Film Review: KILLING PATIENT ZERO (Canada 2019) ***1/2

Killing Patient Zero Poster

Gaetan Dugas was openly gay. In early 1980s he contracted what was termed “gay cancer”. He provided blood samples and 72 names of his former sex partners. Dugas was demonized for his promiscuity and wrongfully identified as patient zero.


Laurie Lynd


Laurie Lynd

If you are a straight person reading this review, it would be unlikely that you would know who or what Patient Zero means.  The opposite can be said for any gay person, who is totally aware of the significance of Patient Zero.  Patient Zero is thought to be the man (an Air Canada flight steward) who brought  A.I.Ds to North America.

While Laurie Lynd’s entertaining and informative documentary educates both sexual orientations on Patent Zero, the film serves more as an account of the History of A.I.D.s.

This is the documentary about the origins of the A.I.DS epidemic and the story of Gaetan Dugas, the man who was incorrectly accused of starting it all.

Gaetan when sick was recorded in California as Patient 57, a patient Out of California.  Patient ‘O’ not ‘0’, but mistaken for a zero.  This he was then mistaken to be Patient Zero the first one to have propagated the A.I.Ds virus.  He actually did (but not the first one) as he was a handsome man who had promiscuous unprotected sex with strangers.  In Gaetan’s defence, no one knew at that time that the virus was passed on though unprotected sex.  And he cooperated with the authorities in re-tracing his 72 sex partners.  The most unforgettable words of one of the interviewees was: “after all this time, gay men can finally open up and enjoy sex and boom, the gay cancer occurs.  Everyone was scared as people were dying and no one knew how or what was happening.”  One interviewee includes gay Canadian filmmaker John Greyson who made the movie ZERO PATIENCE with an all-male cast.

The film has a definite impact on this reviewer.  This reviewer was a gay young man at the time in his early 30’s.  When I first came on the scene, A.I.D.s had just reared its ugly head.  When I first enjoyed the beauty of my youth, as I did sleep around with strangers, maybe twice a week, (not as promiscuous as Gaetan, but promiscuous nonetheless), news was already out that one has to use condoms to prevent  contacting the disease.  But having sex so often is difficult to be always safe and every year, I would have to be tested as I would have unprotected sex once or twice a year and then regretted it.  Anyway, yours truly has survived or you would not be reading this review.  It was hell of a good time then, being able to go to the clubs, get ‘high’ , dance, then take someone beautiful home.  Those were indeed the days.  The film captures those days. 

Most important of all is the fact that the film educates on the truth of Patient Zero.  The film attributes him a a scapegoat propagated in part by Randy Shilt’s book “And the Band Played on”.  But the film shows him a hero who cooperated with researchers.  It took 8000 gay men to die before Americans realize the A.I.D.s epidemic and for gays to be able to live, and alive to this day.

Though a doc, the film contains quite the few erotic scenes, like scantily clothed men rolling around on the floor and one scene set in the bath house (or sauna) that gay men go for casual sex.

Females are noticeably left out (except at the end) in this doc, but they are fortunate enough not to have suffered the effects of AIDs as much as their male counterparts.

KILLING PATIENT ZERO is a thorough History lesson on AIDs of the early 80’s that captures both the nostalgia and horror the times. Writer and director Laurie Lynd will be present for a Q&A  after the Friday, July 26, 6 PM screening at the Ted Rogers Cinema.



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