By Leonie O’Sullivan, September 29 2023—
Trigger warning: Sexual violence
The beginning of I Don’t Know Who You Are starts off on a carefree Friday morning. We see the star of the film, Benjamin, a gay, working-class musician played by Mark Clennon, dancing around his kitchen and cooking breakfast with his cat. Later that day, he becomes a victim of sexual assault and has to spend the rest of his weekend having to source money to pay for HIV preventative medication called pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP). PrEP is not covered by universal healthcare in Canada and Ben gets slapped with a $919.57 bill. To add to the trauma, PrEP has to be taken within 72 hours of the assault in order to be effective.
M. H. Murray bravely shares his deeply personal story throughout the film and is a brilliant advocate for accessible HIV healthcare. I spoke with Murray, writer, director, editor and co-producer of I Don’t Know Who You Are, before going to watch the film at the Calgary International Film Festival (CIFF) on Sept. 23.
“[The story] follows him over the course of one weekend as he tries to find the money to pay for these pills and also deals with the emotional, logistical repercussions of going through something so traumatic and discovering who you are amidst a tragedy,” said Murray.
The name of this film is wonderfully multidimensional. Is it referring to not truly knowing who you are as a person, who your closest friend is deep down, or who the stranger who assaulted you was? The last interpretation struck the hardest with me. It’s heart-wrenching how someone you don’t even know can negatively impact your life so drastically. Clennon wrote and performed the powerful sax song “I Don’t Know Who You Are” especially for the film.
The real healthcare professionals who acted in the movie — a pharmacist, an ER doctor and an HIV care clinic worker — provided natural interactions with Ben. The clinic worker, Carl, played by Randy Davis, administered a rapid HIV test in the film. Davis lives with HIV and the character he played, Carl, also shared that he does. Murray did an important job of tackling HIV stigma in the film.
“People can live with HIV now and even though it is scary and you don’t want to get it — if you do get it, it doesn’t have to be a death sentence,” said Murray. “It is possible to have HIV and still be desired and still be an important member of society and still be loved.”
In Ben’s struggle, he closes off to his love interest Malcolm. After they open themselves fully up to one another — Ben sharing the news of his assault and Malcolm sharing his HIV status — we see them in a strong and loving relationship, a fairy-tale ending for what could have been a tragedy and a positive reflection for the queer community.
“So often [queer] relationships are either in the shadows or very tragic … but sometimes we need a little bit of hope,” said Murray.
Murray tied off the end of the film with a bow. We see Ben dancing with Malcolm and his cat in the kitchen, cooking breakfast together — a nod back to the start of the film and a happily ever after.
I Don’t Know Who You Are will be showing at CIFF again on Sept. 29.