBT people but for the greater society as well. This is a film that is very aware of the generational changes and that we are now living in and it now a very different world for gay people.
Sam is not just angry about his— he is also very angry about how he felt he was fighting for queer culture and against the heterosexual norms, but that culture is now something very different. With same sex marriage and the many LGBT freedoms, queer life is much more heteronormative. In a sense, the LGBT community had conformed to the very society that it once fought against. Was that fight for LGBT rights about finding a new LGBT lifestyle or was it that our community simply gave straight society “the bird”? Perhaps, it was both.
Braeden, to a certain degree is living the life Sam was fighting for. He has a boyfriend and he is able to have sex with whoever he wants, whenever he wants, and without society trying to stop him. However, Sam has difficulty understanding this because he still feels the anger and confrontation that his generation had. Ultimately he’s now alone and cannot accept that a younger man would be interested in him (or any older male) if money were not involved (even though there is a hint that this is just a defense mechanism). Perhaps Sam understands that his generation did an important job that is now finished and/or at least drastically changed and he cannot move on from that. Maybe the gay world has just become satisfied and complacent as it ignores the lessons from the past as it is pulled a heteronormative lifestyle. We reach no conclusions in the film but we are given a great deal to think about. It well could be that both sides are probably at least partly true.
Alan Cumming is excellent as Sam who is world-weary and going back to that time when his life was horrific but also vivid and vital; starkly different from the way he lives today. Zachary Booth is wonderful as the young man who challenges Sam’s assumptions. In him we see that what may seem shallow on the surface can often be more complex than it seems.
I know that I often get angry about the way the younger generation thinks about AIDS and for that I am thankful that someone finally made an entertaining and thoughtful movie about it. Through Louie we get a very thoughtful look at this.