Journey to the End

Amos Lassen

Set in Stockholm in the early 1980s, we meet young Rasmus (Adam Pålsson) and Benjamin (Adam Lundgren) who fall in love at the same time as the AIDS epidemic came to Sweden and their circle of friends is soon dying. Writer-comedian Jonas Gardell gives us a very emotional chronicle of an era based on actual experiences and memories. It is touching, funny and frightening as it moves to its bitter, dark end. The film is also a look at religious fanaticism and a society that would prefer to pretend that the epidemic is not happening.

Most documentaries and films about AIDS concentrate on what happened in the US, but here were are taken somewhere else.  Rasmus is a young man from the middle of nowhere who goes to Stockholm to check out the city. He stays with his aunt and immerses himself in the gay world, meeting other people and having fun. Benjamin comes from a very strict family of Jehovah’s Witnesses. When he knocks on the door of one of Rasmus’ gay friends, intending to spread the word of his religion, the man immediately sees that Ben is gay, something the young man thought nobody could ever Ben slowly begins to open up and eventually begins a relationship with Rasmus.

Benjamin just wants a simple monogamous relationship and has no intention of coming out to his parents, Rasmus feels people should be out and proud, and he also wants to have sex with other people too. Then they hear about AIDS and people around them start getting sick.

From the very beginning, we see that this isn’t going to be an easy film. The title comes from a line of dialogue in the first few minutes where a nurse is informed not to touch AIDS patients without complete safety gear. As the film moves forward, we move between the young men figuring out their lives against the promise of early 80s Stockholm gay scene and Rasmus lying in a hospital bed suffering the effects of the epidemic.

We see the contrast between the hope and possibility of gay people in a society that’s slowly being more accepting of different sexualities with the devastating impact of AIDS. We also see great performances. Adam Palsson is excellent as the brash Rasmus, although it’s Adam Lundgren who acts as the real heart of the film. He possesses a wonderful innocence and sense of empathy that pulls us into.

The supporting cast is also excellent as is the recreation of 1980s life and projects an intimate knowledge of the areas of Stockholm that were popular with gay people in the early 80s.

It’s not always an easy watch with the horrible reality of the end stages of AIDS, but that’s as it should be. For those who weren’t around at the time, it’s easy to think the AIDS crisis was a bad thing without understanding what it was actually like for those living through it. There were people who were still somewhat dislocated from society and often estranged from their own families. They had built their identity and new families with each other and then had to watch those closest to them dying ugly, deaths, often wondering if/when the same would happen to them. They also knew that if it had primarily been happening to straight people, the reaction would have been a full scale emergency rather than a political football and ignored by many.

“Don’t Ever Wipe Tears” caused a sensation when it first was screened in Sweden in 2012, and it has now been recut into a film for distribution in other countries. It’s a look at the AIDS crisis and 80s gay life, beyond the places that are normally concentrated on. It is sometimes a tough watch but always rewarding.

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