Larry Flynt (Woody Harrelson) goes from a poor Kentucky red-neck to the owner of Hustler, the "most tasteless, sleaziest, most disgusting, greatest porn magazine ever made." This movie illustrates the vast contradictions in his character, his crazy courtroom antics, and his final victory over censorship.
After a boyhood of selling moonshine in the backwoods of Kentucky, Larry moves to Ohio and becomes the owner of a go-go club, where he can satisfy his insatiable need for women and sex. Feeling the need to create a magazine for "the common man," he creates Hustler, which, after publishing naked pictures of Jackie O., becomes a huge success. Once he makes his first million and marries his bisexual stripper sweetheart, Althea (Courtney Love), it seems like he is basking in paradise. Things quickly become complicated, however, once he is abruptly arrested on charges of pandering, obscenity, and organized crime. With the help of his lawyer, Alan Isaacman (Edward Norton), Larry is released from prison and is thereafter determined to exercise his First Amendment rights.
When Larry befriends evangelist Ruth Carter Stapleton, he almost changes the face of Hustler, mixing religion with porn. But after he is shot and paralyzed from the waist down, he loses faith and ends the "reign of Christian terror." Indefinitely confined to a wheelchair, he resolves to move to Hollywood ("somewhere where perverts are welcome") and, along with Althea, seeks comfort in strong pain killers. His legal activities slow down during this time, as narcotics take over. But after about five years, Larry gets an operation to reduce the pain, cleans up his act, and returns to shake up more controversy in the system.
Larry acquires a videotape illustrating an FBI agent participating in illegal drug-related activities. When taken to court, he refuses to reveal the source, stating that the court does not have the right to ask. During the course of his hearings, Larry outrageously wears an American flag as a diaper, spits out water, and throws oranges at the judge. Because of these actions, he is sent to a psychiatric ward. During his sentence, Althea visits Larry and informs him that people at the office are rude to her and, more importantly, that she has AIDS.
Soon after, Reverend Jerry Falwell sues Larry for $40 million on charges of libel and intentionally inflicting emotional distress. Larry counter-sues for copyright infringement. When Larry is found guilty of the emotional distress charge, Reverend Falwell triumphantly declares, "This ruling shows that nobody can prostitute the First Amendment."
After Althea dies of AIDS, Larry hears Reverend Falwell lecture about the disease as "a plague that affects people with perverted lifestyles." He resolves to take the Falwell case to the Supreme Court. Ultimately, the Supreme Court rules in Larry's favor, declaring that "Freedom to speak one's mind is not only an aspect of individual liberty, but essential to the quest for truth and the vitality of society as a whole."
Larry's victory in this case has undeniably made an impact on the First Amendment and the freedoms we enjoy today. But in the final scene he nostalgically watches a video of something he can never win back--his beloved Althea.
Copyright (c) 2003 by Stephanie McElroy, Undergraduate at Lehigh University.
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