Lit React ~ Analysis & reactions on works of fiction.

07 Apr 2012

(Movie - 2005) Rent, directed by: Chris Columbus

(Reaction) No Day But Today by: Patrick Shane Diaz

Rent is a film about a set of building-mates, and their struggles to make it in the real world, finding love, companionship, and success. Set in New York in the 1980's, Rent aimed to depict the reality experience by New Yorkers in their daily lives, while clinging on to their ideals and Bohemian inspired lifestyles. The film depicted homosexuality, lesbianism, bisexualism, with a mix of drugs, AIDS, etc.

The movie is entitled Rent because rent, or lack of capability to pay for it, caused the characters in the film to band together and oppose the owner of their building. It was also the driving force that dictated their lives. Rent was what they lived for, worked for. It drove them to their limits, causing them to experiment in drugs, questionable lifestyles and the like. Rent was their uniting factor, something they all had in common.

The rent also signified the lack of ownership that the characters had, not only with respect to their physical belongings, and living space, but with respect to their lives in general. Being afflicted with HIV, the characters of the film oppose rent in the same way they oppose the fact that their lives are limited. Most of their opposition is rooted on the notion that "no one owns me but myself", such that they feel that they should not be limited in life by rent, or their illness.

In effect, their illness is the lease, while rent is the time they have before they die. When the characters sang we're not gonna pay rent, they meant that whatever time they have is theirs, and not supposed to be spent as a slave to anything or anyone else. This is so because paying rent for them made them part of the social system.

The setting of New York further reflects the artistic ethos of the film as New York was the hub for artistic expression, as well as Bohemian ideals. It can also be seen as a symbolism for the group, which was very diverse. New York had the same characteristic, being the home of different social groups. 1980's was the chosen time, since this was the rise of Bohemia in New York, as well as HIV/AIDS.

In response to this, the Bohemian ideals catered to their outlook in life. They may have been poor due to their decision not to sell out into mass media and other social systems, but they still held on to the fact that belief was all they had, and it was free. They may have been restricted by the rent, or their remaining time, but in the end, the characters felt the ownership of their own life, because they still had their ideals intact.

As a unifying factor, the Bohemian ideals keep the characters together, having one belief, seeing themselves as part of a movement, living a certain lifestyle. Though difficult, these ideals keep the characters happy, for they have the companionship that they need to make it through each day. This became their wealth, such that selling out to the current social system was against their ideals. They strived to make their art different, songs unique, rebelling against the flow of the current society.

This rebellion though is little comfort when life begins to take its toll. They may have had their free (in the monetary as well as freedom from restraint sense of the word)Bohemian ideals, yet they failed to see the opportunity cost that their rebellion against the system cost them. It cost them the security that money can give, it cost them the ease of life that they desire, it caused them to succumb to drugs to forget their problems, it cost them their lives. This is not to say that these ideals are wrong. It was just the proper mix of reality and idealism that each member of this group had to sooner or later realize.

Mark is a filmmaker, who takes footage of his friends, in the hope of making it into a film. Mark's belief in Bohemian ideals fluctuates within the plot of the film. One scene he leads the song La Vie Boheme, in another he sells out to the mass media system. Though not afflicted with HIV, Mark thrives in capturing footage of other people and the harshness of life, mostly because he is afraid to face the hardships he has in front of him. He forces seeing it from the lens of his camera, while discarding the fact that the happenings around him involve him as well. It is apparent however, that he is bitter about love, and unsure of his convictions. His refusal to pay rent is more because he has no money, rather than due to his ideals, in other words, a realist.

Roger is the musician, once part of a famous band. He is a has-been, who lost everything because of drugs and the HIV that he currently has. This can explain his deep and stern conviction, and possibly immunity, against the addiction to the drugs present around him. This stern conviction of Roger flowed through to his ideals. He believes in what is right, and sticks to it throughout the film. Roger has accepted that sooner or later his lease in life will be due. Holding on to this, Roger's only wish is to find one song before he dies, which later translates into someone that he will love. This is very Bohemian, something for an idealist like Roger.

Mimi is a stripper who falls in love with Roger, but is turned down because of his fear to commit to anything but his music. Her words are the inspiration of the film, embodying the Bohemian ideals, as well as the love story cultivated in the film. I live this moment as my last. There's only us, there's only this, forget regret or life is yours to miss. Mimi may have been the most external character in the group, but she does become the focus of the film, as the taboo on drugs is seen in her character. Though having Bohemian tendencies in living life, Mimi is a realist, as she sells out into the social system for financial security.

