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REVIEW: The Gift (2003) March 15, 2020

Posted by Dragan Antulov in Film Reviews.
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Today, when the global society is suddenly facing scenarios known mostly to the fans of zombie apocalypse genre and when the modern civilisation experiences disruptions not seen since Second World War, it should be wise to remind ourselves that many disturbing phenomena we are witnessing are nothing particularly new or unprecedented. That includes some rather unusual and disturbing reactions to the possibility of being infected with a deadly and incurable disease. Some of those phenomena are even not in history books and instead they are being part of today’s world, although one of its tinier and more obscure segments. One such phenomenon was in 2003 subject of The Gift, documentary by Louise Hogarth.

The film deals with effects of HIV epidemic on segments of American gay community two decades after development of first infection tests. Technology, developed mainly to stop the spread of deadly virus, has gradually resulted in sharp division of gay men into two groups – those who tested positive and those who tested negative. Through the years, with medical advancements that prolonged and normalised life of the infected, for some in latter group this division for some appeared became more the issue of uncertainty than the issue of life or death. This was especially so for the younger generation of gays, who hadn’t experienced first apocalyptic years of the epidemics and became fertile ground for development of so called “bug chaser” subculture – HIV negative gay men who actively seek to become HIV positive.

In one hour of running time Louise Hogarth explores this phenomenon through conversations with different members of gay community who have different views on the subject. 19-year old man named Doug explains how he purposely got himself infected in order to simply fit in with the San Francisco social scene. Another young man called Kenbol enthusiastically tells how becoming HIV+ allowed him to finally enjoy unprotected sex with other HIV positive men as well as HIV- men who gather on so-called “conversion parties”. On the other side there is support group of middle-aged HIV+ men who were infected unwillingly and who still deal with loss of their partners as well as most unpleasant side effects of taking HIV drugs. Walt Odetts, clinical psychologist, activist and author happens to be HIV negative, explains that even people in his, seemingly better condition, paid and still pay terrible emotional price. The Gift, through the views of some of the participants, tries to offer explanation of the phenomenon pointing the blame to the wrong approach to by authorities, namely advertising that promotes safe sex by employing over-sexualised images of men and indirectly “glamorising” the disease.

The Gift was one of the more obscure films of its time, with media and critics either ignoring it or criticising it for alleged sensationalism. This could be explained with the atmosphere of “political correctness” being brought to absurd levels, in which any critical portrayal of gay community and lifestyle, even when it is directed at tiny minority or criticism being brought by gays themselves, is being branded homophobia. Obscurity of The Gift is inexcusable, since the phenomenon that it explores deals with something that can endanger lives and health not only in gay community, but also in general public. This is especially so today, when we are faced something which appears as something much worse and dangerous than HIV, and the phenomena portrayed in this film can appear in different forms and wreak havoc among large amounts of people regardless of their gender, race, nationality, world view or sexual orientation.

RATING: 7/10


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