Philadelphia is one of those movies that can change human attitude to a certain situation, other people, and even the essence of this life. The problems, people with AIDS face in their every day life, prejudice against homosexuals and their style of life, and injustice that is so inherent to current political, economical, and social spheres are the major issues that are properly described in this movie and that open people’s eyes to all those minor problems, people may create to each other unwittingly.
Joe Miller is one of the main characters in the movie Philadelphia, who proves how prejudiced people can be, and how significant their points of view may be for gay people, for establishing justice, and for development of feelings and qualities, which have to be inherent to any person.
Joe Miller’s prejudice against homosexuals and people with AIDS is considered to be one of the major themes in the movie Philadelphia; the cooperation with Andrew Beckett, a HIV-diagnosed gay, makes Mr. Miller change his mind and believe that justice should not depend on the color of skin, sexual preferences, or health conditions, and the relations between people and different groups should not be prejudiced in order to achieve effective communication and collaboration.
Philadelphia is the movie that touches upon numerous themes, and one of them is the development of the relations between two men with absolutely different interests and principles: one of them is Andrew Beckett, who had to defend own position and interests at the court, and Joe Miller, a brilliant lawyer and a homophobic man, who knows not much about AIDS but is still afraid of this disease. In fact, the causes of Joe Miller’s homophobia are not clear enough.
From the very first meeting of Mr. Miller and Mr. Beckett, it becomes clear that Mr. Miller is a powerful lawyer, but his dislike and prejudice for gay people, who have HIV-positive, stands on his way in order to establish justice and help the person, who so loudly requires for help.
Joe Miller thinks that Andrew is even craze a bit because he wants to prove his position and argue each person, who stands on his way. I find the words by Elliot Aronson rather appropriate for the movie under consideration.
“People who do crazy things are not necessarily crazy” (Aronson 9). Human position in the society usually defines by his/her communication with other member of the same groups, his/her following the established rules, and his/her abilities to prove the chosen way of life. Joe Miller cannot accept the idea that a gay person, who has HIV positive, is going to argue with people with normal orientation and no health problems.
So, his prejudice confuses his for a while and makes him see how injustice and unfair other people’s attitude to an ill gay may be in every day life. This is why Joe decides to forget about his principles concerning gay people with HIV/AIDS and put the idea of justice and the idea of right attitude to each citizen on the first place.
Communication with Andrew Beckett, who is dying because of AIDS, changes Joe Miller’s attitude to numerous things. On my opinion, only some slight changes inside of Joe Miller concerning the issue of homosexuality take place. Andrew opens his eye to certain things and proves that gay people do not actually differ from the others and even have more captivating attitude to some things:
Can you hear the heartache in her voice? Can you feel it, Joe? In come the strings, and it changes everything. The music fills with a hope, and that’ll change again. Listen…listen…” I bring sorrow to those who love me.” Oh, that single cello! “It was during this sorrow that love came to me.” A voice filled with harmony.
It says, “Live still, I am life.” Heaven is in your eyes. Is everything around you just the blood and mud? I am divine. I am oblivion. I am the god… that comes down from the heavens, and makes of the Earth a heaven. I am love!… I am love. (Demme 1993)
Andrew comprehends that Joe is eager to protect everything that does not contradict the law, and being homosexual is not out of law, this is why everybody has to respect Andrew’s choice and not to prevent his professional growth, and Joe is going to prove this. Somewhere inside, Joe realizes that his prejudice against gay people and his fear about HIV are so miserable and stupid that he has to be changed.
For example, the experiments, conducted by Lauren Slater, prove that even gay people can be ashamed of personal desires and sexuality. “I felt in my body, the shame of being gay. Why couldn’t I like a girl?” (Slater 59). Lots of people have fear about personal desires, this is why it is quite comprehensible that people with non-traditional orientation may cause fear or doubts in people with normal orientation.
Human life is closely connected to stereotypes, which are created by these humans. Philadelphia demonstrates how a stereotype of homosexuality and the inability to accept gay people as important and equal parts of society deprives a person, who is dying, of a chance to enjoy his last days but spend these days at the court and prove that he and his work has to be appreciated by the others. This movie has to be considered as a really powerful means to show and analyze the relations between people of the same group.
Feelings of one person may be too influential for the other person, and if these feelings or ideas are wrong, it turns out to be very dangerous to share wrong thoughts and wrong feelings. According to Elliot Aronson, only public judgments make a person conform them (p.21). Joe’s life is full of such judgments, because he spends much time on public and tries to take into consideration both personal judgments and the judgments of other people.
When he starts communicating with Andrew, he comprehends that prejudice, that is so inherent to this society, cannot leave him even in the article of death. Gay people cannot be accepted as equal parts as well as black people always feel a kind of pressure from the whites. Mr. Elliot underlines that the pressure to conform plays an important role in human lives, and if it is public, people have less chances to resist it.
This movie represents one of the possible ways of how to eliminate prejudice and become closer to the problems, challenges, and misunderstandings of the minorities. Communication with the minorities turns out to be a good chance to learn deeper how it is difficult and offensive to take the side that is always argued by people and blamed for absolutely different things.
Elliot Aronson offers to decrease the conformity that has unbelievable power on publicity by means of creation allies, demonstration of self-esteem, use of previous success, support of friends and relatives, and respect among the group. In the movie, prejudice is eliminated due to self-esteem that is demonstrated by Joe, support of family, when Joe’s wife reminds him about their roots and the problems, their relatives faced in the past, and the desire to obtain the truth.
It is not enough for a person to know what is right and what is wrong. It becomes more important to prove the correctness of the chosen position and the chosen point of view. This is what Elliot Aronson tries to represent in his work, and this is what makes the movie under analysis more powerful and educative.
The theory of cognitive dissonance is another peculiar point that has to be mentioned while analyzing the movie Philadelphia and the character of Joe Miller in particular.
This theory implies the development of an uncomfortable feeling that is caused by presence of two absolutely different ideas within one person. Joe Miller always believes that gay people cannot bring something good to this world. “Call me old fashioned, call me conservative… I think maybe you have to be a man to get just how nauseating the whole basic idea really is” (Demme 1993).
He also has a fear of getting HIV by means of communicating with sick people. With time, Miller gets a chance to evaluate gays’ place in this world from the absolutely other perspective and regard them as one more minority just like his race belonging. Miller does not need too much time in order to comprehend that gays should have the same rights as people with normal orientation, because they are still people and deserve to achieve professional goals, earn money, and be an equal part of this world.
Joe Miller from Philadelphia is a good example of how one person with certain authority can help a group of people to gain respect and recognition among society. Not every country appreciates homosexual movements, but still, it is wrong to deprive gay people of the opportunities, which are inherent to each person on this world.
To comprehend better social psychology means to comprehend better each of its components and the impact of these components to each other. Philadelphia helps to deepen my understanding of how ill or gay people are accepted by people, who do not have any problems with their health or who believe that their sexuality is ok.
Relations between people and the groups, they live in, are not easy, and it is obligatory to study, analyze, and compare the attitude and the reaction of each human. It is useless to divide the abilities of one group of people at the expenses of the other group of people, because sooner or later, justice will find everyone.
Aronson, Elliot. The Social Animal. New York: Worth, 1999. Print.
Philadelphia. Dir. Jonathan Demme. Perf. Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington. TriStar Pictures, 1993. Film.
Slater, Lauren. Opening Skinner’s Box: Great Psychological Experiments of the Twentieth Century. New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2004. Print.