Angel is the cross-dressing homosexual, who dies in the film due to HIV. He is the perfect depiction of the difficulties of living the life of a homosexual. However, Angel powers over his life, showing the audience that there is happiness and companionship amidst the hardships that they all go through. He is the bringer of hope, being like the guardian angel of the group. Angel's death though mourned by all of the characters and inspires them to live everyday to the fullest. Angel stuck to his Bohemian ideals, and refused to pay rent ending his lease early on.

Tom was a student of MIT, who was expelled due to his ideals. He is the person in the group who sticks to what he believes in, supplemented by his courage to commit to the person he loves, Angel. He acts as the mediator of the group. Though knowing that Angel is sick with HIV, and that their relationship will have a short future, he still chooses to fall in love. He represents that the notion that black people have a right to believe in something, as well as implement it in their lives. Though the character of Tom may have few scenes and a simple storyline, he depicts that race does not exclude him from dreaming, loving, and believing in Bohemian ideals. Moreover, Tom shows the audience that his race also feels the difficulties on life, that there is no social stratification that will separate him from feeling what everyone else does, as well as from believing in his Bohemian ideals.

Maureen is a bisexual performer, who protests tearing down of their building. Though her protest may be weird, she is able to get across. Her character, amidst the many flaws, such as disloyalty to a partner, failure to commit to love, selfishness in relationships, still shows that she cares to fight for insensitivity toward the homeless. Her character does not evolve during the plot of the film, because she is the most idealistic character, so as to portray her adamant refusal to pay rent.

Joanne is a lawyer from an upper-class family. She is in love with Maureen. Her purpose is to depict the fact that economic class does not restrict someone from believing in Bohemian concepts. Though her character does not develop during the film, it serves its purpose of showing that the higher economic classes understand and can sympathize with the problems of the poor. However, Joanne pays her rent, and is part of the social system.

Benny is their former roommate and who marries into a rich family that now aims to tear down their building to build a studio. He plans to upgrade their neighbourhood, and in effect push out the bohemian elements. Though once part of their group, Benny changes his ideals into a capitalist one, and is driven by profit, completely against their Bohemian ideals. He later tries to bribe Mark and Roger by letting the rent slide, in exchange for help in stopping Maureen's protest. This shows that he will do anything to succeed. Benny depicts that some people choose financial security over idealism. Benny shows the conflict of having your beliefs versus facing the reality of life. He is in contrast to the other characters, though coming from the same platform of thinking. Benny saw the positive outcome of paying rent.

The significance of the Bohemian concept in the group can be seen to explain two things: one, as an explanation of their poverty, and two, as their unifying factor, besides their rent. To explain the poverty of the characters, the Bohemian ideals prevent them from selling out to the system, living life to the fullest, and falling in love. This however, is not completely followed by some characters, such as Mark, who sells out, and Roger, who refuses to fall in love. As shown in the film, their refusal to face reality, holding on to their ideals, makes them all the more poor.

Drugs and HIV was used in the film, not only as a unifying factor, but also as a mechanism to gain sympathy of the audience, given the taboo of the material of the film. It was also meant to show that whatever race, whatever economic class you are part of, the reality of life is the same, only different in how you choose to address it.

The song of Roger was also significant in the film, because it depicted meaning and inspiration in their life. In the line one song, glory, one song, before I go (before the virus takes hold), glory, one song to leave behind, it is shown that the group has a certain fire in them, given that their time is limited, to go out in a blaze, to contribute to their society. Mimi being the song at the end of the film, was the perfect depiction of Bohemian ideals, for it was love and nothing else that they needed in life.

Rent can be considered as an eye opener or a depiction of reality, of the taboo that it portrays. The way it presented this, was through the use of song, to easier integrate the taboo in good melodies. It can also be observed that the songs sung by specific characters, mirrored their lives and feeling. The song at the end of the film, culminating with the line no day, but today says that in spite of all the hardships, they choose not to think and live in any other day but today. The present, living life to the fullest, was the ultimate message of the film. No matter the race, gender, preference, etc., one must live in the moment, so as to enjoy life.

A question is raised: Is selling out that bad? Idealists say yes, because being part of the system removes focus from life and love, and gives focus to material possessions. Realists say no, since material possessions give security, happiness and comfort. Eventually, everyone will pay rent sooner or later. People say that idealism and realism go hand in hand. The mix of both is perfect; the extreme of one, having no beliefs, or having no financial security, is unpleasant.


Love is where it all points to, and no drugs, no illness, no problem nor any amount of money can compensate for it.

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