I was a child of the mid-80’s, and I don’t empathise with the gay films of that time — the UK work of Derek Jarman was too arty- I appreciate this somewhat now but it has no greater relevance to me now than in 1983; and most of the films from the US depicted a culture with which I only now empathise with because of my more recent experience with the US’ gay culture. In saying that, I still remember ACT-UP and Outrage in the UK, and, whilst HIV/AIDS and the activism culture around it was something that was only relevant to me in a broader sense of activism camaraderie, I was still aware of its tropes. Even though it was another five years before I met the first man who told me he was HIV-positive.
I have watched Angels In America twice now, and I will not attempt to add to the criticism of that play and of the HBO films, because I have only one thing to say, and it’s personal, and not relevant to the broad canvas it paints. One question, that’s all.
And that question in simple: why is Joe discarded? I ask this because I empathise most closely with him, and, trite, I know, I would like for the characters with which I empathise to be given an ending. He, of the people whose stories take the narrative forward, is not. The other characters are even given a resolution: he is left hanging in the storytelling void. And I suspect there are a few of us, who feel that their lives may hang in a similar void of best-intentioned choices, might have taken something more positive from <i>some</i> sort of resolution to the character’s conflicts.
Like Joe, I have tried to do the best for the greater situation around me. He fails. I have failed. I have done things because I think they are “right”, I have equally done so, and oppositely (and often at the same time) taken advantage of things whilst I was feeling worse than usual: more unfulfilled, more lonely. Unlike Joe, I have not deceived a partner in so doing. I think I may have deceived potential future partners however.
My problem with Joe, is not <i>the</i> problem with Joe. Characters walk on, and walk off, and there is no requirement for a storyteller to wrap up the loose ends, even the obvious ones. Heck, some storytellers have been justifying their advances for years on the basis that there is always another character’s viewpoint to tell. But not Tony Kushner. Not in this case. The characters in Angels in America are given resoluton. Even Joe’s wife Harper is shown flying off to an unknown — and gloriously uncertain — future.
Joe has no future. He kisses his mother, dishevelled, unshaven, and goes to work. Five years later, his mother is part of a meeting of people at the Bethesda Fountain. Louis is there. Prior is there. Belize is there. Joe?
I know that it’s big, and complicated, and conflicted. I know that we try to do the right thing and fail and try again, and fail again, and we need to be told and to believe that failing is OK and no-one is actually often judging — except yourself, how do you improve if <i>no-one</i> says “better, next time”?. I know that the world and the people in it are endlessly disappointing but at the same time wonderful and thought-provoking and challenging and beautiful. I know that you know that self-gratification is really not good, but there’s only a tiny little line between that and respect and that is putting the other person first.
Joe, I know you know all that, and the primary reason that I’m writing this is that I’m annoyed that Tony Kusher wasn’t clever enough to write a coda for the person who was, essentially, a foil. But personally, and secondarily, there are those of us whose roles seem to be foils. And I would like my happy ending too. Is it selfish of me to think thus? And be annoyed enough to write about a character who didn’t get their ending?