“Longtime Companion”—it could either mean your soulmate, the person you’ve shared your life with for decades … or it could just mean a faithful dog. It’s the term that newspapers used in the ’80s to describe the partners of people who died of AIDS, and it’s the title of one of the first films to talk about the epidemic and the devastating pain of seeing all of your friends and loved ones die.
I watched the movie last night, and I’ve only just now stopped crying and hugging my partner.
Things I Love About Longtime Companion
1. It Shows Real Gay Lives
When I watch this movie I feel like I know these guys. They watch TV together, they get brunch, they have excellent beards. This was 1989, but it’s also my life today, just with less wood paneling.
2. It Changed the Way People Talk About HIV
Longtime Companion showed the nation that it wasn’t just the people with HIV who were suffering. It was their family and their friends and the people they’ve spent their whole lives with. That completely upended the national conversation around AIDS. Suddenly it wasn’t a “gay disease” but something that affected all Americans, and everyone could understand why it needed to be confronted.
3. It Teaches You Not to Take Your Friends for Granted
We don’t have a cure yet, but HIV’s manageable. You won’t have to watch your friends die like the guys in Longtime Companion.
This film is a reminder: If there was a new epidemic in the news, who are the people in your life you’d do anything to protect? The movie reminds you to take stock of who you’d visit in the hospital or bathe or help die. It means asking what it would be like to bear the sudden loss of all those people. And it means, hopefully, never having to find out.
Things I Hate About Longtime Companion
1. It’s Emotionally Devastating
I can’t even talk about this movie without needing a hug. And I wonder, if my partner of 15 years was as close to death as some characters in this film are, would I be able to hold his hand and encourage him to die? I honestly don’t know.
2. Again with the Euphemisms
The very term “longtime companion” is cutting. It’s the euphemism that a lot of newspapers used in the ’80s to describe the partners of people who died of AIDS, because they couldn’t bring themselves to say “boyfriend” or “spouse” or “partner”—certainly not “husband.” The title of the film is a little reminder that even as people were suffering physically, pain was being inflicted on them by others who refused to honor their relationships.
3. It Was Real
This movie is one of the realest depictions on-screen of the AIDS epidemic—it was back then, and it still is to this day. Though the characters were fictional, everyone on set knew that the stories they were telling were repeating themselves over and over and over, in thousands of lives.
In fact, while they were shooting the film on Fire Island, hairstylist Joe Dal Corso started crying. One of the actors asked what was wrong, and he pointed to a nearby house. “I used to have a share there with nine guys,” he said, “and I’m the only one left. I figure I’ve got about six months.” He died about a year after the film came out.