aaLAWchak: Philadelphia

Joe Miller: “We’re standing here in Philadelphia, the, uh, city of brotherly love, the birthplace of freedom, where the, uh, founding fathers authored the Declaration of Independence, and I don’t recall that glorious document saying anything about all straight men are created equal. I believe it says all men are created equal.”


Movie: Philadelphia
Starring: Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington
Directed by: Jonathan Demme
Year of Release: 1993

Jonathan Demme’s path breaking film on AIDS is an eye opener of sorts. It beautifully captures and brings before the audience the never ending discrimination and rejection that is faced by people who are suffering from this deadly disease. Through Tom Hank’s character of Andrew Beckett, we get to see how society slowly tends to push away people with this disease which leads to a mental death for them even before the disease starts taking it’s toll.


This 1993 movie was also the first high profile Hollywood movie to give the world a take on AIDS. Jonathan Demme had a lot of misconceptions to conquer and that is something he achieved successfully. Further, the movie also deals with the delicate issue of homosexuality again through Andrew Beckett’s character. It begins on the streets of Philadelphia with a beautiful Bruce Springsteen song giving a good beginning to the movie.

The movie revolves around Beckett, who is a celebrated corporate lawyer at the top of his career, is promoted to a much sought after post of senior partner. However, a glitch in a very high profile case sends the other partners into a frenzy and they fire him for his incompetence. But Beckett knows that the real reason behind this is AIDS and also realizes that the ‘glitch’ was in fact a carefully orchestrated plan of the partners to remove him from the firm.

Andrew decides to file a suit for his wrongful termination, but is rejected by all lawyers due to his condition. He manages to convince, Joe Miller, played by Denzel Washington, to fight his case. They both share a love of the law but are poles apart. Andrew has a long time homosexual partner Miguel. While Miller with wife and daughter, admits to a prejudice against homosexuals. During the course of the trial he experiences a number of instances where he has to deal with his own prejudice.


As a courtroom drama, it is extremely on point with very intense court scenes. The director manages to give the viewers a very realistic portrayal of court proceedings. The movie moves forward with the development of Beckett’s case and continues to tug at our hearts with it’s emotional and thought provoking scenes. Beckett’s case progresses in court and finally comes to an end which is also the climax of the movie. Further, the scene where Beckett finally talks about his homosexuality to Joe Miller, in the background of an opera symphony, is particularly well shot and executed. The movie keeps you engaged throughout and is a masterpiece with a very powerful message.


Apart from the court scenes, the movie also beautifully captures the emotions of Andrew Beckett’s character as he deals with his illness. It displays the deep impact on his family members and the great emotional upheaval he faces as his illness moves into more complicated and difficult stages.

Tom Hank’s Academy award winning performance in the movie is real and heart breaking. He manages to pull off the character of Andrew Beckett in a manner where he leaves the audience emotionally charged and also puts the audience in deep thought about the struggles of a homosexual and the tribulations of an AIDS patient. His acting puts us in thought regarding these issues which society very often tends to run away from. Andrew’s character is very well thought of. Beckett is a fantastic lawyer who goes to extraordinary lengths to be treated just like everyone else by society. The will power and strength displayed by the character to fight for his rights despite being really ill is phenomenal.


‘Philadelphia’ manages to capture the heart of both the issues of AIDS and homosexuality and displays with aesthetic genius how these issues are wrongfully tainted with ignorance, fear, half truth and prejudices. Denzel Washington does a great job as the attorney as he brings forth the abuse and neglect faced by AIDS patients. He also ends up having a deep respect for his own client who chooses to live life in the moment and doesn’t let his disease kill his spirit. Washington, brilliantly portrays the struggles of Joe Miller, who fights with his homophobia but also tries his best to help his client in every way possible. He ends up giving an amazing performance as an attorney who stands by his client through it all and wins the audience’s hearts.

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With it’s simple yet brilliant performances and story line, ‘Philadelphia’ does manage to accomplish the desired effect. It leaves the audience questioning various prejudices and the societal fears around AIDS and homosexuality. The performances in the movie leave you mesmerized with a brutally realistic edge. The movie is a great take on sensitive issues and is definitely a must watch.

Author: Aasawari Dogra, Army Institute of Law, Mohali

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