Johnathan Demme’s Philadelphia portrays conflicting perspectives on the idea of AIDS, homosexuality and prejudice towards minorities within a society in a light which positions responders to question actions that were generally accepted during this time. Martin Luther King Jr. once said “Our loyalties must transcend our race, our tribe, our class, and our nation; and this means we must develop a world perspective. ” An example of the use of camera angles is when a woman notices a lesion caused by AIDS on Beckett, a close up is used to emphasis her reaction and the overall prejudice towards AIDS infected homosexuals.
Individuals innately form moral judgements about things that are confronting or different. Demme highlights how quickly individuals form judgments through clever camera angles and non-diegetic music. These tools create a certain mood and persuade the audience to take a certain side of a conflicting perspective. This act of deception can be compared to Susanna’s dissembling in The Herbal Bed whereby she conceals the truth in order to protect her marriage and her husband’s professional reputation. In both texts the audience is positioned to support these act of deception by the way the conflicting perspectives are portrayed.
This acted of dissembling is fully supported by the audience when it is revealed that this fully competent lawyer is fired simply because he has AIDS which the boss of the firm is clearly prejudiced against. The film tells the story of Andrew Beckett, a highly respected lawyer and senior associate at the largest corporate law firm in Philadelphia, a homosexual and an AIDS suffer. Beckett however keeps the two later points concealed from the law firm an act of dissembling he believe necessary to retain his job.
The film enables the audience to visualise an alternative perspective of discrimination against a HIV positive homosexual man and question the need for social change and understanding. This provokes an empathetic reaction from the audience towards Beckett and positions them so that they will continue to support Beckett throughout the movie. A key scene is in the court room when Beckett states: “It’s that every now and again – not often, but occasionally – you get to be a part of justice being done. That really is quite a thrill when that happens. In the end each jury member and each key player will be left with the question of whether their moral judgement was justified. Here occurs close ups of nearly every single one of the key players in the film, Together with the soft inviting, emotive music positions the audience to suspect that this sequence is foreshadowing the fact that these key parties will come together to see that the conflicting perspective least supported by the characters at the beginning of the film triumphs and justice served. This resembles the court room scene in The Herbal Bed.
Connotations of power, justice, honour, integrity and truth/untruth within a court of law sway opinions about issues debated in this setting. There is a strong sense of right and wrong. In Philadelphia the issue presented is the role of race, creed and sexual orientation. And leaves the audience fully aware that Demme is asking them to question their own moral judgments. Miller’s speech also demonstrates his changing perspective from a self confessed homophobe to someone who genuinely cares for Beckett not just as a client but as a friend.
The judge says “In this courtroom, justice is blind to matters of race, creed, colour, religion, and sexual orientation. ” And Miller responds: “With all due respect, your honour, we don’t live in this courtroom, do we? ” Miller is left dead centre of the shot highlighting his earlier claim of “Let’s talk about the real issue… homosexuality. ” As Miller cross-examines a witness for the defendant, a medium shot is used representing the closed minded opinions of those involved but as Miller starts to passionately accuse the witness of homosexuality the camera pans out, widening the shot until all involved are represented.
In The Herbal Bed it shows a dramatic contrast between Goche’s zealous concerns with rigid spiritual values whereas Susanna believes love is good and God does not wish their reputations destroyed. This is an example of how a character is able to defend one’s actions and thus live with the consequences. Throughout Philadelphia the idea of homosexuality and the law has been an internal conflicting perspective for Miller as he struggled with his homophobia while trying to do what was right by the law.
This scene works to make the audience feel that Miller has accepted that love is not about a man and a woman but simply about love between two people regardless of sexual orientation. The director in doing this is positioning the audience to believe and understand the same thing. It is the turning point in Miller’s moral judgements about homosexuality and what he perceives as right and wrong. We hear the lyrics “this is a place where nothing can go wrong. ” During this song Miller and his wife are dancing close together as are Beckett and his partner.
Passing by, the men smile and continue to dance. The turning point of Miller’s perspective is expressed in a dance scene dominated by lighting and sound effects which work together to create a certain atmosphere. This key scene is Miller’s “first gay party” where the mood turns sombre established through blue lighting and slow background music. This is highlighted during a bar scene where he states to one of his friends “Some of these people make me sick. But a law’s been broken here. You do remember the law, don’t you? For the law firm however, their outcome is as Benjamin Franklin said “What is begun in anger – ends in shame” This is also the case in The Herbal Bed, although the shame is felt internally and not externally shown. Demme’s presentation of conflicting perspectives on homosexuality, truth and prejudice confront the audience’s moral judgements on these topics. A legal win shows justice has been done and Miller’s about face is a powerful example of how confronting issues can change one’s perspective.
In The Herbal Bed although Susanna, John and Rafe win the legal battle many more significant losses are incurred. John loses trust and possibly respect for Susanna, Rafe loses self-respect and Jack Lane loses all accreditation within the community. Philadelphia challenges what we think and why we think it. It presents conflicting perspectives through plot and method, but for us, the audience it shows, as Gaile Elliot stated “We don’t have to abandon our points of views to expand our understanding. When we limit our perspectives, we limit our opportunities to be all that we are intended to be. ”