Portrayal of AIDS

The film Yesterday was a very compelling movie that made me think further on several different topics, the most dominant topic being that of AIDS. The plot of the film focuses around Yesterday’s realization of and coping with the fact that she has AIDS, however, the actual word “AIDS” is only explicitly said one time during the film (that I caught, please point out another time it is said, if I am incorrect…), when Yesterday is telling the school teacher about a young girl a few villages away who contracted it and her village killed her for it. In each scene where “AIDS” would most likely have been said, it was indirectly filmed, cut out completely, or altered in some way. For example, when Yesterday is at the clinic the first time, the doctor is obviously concerned about something in particular and yet doesn’t say exactly what. This may be understandable, but when Yesterday returns to the clinic after her blood samples have been examined, the scene in which the doctor would explicitly tell Yesterday that she has AIDS is cut out completely, and we go straight to a scene of Yesterday’s facial reaction to the news that we are meant to assume. Additionally, when Yesterday goes to the mines in Johannesburg to inform her husband of the news, the scene of them speaking to each other (before he begins to beat her) is filmed indirectly, from outside the room, where we can’t hear what they are saying to each other, but once again we are meant to assume the word AIDS is used. Finally, when Yesterday is telling the teacher about the doctor’s diagnosis, both of them only refer to it as “the virus”, never explicitly as AIDS until she is speaking about the girl killed in another village. I believe this is a purposeful decision made by the director/screenwriter of the film, in order to convey the fear and possibly the lack of knowledge related to AIDS in South Africa. I also think it was done so that the focus of the film would not be predominantly on the disease itself but on Yesterday’s life and journey instead.

What are your thoughts?

Posted on November 6, 2014, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. I noticed this as well, the way in which the director purposely cuts the scene short to avoid talking about AIDS directly. I agree that it might be a way to convey the fear and lack of knowledge regarding the disease, that many South African’s face. I also think that it might be a way for the director to convey to the consumer how prevalent the epidemic is, prevalent to the point where it doesn’t even have to be named. I also considered another possibility that goes along with your theory about the director wanting to focus on Yesterday’s life and journey as opposed the disease itself. Perhaps the directer sought to make a larger point about about all life-threatening illnesses. Maybe he wanted to highlight how Yesterday coped with her illness rather than let it define her. But no matter what the director’s intent was, I think it was an important element in the film, one that I appreciated.

  2. For some reason the idea of the unspoken knowledge of truth reminds me again of Things Fall Apart (I feel like I’ve been referencing it forever now, whoops). In Things Fall Apart, Achebe implies that people are not completely convinced of the traditions of their tribe. When the ancestors come out of the supposed sacred hut in which no woman is allowed, Achebe describes one of the ancestor’s sounding slightly like Okonkwo. In the back of their minds, everyone in the village holds a slight suspicion that this masked spirit is none other than Okonkwo, but they all keep silent. This seems to be the case of Yesterday and many of her fellow villagers. Sex happens, HIV is contracted, but nobody wants to talk about it, because to talk about it would be taboo.

    I also appreciated the director’s decision to leave the most important things unsaid in this film. The way in which characters skirt around subjects only further emphasizes their feelings and further implies what they mean to say. For instance, as you said, the white doctor refused to tell Yesterday anything about her condition. However, she cannot hide the worry and regret in her eyes as she tells Yesterday the importance of her getting blood tests and locating her husband. When Yesterday tells the doctor that she intends to live long enough to see her daughter start school, tears rather than words dictate her admiration for Yesterday’s strength and resilience.

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