When a moralistic U.S. government begins forcibly quarantining those infected with an AIDS-like disease, a heroic few defend them. [Dir: Stephen Tolkin/ Moira Kelly, Cuba Gooding Jr., Martha Plimpton/ 84 min/ Drama, SciFi-Fantasy/ Democide, Government Enforced Morality, Government Health Care]
In this projected near-future, the religious Right (at its imagined worst) has come to power. Uniformed henchmen of the state, something like Hitler’s “Brown Shirts,” roam the streets enforcing popular morality. Their principal job is to detect and round up people afflicted by a mysterious lingering blood-borne disease. It’s never called AIDS, perhaps to make the point of the story broader; but if it isn’t AIDS, it’s something much like it.
Those afflicted are sent to “Operation Helping Hand,” an organization of government detention centers where they are left to die. But a small rebel group is harrying the efforts of the state, and here and there it succeeds in diverting the afflicted to safe houses where they can get real treatment and care. A young woman is swept into all this when she helps a possibly afflicted friend escape detention and she soon becomes an integral part of their efforts.
If the premise here sounds entirely fictional, it should be noted that Burma, Indonesia, and Cuba have quarantined AIDS patients, and there was once talk of it among the authoritarian Right in the U.S. (Humiliated by public exposure of its AIDS quarantine, Cuba has since softened its policy.) Of course, even libertarians would concede the necessity of a humane quarantine in the case of a truly supercontagious deadly disease (e.g., Ebola). The logic for that parallels the externalities arguments for pollution, noise, etc. But in the case of the AIDS-like disease presented here, it isn’t easily transmitted.
This story is put together better than most, probably reflecting its original roots in the theater (as a play entitled Beirut). Also in the plus column for this HBO movie are solid performances by Moira Kelly and Cuba Gooding, Jr.—though Gooding could have played it a bit less macho. Alice Drummond also shines in a small part.
Quoting Sinclair Lewis, the voice-over at the beginning of this film says: “Under a tyranny, most friends are a liability. One quarter of them turn ‘reasonable’ and become your enemies. One quarter are afraid to stop and speak. And one quarter are killed and you die with them. The blessed final quarter keep you alive.” This film is an inspiring tribute to that “blessed final quarter.”