The Gift (2003)

"Very Good"

The Gift (2003) Review


By comparison with the new Louise Hogarth documentary The Gift, the shenanigans of the best fictional horror films seem like child's play. About a subculture of gay men who actively seek to become infected with HIV - and those who are willing to give it to them - The Gift presents real-life horrors so complete and unfathomable that you can't get them out of your head.

The question is who on Earth would set out to contract this unbeatable foe, and why? By way of an answer, The Gift presents us with two very different individuals: Kenboy, a party automaton who responded to an ad inviting young men to apply at a Los Angeles "sex house," and thus relocated to southern California; and Doug, a demure blond kid who ended up in San Francisco somewhat more innocently, but once there found that he couldn't fit in. Peripherally we meet the members of a support group for the HIV-infected who suffer from heart problems brought about by the disease, and Bill, an amoral older man who runs a "dungeon" in which anonymous sex can be had and where condoms are discouraged.

The Gift tells us the story of these men in a straightforward, unadorned manner that's all the more affecting for its lack of screen pyrotechnics. Doug's story cuts deepest; he didn't so much seek the virus as give in to the don't-ask-don't-tell nature of the crowd he found himself in the company of. When Doug stopped insisting on safe sex, he became suddenly more popular; he met people. With ads for AIDS medications in magazines like The Advocate featuring beautiful men in the pink of health, he explains, the virus looked almost attractive. And a kind of political correctness attached itself to the virus, too: It might be offensive to ask about a partner's status, or for these same ads to show men in ventilators - and it certainly wouldn't make anyone ask for the medication "by name." In one of the most moving scenes, Doug, now HIV-positive, says of the effort to get word out to young people like himself, "Offend us [HIV-positive men]. Please."

Kenboy is another story. He explains his decision to "convert," or actively seek the virus, in terms so facile and tragically stupid that you long to knock some sense into him. To wit, he was tired of worrying about his status; it was easier just to get infected than to have to wonder about it and be picky about his partners. Kenboy's 28th birthday is celebrated during filming, and we see the sling in Bill's basement where he'll take as many men as he can; it's the kind of footage Jerry Fallwell would have a heyday with. (Bill has some of these slings set up outdoors, too, and he calls this "kind of romantic.") In the most chilling scene, Kenboy describes getting the positive result he had expected on his latest HIV test. It's a "relief."

Hogarth has crafted this documentary carefully, and she has the good sense to let the subjects speak for themselves without editorializing. She makes her points quietly, switching back and forth, for instance, between Bill's cavalier description of one of his parties and the absence of condoms there to the following complaint from an erstwhile guest: "I don't play at the parties as much as I use to because I do tend to get sick easier than most people, and some of the diseases I have, they don't know what they are." She even manages sympathy for Kenboy (which I couldn't quite), even while he's setting up "bare-backing" (unprotected anal sex) parties on the Internet, with special designations for "bug-chasers" and "gift-givers."

The Gift played as part of the the Tallgrass Film Festival in Wichita, Kansas, preceding the equally disturbing The Other Side of AIDS. The (largely gay male) audience was visibly shaken by the experience, as was I. It was sometimes tempting, as I watched Kenboy throw his life away with both hands, to leave the screening, but in the end this gift - the film, not the virus - is one worth keeping.

The crew.



Facts and Figures

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 3.5 / 5

Cast & Crew

Director:

Producer:

Also starring: ,

Contactmusic


Links



Advertisement

New Movies

Imperium Movie Review

Imperium Movie Review

First-time filmmaker Daniel Ragussis takes an unusual approach to this thriller. Since it's based on...

The Girl With All the Gifts Movie Review

The Girl With All the Gifts Movie Review

Like a 10-years-later follow-up to 28 Days Later, this small British thriller takes a refreshingly...

The Magnificent Seven Movie Review

The Magnificent Seven Movie Review

Director Antoine Fuqua brings his usual fascination with violence to this remake of the iconic...

Bridget Jones's Baby Movie Review

Bridget Jones's Baby Movie Review

As it's been 12 years since the last Bridget Jones movie, expectations aren't too high...

The Beatles: Eight Days a Week - The Touring Years Movie Review

The Beatles: Eight Days a Week - The Touring Years Movie Review

A-list director Ron Howard worked with the surviving Beatles to assemble this engaging documentary, which...

Blair Witch Movie Review

Blair Witch Movie Review

It's been 17 years since The Blair Witch Project shook up the cinema and created...

Anthropoid Movie Review

Anthropoid Movie Review

Outside the Czech Republic, few people know about Operation Anthropoid, a spy mission in 1943...

Advertisement
Kubo and the Two Strings Movie Review

Kubo and the Two Strings Movie Review

From Laika (The Boxtrolls), this is one of the most beautiful, sophisticated animated films in...

Captain Fantastic Movie Review

Captain Fantastic Movie Review

An offbeat comedy-drama with a timely kick, this charming family road trip takes on some...

Hell or High Water Movie Review

Hell or High Water Movie Review

Sicario screenwriter Taylor Sheridan delivers another fiercely intelligent, engaging story that maintains high suspense while...

The 9th Life of Louis Drax Movie Review

The 9th Life of Louis Drax Movie Review

With heavy overtones of Hitchcockian mystery and intrigue, this stylish thriller is the enjoyably melodramatic...

Kickboxer: Vengeance Movie Review

Kickboxer: Vengeance Movie Review

The 1989 Muay Thai action movie Kickboxer starred a young Jean-Claude Van Damme, who pops...

Julieta Movie Review

Julieta Movie Review

Iconic Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodovar is back with another powerfully complex female-centred drama, along the...

Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping Movie Review

Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping Movie Review

An astute satire of the pop music business, this raucous mock-documentary is consistently hilarious from...

Advertisement
Artists
Actors
    Filmmakers
      Artists
      Bands
        Musicians
          Artists
          Celebrities
             
              Artists
              Interviews
                musicians & bands in the news
                  actors & filmmakers in the news
                    celebrities in the news

                      Go Back in Time using our News archive to see what happened on a particular day in the past.