A Compassionate 'Brother's Keeper'

"My Brother's Keeper" is a very good CBS movie depicting the impact of AIDS on gay twins--both played with brotherly beauty by John Lithgow--and on their family and community.

A docudrama whose script by Gregory Goodell is "based" on real events, "My Brother's Keeper" centers on devotion--a family's and community's devotion to a gay man facing a grim future because of having AIDS. It offers the antithesis of the rejection initially suffered by young Ryan White. It's also the glass-half-filled side of "Philadelphia," the stricken man's colleagues in this case standing behind him, not against him.

In fact, you're two-thirds through "My Brother's Keeper" before it occurs to you that it hasn't once uttered gay or homosexual or mentioned how the twin with AIDS may have received the virus, the sexual orientation of the two brothers being such a small fraction of this warm, touching and ultimately heartbreaking story.

Appearing as unremarkable as their names, balding, middle-aged brothers Tom and Bob Bradley are big, oaken bachelors who live quietly together and teach elementary school on Long Island in New York. But Tom's T-cell count is falling, his body breaking down. His only hope for extended life--an epic long shot that would enshrine him in medical history--is an experimental treatment at Johns Hopkins that would give him a bone marrow transplant from his identical twin. In effect, Tom would get a new immune system.

When Tom's insurance company refuses to pay the $150,000 cost, the brothers hire a law firm and begin a legal battle that requires them to go public and face the media.

"It was fear that kept us in the closet, and it was fear that drove us out," Tom tells his sisters (Annette O'Toole and Veronica Cartwright).

Expecting a hostile response, the Bradleys instead receive enormous public support from their conservative community and from the Catholic-run school system that employs Tom, even though his stoical, 73-year-old mother (Ellen Burstyn) appears to be in rigid denial about him.

As Bob, the supposedly healthy twin, chain smokes throughout the movie, you wonder if he, too, is under a death sentence. This story is less about anyone dying, though, than about a family healing. Some of director Glenn Jordan's best work comes when the family's submerged emotional turmoil explodes to the surface.

Effective, in a different way, are the moments of tenderness shared by Tom and Bob, whose tight bond the scintillating Lithgow depicts with the kind of nuance and quietness that mark an actor of great restraint and sensitivity.


If only such qualities were as evident in daytime talk shows. They've earned every bit of scorn they're receiving these days.

Yet Robin Kane, media director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, asserted in a Los Angeles Times Op-Ed piece Thursday that it was "rampant homophobia," not the syndicated "Jenny Jones" talk show, that triggered Scott Amedure's murder last week.

This is calling an apple a kumquat.

Because we observe the world largely through our individual prisms, it was inevitable that the fatal shooting of Amedure would be viewed by some as just another example of widespread loathing of gays in the United States.

Instead of what it mostly is: an example of rampant misbehavior on the part of daytime television talk shows that play loosely with the lives of some of their guests by seeking to embarrass them with the cameras rolling.

Amedure is the gay man who was gunned down at his home in Rochester, Mich., several days after telling Jonathan Schmitz he had a crush on him during a taping of a "secret admirers" segment of "Jenny Jones." Schmitz is now charged with that slaying, which police say he committed after being "eaten away" by humiliation over Amedure's public confession of his romantic affection.

The innocent-until-proved-guilty concept naturally applies. Let's assume for the sake of argument, however, that the police-advanced scenario is correct, that Schmitz, expecting his "secret admirer" to be female, was so mortified by Amedure's disclosure that he later purchased a shotgun and shot Amedure dead.

If this is what happened, then Schmitz is surely a man driven by inner demons that "Jenny Jones" didn't know or care about when its staff plotted this high-risk farce, which, in the case of these two men, was based on the premise that a homosexual coming on to someone who is apparently straight equals titillation.

Fault "Jenny Jones" with playing that cynical card. But attributing the Amedure slaying to "rampant homophobia" absolves the show and its ilk of arguably an even greater guilt, that of potentially driving mentally unstable people--today allegedly Schmitz, tomorrow someone else--over the edge in the cause of ratings.

If Schmitz is guilty, he's the one who pulled the trigger. But if so, it was "Jenny Jones"--along with laws allowing him to purchase a shotgun with apparent ease, by the way--that provided the trigger.

Letting "Jenny Jones" off the hook is tantamount to saying, "Guns don't kill, people do," the equivalent of arguing that such shows bear no responsibility for the consequences of their actions. If they goad a lunatic into taking desperate acts, it's not their fault. It's homophobia's fault.

The implication of this argument is that the accused Schmitz is a typical homophobe, as if fear and hatred of gays were manifested mainly in acts of violence, in contrast to the many institutional and also subtler ways that they are discriminated against in this society.

* "My Brother's Keeper" airs at 9 p.m. Sunday on CBS (Channels 2 and 8).

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