Images of America

A Social and Historical Look
at America Through the Movies

Study Guide - Philadelphia (1993)

Director : Jonathan Demme

Stars :
Tom Hanks .... Andrew Beckett
Denzel Washington .... Joe Miller
Joanne Woodward .... Sarah Beckett
Jason Robards .... Charles Wheeler
Mary Steenburgen .... Belinda Conine
Antonio Banderas .... Miguel Alvarez

Preparation :
Read the reviews by Roger Ebert and James Berardinelli

Historical/Social Significance :
"... for moviegoers with an antipathy to AIDS but an enthusiasm for stars like Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington, it may help to broaden understanding of the disease. It's a ground-breaker like "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" (1967), the first major film about an interracial romance; it uses the chemistry of popular stars in a reliable genre to sidestep what looks like controversy." Roger Ebert

Synopsis :
A lawyer who has aids gets fired from his job and seeks out legal representation.

    Guided Questions for Viewing :
    Assessment questions will be based on the following :
  • Discuss how the role of physical distance between Andrew and Joe lessened as the film went on. Please list specific scenes.
  • Using the quote above (Historical/Social) as a starting point discuss the similarities between this movie and Guess Who's Coming to Dinner".
  • Discuss some of the differences between this movie and Guess Who's Coming to Dinner. Focus on the movie's style.
  • The most powerful scene in the movie is also the one in which Joe has his "conversion". Discuss the scene.
  • "Scenes like that are not only wonderful, but frustrating, because they suggest what the whole movie could have been like if the filmmakers had taken a leap of faith. But then the film might not have been made at all; the reassuring rhythms of the courtroom drama, I imagine, are what made this material palatable to the executives in charge of signing the checks." Roger Ebert.
    What do you think Ebert is saying here?
  • "Philadelphia is more concerned with the demographic breakdowns of its potential viewership than in addressing its central issue --AIDS--with any serious complexity." Keith Uhlich "Slant Magazine".
    "For a film maker who thrives on taking chances, "Philadelphia" sounds like the biggest gamble of all. As the first high-profile Hollywood film to take the AIDS plague seriously, Jonathan Demme's latest work has stubborn preconceptions to overcome as well as enormous potential to make waves. What it does not have, despite the fine acting and immense decency that give it substance, is much evidence of Mr. Demme's usual daring. Maybe that's not surprising: it isn't easy to leave fingerprints when you're wearing kid gloves." Janet Maslin NY Times
    Comment on the above two critiques with reference to the film.
  • Do you feel that someone who has AIDS has an obligation to tell his employers. Discuss your answer with reference to specific scenes in the movie.
  • What was the scene with the opera commentary by Andrew all about? Why was this long scene included in this movie?

Berardinelli, James. "Network".

Ebert, Roger. "Philadelphia",

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