Dallas Buyers Club – Blue’s Beats #10
Blue’s Beats is a new blog series where we break down various nominated feature screenplays by identifying and discussing their important beats.
Today we’ll be taking a look at the 2013 American biographical drama Dallas Buyers Club, written by Craig Borten and Melissa Wallack and directed by Jean-Marc Vallée. The film was nominated for Best Original Screenplay at the 86th Academy Awards.
To view a .pdf of the screenplay, click here.
The story takes place in Texas in the mid-1980s when the AIDS epidemic is still under-researched and highly stigmatized. We open on Ron Woodroof, diagnosed with the disease and subsequently given a painfully slim thirty days to live. Emotionally devastated but determined to live, Woodroof begins smuggling unapproved, symptom-alleviating drugs into the US from Mexico with the help of a HIV-positive trans woman and a reluctant doctor.
(Pages 13-19) At the outset, the news that Woodroof is indeed infected with the AIDS virus serves as the inciting incident. Woodroof soon experiences all manner of persecution as a result of the disease including loosing both his home and his job.
PLOT POINT ONE
(Pages 25-37) When Woodroof applies for treatment, he learns that the only FDA-approved drug available is ineffective and incredibly expensive, and with his increasingly tenuous health, he concludes that an alternative method of treatment must be found. In Mexico, Woodroof encounters a doctor who advises him the the approved AIDS medication, AZT, is nothing short of poisonous, “killing every cell it comes into contact with.” Instead, the doctor proscribes him a combination of ddC and peptide T, neither of which are approved in the US. Over time, Woodroof finds his health greatly improved, and realizes that he can make a profit by smuggling the much more effective into the US.
(Pages 44-59) Woodroof begins selling the new drugs on the street, and eventually forms a reluctant partnership with an HIV-infected trans woman named Rayon who claims that she is familiar in many trans and homosexual circles—the groups with the highest proportion of afflicted people—and can thus attract vastly more business. Since it is still unlawful to actually sell the drugs, the pair establish the “Dallas Buyers Club” wherein applicants may pay a monthly membership fee and receive the life-saving drugs for free.
PLOT POINT TWO
(Pages 79-97) When the FDA learns of Woodroof’s enterprise, it changes it’s regulations so that any unapproved drug is also illegal to possess. The club’s funding gradually dries up, and Woodroof learns that Rayon has become addicted to cocaine. As her health worsens, she reveals that she has sold her life-insurance policy in order to keep the club financially afloat. Upon returning to the US from a peptide T run, Woodroof learns that Rayon has died after being taken to the hospital.
CRISIS AND CLIMAX
(Pages 100-109) As the club continues to limp along, Woodroof gradually learns compassion towards the gay, lesbian, and transsexual individuals who are the club’s main clients. The pursuit of financial gain becomes less of a driving factor for him as he becomes more concerned with supplying the necessary drugs to the people he has come to know and love. As the FDA cracks down on the supply and distribution of peptide T, Woodroof files a lawsuit against the organization. He seeks the legal right to take peptide, which has been proven to be nontoxic but is still banned by the FDA. The judge eventually sides with him, allowing him to take peptide T for personal use, but finds that the court lacks the legal tools to reverse the FDA’s behavior.
(Pages 109-111) The film dispenses almost entirely with falling action, instead using title cars to reveal that Woodroof eventually died of AIDS in 1992, though lived seven years longer than the doctors had initially stated thanks to the drugs he was able to obtain and distribute under the pretense of the Dallas Buyers Club.