“1985” a black and white AIDS crisis story told in shades of gray

Brooke Sjoberg

In a heartbreakingly beautiful, yet stripped-down interpretation of the mid 1980’s, Yen Tan’s “1985” tackles the difficulty of finding one’s place in the world against the backdrop of the first wave AIDS crisis.

Adrian (Cory Michael Smith) goes home to his family in Fort Worth for Christmas in 1985, struggling to reveal his dire circumstances as a homosexual AIDS carrier during the first wave of the disease, before it became medically manageable. As he struggles to share his bad news with his family, Adrian’s younger brother grapples with his own identity in their highly conservative town. While Adrian’s condition begins to worsen, he mends his bridges before returning to New York after the holiday, unsure of whether he will return.

Tan’s decision to create a totally black and white film is both classic and revolutionary. His vision of the 1980s is totally stripped. Viewers will find no flashy colors, no side-ponytails and very few pop culture references made to the decade. It is simply a home and family which could exist in any modern era, really, were it not for the absence of internet.

The film is beautifully shot, with wide angles allowing the emotions plain on the faces of the actors to be transmitted flawlessly to the audience. There is little interference in the rawness of emotion conveyed in each scene, whether it is the love between Adrian and his mother, or the discomfort between Adrian and his father. There are also moments of symmetry between the environment and actors akin to the work of Wes Anderson, which enhance the stripped down beauty of the film.

The film doesn’t focus solely on the struggle of a gay Texan. Adrian’s best friend Carly (Jamie Chung), a Korean-American comedienne, is also trying to find her best place in the world as the nation is still left reeling from the Vietnam War. As Americans had yet to truly differentiate between Asian nations during this point in time, Carly is often treated poorly because of her heritage. She and Adrian are both trying to exist in a world unready to embrace their unique identities, which is a poignant message as relevant today as it would have been in 1985.

Expertly crafted and masterfully told, the story of “1985” is extremely important to understanding the continuity of social problems and the raw emotion attached to simple statistics. Yen Tan’s latest is a must-see, and you should probably bring tissues.



MPAA Rating: NR

Running Time: 85 Minutes

Score: 5/5