EBS ‘Beats Per Minute,’ a magnificent blossom of an HIV positive man

February 9, 2018

“Beats Per Minute” (BPM) depicts a story of a group of young HIV positive patients working in ACT UP, an international advocacy group striving to support the lives of people with AIDS. It is an honest portrayal of a series of ACT UP’s actions in the 1990s, as well as a tragedy of a 26-year-old HIV patient.

The movie begins with Nathan, the main character, joining ACT UP, Paris. All the members of ACT UP are diagnosed HIV positive and some are approaching late-stage. The group of around 100 members fervently debate about topics such as public reception of the latest protest and plans for future action. Nathan was impressed and attracted to an energetic activist, Sean, an ACT UP veteran. The first half of the movie is a constant switching between protests and strategy meetings. The meetings are, unexpectedly, full of disapproval, urgency and even anger.

Sean is firmly at odds with Thibault, the group’s leader. Later in the movie, when Sean starts exhibiting symptoms of the disease and living in the hospital, Thibault asks why Sean hates him so much. Sean replies plainly and condescendingly: “no reason.” This sentence moved me so deeply—it made Sean a relatable person with pride instead of just a patient begging for pity from everyone. The highlight of the movie is its realistic portrayal of HIV patients as vibrant individuals with anger, enthusiasm, shame and anxiety, instead of dying human bodies. If the only impression of an HIV patient is one who is emaciated and pale, this movie shows that HIV patients can be positive, ardent and socially engaged.

There are sharp disagreements between members of ACT UP. There is no ideal character in this movie. There is only the cadence of heartbeats and an honest approach of human nature.

In the latter part, the movie transitions from lively ACT UP’s actions to the onset period for Sean. Sean and Nathan become sexually involved after a successful protest. As Sean’s condition worsens, we see him transition from a passionate young man who screams the loudest and claims his sexuality most confidently, to a decadent, irritable person. Nathan does not leave Sean in his time of weakness. Through the relationship between Nathan and Sean, I saw the genuine glory of human nature.

Just as with the previous scene, however, what shook me most were the details of everyone’s reactions after Sean’s death. Shortly afterwards, several members of ACT UP and some of Sean’s closest friends come to the apartment where he died. The mother insists on putting proper clothes on her son; a teenage member of ACT UP is afraid of the body but worries Nathan will be upset if he shows his fear. Sean’s mother makes coffee for everyone who comes. With these details, the movie is not trying to merely tell a story of the death of an HIV patient, but instead, a human portrayal of death’s reality. It achieves this while showing only the most ordinary settings and conversations, even including some humor.

BPM didn’t shock me immediately, but when I thought it over in the following few days, I felt the strength of the movie, especially the scenes I did not understand while watching in the theater. Just like ACT UP’s motto “AIDS is you, AIDS is me, AIDS is us” says, AIDS effects human beings, and resisting it is an obligation for every one of us.

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