A novel by Christopher Davis based on a screenplay by Ron Nyswaner

Adapted for the screen with Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington

The Author:


ü     Christopher Davies:

He's the author of the novels "Joseph and the Old Man", "Valley of the Shadow" and the story collection "The Boys in the Bars".

ü     Ron Nyswaner:


He's the author of the screenplays "Smithereens", "Mrs. Soffel", "The Prince of Pennsylvania" and the co-author of "Gross Anatomy".

The characters:


ü     Andrew Beckett:


He's the main character of this drama about AIDS and homosexuality; at the very beginning of the story he works for a big firm of solicitors called "Wyant, Wheeler". Because of his intelligence, power of deduction, competence and love of the law he's depicted as a promising young talent. He feels the desire to fight against injustice, and he tries to reach this aim with all his might, which sometimes goes too far - you could call him a kind of workaholic. This character-trait has bad consequences for his physical condition, in the course of the story his health gets worse and worse.

He's a big fan of classical music, especially of Bruckner, whose music he likes to listen to when he's stressed or just has received bad news (for instance his dismissal). He's quite a well-balanced person and the peacemaker in the relationship to T

ü     Miguel:


He's Andrew' lover and of course he's gay, too. He works as a teacher of art, is creative and interested in painting. He isn't as calm and peaceful as Andrew, on the contrary he reacts in a very emotional way, he allows his emotions to reign freely. He's very concerned about Andrew's health, he's aware of the sad future of his partner and tries to look after him as good as he can.

ü     Joe Miller:


Like Andrew he's a lawyer, too, but of course he isn't that successful and well-known as his client although he's "quick on his feet".

At the beginning of the story he's like everybody else: He has an aversion of gays. After his first contact with Andrew (when he shakes his hand) he consults his doctor and inquires him about AIDS. But in the course of the book he undergoes a profound change, he's also influenced by his open-minded wife Lisa.

The plot:


Andrew lives a kind of double-life: In his job he's successful, ambitious, happy and popular. But in the evening, when he comes home, he has to face his biggest problem: he has AIDS.

The book starts with the description of a trial about a building made of limestone; with his well-founded and cogent arguments Andrew wins the trail against his black opponent Joe Miller, who tries to convince the judge with his rather emotional tactics. Of course Andrew wins the trial - but whereas Joe now can go home to his wife Lisa, Andrew has to go to hospital and let Dr. Gillman look after his bloodwork before he can return to his lover Miguel.

At this point his state of health is quite stable, and so his boss, Charles Wheeler, entrusts him with one of the biggest cases his firm has ever had, ostensibly not knowing about Andrew's deadly illness.

Andrew concentrates upon this case, knowing that his future and his excellent reputation depend on the outcome of it. Regardless of his health he throws himself into this nerve-racking work which turns out to be the beginning of his end. His psychical condition deteriorates constantly, after some weeks his lesions become so big that he decides to stay at home in order to keep quiet about his illness (and sexual orientation); he converts his apartment into his office, some days later he collapses in the bathroom and has to be taken to hospital. There a telephone call of his secretary lets his level of adrenalin increase: a file about this important case is missing. Andrew moves heaven and earth to find it and finally the desperate search is crowned with success. Nevertheless Andrew gets sacked the next day under the pretext that he's nearly ruined his firm.

Now Andrew's fight against discrimination, prejudice and personal affection and aversion starts. He believes that the reason for his dismissal wasn't the nearly lost complaint, but the fact that he's gay and infected with AIDS. It turns out to be nearly impossible to find a lawyer who has the courage to sue one of the biggest law-firms of the state; finally Joe Miller takes on this difficult work, having discussed with his wife. Joe is critical of gays, too, he has the same prejudices like everyone else, decisive for his decision is the obvious discrimination against Andrew (e.g. the request of a member of the staff of a library to read his book in an extra room). First Andrew talks to his family to ensure the moral help of them. Then "Wyant, Wheeler" offer a piddling sum of money to him in order to steer clear of a defamatory trial, but Andrew refuses to withdraw his indictment.

Now the real courtroom-drama starts: Joe tries to point out that Andrew has been a perfect lawyer, that he's been more than only a talent, that he's been successful, that some partners did know about him having AIDS and that he had only been fired because of his illness and sexual orientation - that the reason for the lost file must have been a complot. The council of the defense, Mrs. Conine, wants to persuade the jury that Andrew's just been mediocre, that he has lost the complaint and that he's only been sacked because of his incompetence. She denies that there's been a conspiracy, she tries to make the jury show emotions, she wants to point out the differences between the "normal" average chap from your neighborhood and "abnormal", disgusting "queers". Dozens of witnesses are questioned, and the longer the trial goes on, the more "Wyant, Wheeler" get caught up in a web of lies and contradictions. The critical stage is when Mr. Kenton - a very homophobic lawyer - tells one episode about his life at the Navy, the methods of punishing gays which is nothing short of a confession.

In the course of the trial Joe's attitude towards homosexuals changes for the better - he gets open-minded and treats them like normal people -, whereas Andrew's psychical condition deteriorates, he finally breaks down in court.

In the end Joe's strategy turns out to be the better one, he wins the trial and tells Andrew the outcome of the trial on his deathbed - Andrew dies in the arms of his lover.


"Philadelphia" - the name of the city where the story takes place - is a powerful plea for equality of rights for hetero- and homosexuals, for healthy men and people who are infected with AIDS. It isn't written in a very complicated way, you won't succeed in finding lyrical expressions or stylistic devices - it's written for the folk, it's written in a straight, direct way and wants to show the problems everyone is confronted with.

If you try to analyze the different characters of "Philadelphia", you can identify with them; e.g. after shaking hands with Andrew, Joe consults a doctor to ask him about AIDS. I think nowadays everyone knows about how to get infected with this deadly, dreaded illness, but nevertheless you'd hesitate to get in physical contact with AIDS-infected persons.

Christopher Davis and Ron Nyswaner try to bring us to get rid of our prejudices and anxieties, although it may seem to be normal to show negative emotions towards homosexuals; many people think that it has to be - that it is disgusting, nasty and simply ugly to kiss someone who has the same gender, but homosexuals could also think that it has to be disgusting, nasty and ugly to kiss someone who hasn't got the same gender, even if this is "normal".

Apart from various character-traits Davis and Nyswaner also want to show the polarization of the population, the differences within it and the resulting problems. They want to point out that there are two extremely different opinions and want to tune us to more tolerance.

Personal opinion:

I think it was a good idea to read a book like "Philadelphia", not only because it urges us to show more morality, but also because it's been really nice to read a book which isn't too difficult to read. As I already told, it isn't written in a very difficult way, you understand all actions and even the (deeper?) meaning without thinking for hours. It's fluently written, and (in contrast to "Fahrenheit 451") it was no problem for me to read dozens of pages in one go.

All in all I'd say that Davis and Nyswaner wrote an interesting, heartwarming and deeply moving story about a serious theme, although some scenes strike me as rather overdrawn.

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