Longtime Companion begins on July 3, 1981, the day that the New York Times printed its first major story about a rare disease, Kaposi’s sarcoma, which was affecting gay men. The opening images of Fire Island’s beaches and woods and brunches and discos convey an idyllic "before AIDS" world--a dream of beauty and immortality, a world of innocence and freedom. What follows, in a series of vignettes, is the devastating and far-reaching impact of the epidemic on the lives of seven gay men: all white, all attractive, all successful.

The film both places the disease in an historical and sociological context and depicts complex and meaningful relationships between and among the characters. One of the most poignant expressions of love and loss on celluloid is the gentle, selfless care given by David (Bruce Davison) to his dying partner, Sean (Mark Lamos). Or to use the most common euphemism found in the many obituaries of the time, his "longtime companion."


Until the release of Philadelphia (see annotation) in 1994, Longtime Companion was the only feature-length film to deal explicitly with AIDS. And although the representation of people affected is undeniably narrow, the film is uncompromising in its honest depiction of the effects of AIDS and in its balanced portrayal of gay relationships, albeit white gay relationships. Moreover, the insularity and privilege of the characters effectively dramatizes the very human incredulity that the horror of something like AIDS can happen to anyone and everyone.

Longtime Companion has been justly criticized for the absence of safer sex information--decreasing risk is equated with enacting monogamy--and the sentimentality of its ending. However, the film deserves credit for attempting to bring an AIDS movie to a hopeful close. In keeping with the dominant tone of nostalgia, the film ends with an evocative return to the paradisiacal "before AIDS" world in which the same Fire Island beach stretches before the surviving characters as not only a seascape of loss but also as a symbol of eternity in which the living and the dead will be reunited.


In the category of "Best Supporting Actor," Bruce Davison was nominated for a 1990 Academy Award and won the 1990 New York Film Critics Circle Award and the 1991 Golden Globe Award.

Primary Source

Samuel Goldwyn