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In Jonathan Demme’s film “Philadelphia,” protagonist Andrew Beckett is portrayed as being as emotionally-healthy as an individual harboring a deeply personal secret can be, especially when immersed in a culturally austere environment in which conservative values with regard to sexual orientation can be overtly hostile. As the film opens, Andy is shown as being a fully-accepted member of the team, vested with responsibility for important and potentially lucrative assignments. He is also shown as a decent individual in a loving healthy relationship. It is only when subjected to physical and mental conditions that would exhaust the most emotionally-healthy individuals that cracks begin to form in his mental wellbeing. Forced to lower his standards with regard to his own legal representation, he has to endure his own lawyer’s prejudicial attitude with regard to homosexuality – a particularly illuminating development given the choice of an African-American as Joe Miller, the attorney who finally takes Andy’s case. [In one scene involving Miller’s coming to grips with the intellectual disconnect between laws designed to prevent discrimination and his own bias against homosexuals, he says, “Some of these people make me sick. But a law’s been broken here. You do remember the law, don’t you?”]
Andy has been living two parallel lives: the young, up-and-coming corporate attorney in a prominent and politically conservative law firm, and an individual of extraordinary sensitivity and cultural awareness whose life is painfully drawing to an end on account of a terminal illness associated with homosexuality. During one notable scene in which Andy is describing his love of opera to his visibly uncomfortable attorney, he completely loses himself in the moment:
“This is my favorite aria. This is Maria Callas. . . Can you feel it, Joe? . . . The music fills with a hope, and that’ll change again. . . 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’.”
Andy’s total mental immersion in the moment can cause one to question his emotional health, but looked at in the context of his personal struggles – professionally and medically – he is allowed the occasional diversion into a different world. Andy is emotionally healthy. He suffers from a world in which he is forced to conform to others’ ideals of “normal” and “healthy.” Within his own world – and the scene depicting a party in his apartment is representative of this world, as is his and Miguel’s touching visit with Andy’s family – he is very much an emotionally-healthy person. Living a lie because of prejudicial tendencies in the broader world he inhabits, however, have taken a toll.
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