FROM THE M. G. M. STABLE
THE CURE (1995)
CAST : BRAD RENFRO, JOSEPH MAZZELLO, ANNABELLA SCIORRA, DIANA SCARWID.
DIRECTOR : PETER HORTON.
I was so positively affected by THE CURE that I watched it another time on the MGM channel where I had seen it first and also elaborated on this original writing, to further include it in my dissertation for Masters in English, my chosen topic being ‘representation of children and teenagers in literature and cinema’ .
This was originally written on 21st February, 2015, exactly five years ago. In fact, it’s reassuring to say that this is indeed one of my favourites of all time.
Peter Horton’s underrated drama THE CURE is an epitaph of nostalgia that attests to the oft-repeated proverb ‘Child is the father of man’
Here, Horton relays much of the unfortunate layers of social ostracisation and paranoia in the wake of post 1980s AIDS breakout where the idea of victimhood for the afflicted was appropriated with skewed notions of same gender intercourse and other unholy concepts. In such a volatile scenario, sympathy’s hands are not extended even to an unsuspecting young child Dexter ( Joseph Mazzello) for whom a chance blood transfusion whittles his life down to every precious minute. Survival and hope then for a miracle are transferred to his everyday motions by dint of his mother (Annabella Sciorra)
Like all selfless parents, this single mother copes with her private tragedy with an iron-clad resolve and an angelic warmth that stands tall even in the face of inevitable odds. The community in their small town turns its back on them and they walk on a tightrope, secretly knowing that clinging on to false wishes would only mean further heartburn and unwanted disappointment which they cannot afford, with every breath counting for Dexter.
Then something life-affirming occurs and how sweet can that be than two individuals from opposite sides of the fences making contact, quite literally in this case. The film’s leading child actors breathe life into their respective predicaments and carry forward its delicately sombre and wonderfully resonant screenplay.
Dexter’s bleak existence lights up when a brassy, big- hearted neighbour Erik(Brad Renfro) breaks through thickets of blind-sided prejudice to let his compassion and humanity get the better of him. As he’s a product of his unruly environment, he initially grapples with his insecurities. Bullied by his classmates with the invective ‘faggot’ for being Dexter’s neighbour and verbally and physically cowed down by his authority wielding mother (Diana Scarwid ), Erik too is as much of a loner as Dexter.
The film’s opening scenes have a natural ring to them as both of the estranged boys talk to each other, their communication divided by a lining of high fences constructed in order to ‘ward off Dexter’s germs’ – a so called life – saving proposition fending off the townsfolks’ basic ignorance. However, defiance to break free from clutches of stubborn conformity and mindless norms enables them to forge an unlikely friendship, a brotherhood of shared bonhomie one stolen summer that is evocative enough to last a lifetime.
A heartwarming current of the script honours the boys’ innate innocence especially the tough Erik’s emotional side as they set sail on the uncharted waters of the Mississippi river, Huckleberry Finn style, to find the doctor in New Orleans who claims to have found a substantial cure for the deadly disease. Hence the film’s title, i.e. THE CURE.
With clocks ticking and Dexter’s health sliding into worse state, their bond is what sustains him with the indispensable promise of another day. This aspect of storytelling sounds contrived, gimmicky and way too implausible to suffice. But come to think of it, would a children’s yarn already beset with death be worth half its charms without this passage of cinematic fancy?
It’s this journey into the unknown that challenges the limits to which children can go against adult clemency to make impossible ends meet. Horton invests each conceived moment here with empathy, tact, care and ultimately profound clarity. The fertile imagination and largesse of children and teenagers bursts open with remarkable insight in THE CURE.
MAZZELLO, seen also in JURASSIC Park and THE RIVER WILD as a young prodigious talent , as an adult in the HBO miniseries THE PACIFIC and was uniformly excellent in BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY as the humble QUEEN bandmate John Deacon , is a revelation in scenes where he refuses to bid for our sympathy when his physical strength eludes him. His spirit does the talking for him. Of course, he has Erik’s joie de vivre and never say die attitude to help him go against the tide. Brad Renfro is similarly effective, on the same equal footing.
Revealing further climactic plot points would be an offense as the beauty of this film will unravel as we go.
The issue of death and its (un)timely acknowledgement is unobtrusive, lyrical and a sense of loss becomes all the more poignant. Building on these high points amid the leads’ innate connection, THE CURE validates a place in our hearts and leaves us misty-eyed by its sheer sense of simplicity.
Its pitch perfect performances are eye-openers. That way, THE CURE is a celebration of each moment lived with reserves of hope and the commitment espoused in those hearts of gold who go the extra mile to find the silver linings for us.
Erik and Dexter’s tale is unforgettable. Try to erase the final scene by the river where Erik sends a shoe down with the flowing currents and his final moments with Dexter’s grieving mother in the car.
* Both boys are shown to share a love for Stanley Kubrick’s visionary, age defying classic 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY.
Also, God bless Brad Renfro as he’s no more with us in the mortal realm. His work here is truly imprinted in my consciousness as is the film on the whole.