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'The Event'

'The Event' is a life-affirming death story

Friday, December 05, 2003

By Barry Paris, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The New York D.A.'s office -- as if it hasn't enough to do -- is investigating a series of unexplained deaths among HIV-positive members of Chelsea's gay community.

 
 

RATING: R for sexual content, language and some drug use.

STARRING: Olympia Dukakis, Parker Posey, Don McKellar, Brent Carver.

DIRECTOR: Thom Fitzgerald.

   
 

"Unexplained" and "HIV-positive" would seem to be oxymoronic in company with the word "death." Indeed, they are, in general, here in particular: At issue is assisted suicide in "The Event," a devastating new film by Thom Fitzgerald.

The death at hand is that of Matt (Don McKellar), and the investigator exploring it -- through interviews and flashbacks -- is a woman named Nick (Parker Posey). She's a tough cookie but sympathetic to -- and fascinated by -- the nature and suffering of the "victim." Can it be true, as she suspects, that virtually all of his friends and family conspired to help kill him -- in knowing violation of countless laws?

Most chilling question: Could the chief conspirator have been his mother (Olympia Dukakis)?

Writer-director Fitzgerald (creator of the beautiful "Hanging Garden" in 1997) has pretty much stacked the deck, but merits credit for his two main decisions of characterization: First is the relative dearth of gay stereotypes, aside from a drag queen or two here and there. Second, and more important, is the fact that Matt is not an especially heroic, endearing, charismatic or otherwise unusual AIDS victim. He's a good guy, a sad guy, but not an extraordinary guy. Just a real guy.

His mom, on the other hand, is extraordinary -- and extraordinarily well played. McKellar and Posey turn in good performances, but soulful Dukakis will break your heart.

The film's main problem, however, is akin to society's -- its lack of a real "mystery": The legality or illegality of choosing to die should be a no-brainer: It's a matter of personal and religious choice. The disgusting legal-political controversy concerning it is nothing but the confusion and ongoing manipulation of private morality for public ethics.

"The Event" helps clarify this in a wrenchingly personal rather than political way, with the paradoxical conclusion that death is sometimes the most life-affirming thing -- and that it's nobody's business but the one who's doing the dying.


Barry Paris can be reached at 412-263-3859.

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