Like his best friend and roommate, Roger Davis goes through quite the character change as well. His character is introduced as cold and distant, struggling to cope with the death of his girlfriend, April, who killed herself after she found out she was HIV positive. Roger is a struggling musician whose only desire is to write one good, meaningful song before he too dies from HIV, cueing the dramatic “One Song Glory,” and the infamous “I Want” song for a musical.
Over the course of the film, Roger has to learn how to shed this layer of protection he’s built around himself and realize he only has a short amount of time left, so he can’t waste it living in fear. Because of this, I find his development powerful because it’s difficult for him and he has to practically crawl his way out of this destructive mindset he’s forced himself into.
This progression is generally shown through his solos throughout the film because he has a strong voice that captures his true personality when his actions can’t always do so. “One Song Glory” is prior to his character development, granted it’s one of the first songs in the film, where we see him in his current state. He acknowledges he doesn’t have much time left, so all he wants is to write one song before he goes “to redeem this empty life.” Time has flied for him, and time will soon die, as the song concludes. He also reflects on his late girlfriend April and his golden times when he was in a band before he started using drugs.
As we approach “Light My Candle,” the viewers see Mimi as the character who is going to spark both Roger’s internal and external conflict. From their first interaction, Mimi is romantically interested in Roger and actively attempts to pursue him. However, Roger does not want a romantic relationship because he doesn’t want to commit and be hurt again.
Not only does he want to avoid a relationship with her because of how his last one ended, he’s HIV positive, and up until this point, he didn’t know Mimi was too. With this in mind, he’s trying to protect Mimi because he doesn’t want to infect her or have her become attached to him because he’s going to die soon. Yet another reason is that Mimi uses heroin, and Roger had just gone through “half a year of withdrawal,” so hanging out with a drug user wouldn’t be good for him because it could potentially get him back on that path again.
“Another Day” is my favorite song in the timeline of Roger’s character development for a variety of reasons. Mimi is trying to persuade Roger to give her a chance because she thinks you shouldn’t not do something because you’re afraid or you might regret it later because you should live in the moment and that there’s “no day but today,” a theme in the film. Despite her brave grand gesture to get his attention, Roger retaliates angrily and yells about how she shouldn’t be storming into his apartment and insisting they have a relationship. He tells her “another time, another place” and to “come back another day” because “the fire’s dead and it’s never ever gonna start,” meaning the fire representing his desire to have a relationship with someone is dead and she shouldn’t be bothering because nothing’s going to happen. He doesn’t want her to die on him too, but what he doesn’t realize is like him, Mimi is HIV positive.
The problem is Mimi and Roger are in love, but Roger is afraid to love Mimi because of his last girlfriend, April. Roger is afraid to love her, but Mimi reminds to “Give in to love or live in fear.” By the end of the song, Mimi, along with Collins, Mark, and Angel, all try to encourage Roger to start living again, but he keeps lashing out at them because he doesn’t know how to process his emotions and ends up hurting Mimi’s feelings in the process.
There is a defined shift by the time we reach “I Should Tell You.” Roger had agreed to spend time with Mimi, but when the time came, he was gravitating towards other people and ignoring her, frustrating Mimi. She then confronts him and her beeper goes off, reminding her of her “AZT break” and Roger learns she has HIV like him. The purpose of “I Should Tell You” is where Roger and Mimi finally confess how they feel about the other, after holding it in all this time, while also expressing concerns about the baggage both of them carry and how it could affect them starting a relationship. Mimi tells Roger she blew her own candle out in “Light My Candle” just so she could go back to Roger and see him to ask him to light it again. Roger then tells her he forgot how to smile until her candle “burned his skin.” The line in the song where I think things really start to change is “Trusting desire, starting to learn, walking through fire without a burn” because it has that theme of fire back from “Another Day” while also showing that they’re both beginning to trust themselves to be in a relationship.
Lastly, the song that solidifies the relationship between Roger and Mimi, completing his character development, is “Your Eyes.” It took a trip to Santa Fe for Roger to realize he does love Mimi and he needs to stop sabotaging himself because his time is limited and now that he has his one song, all he needs is Mimi, because Mimi was his song. Isn’t that romantic? By the end of this song, it took Mimi almost dying for him to give into love and accept a relationship with her because there’s no day but today and you have to forget regret, or life is yours to miss. Roger was able to move past his emotional issues following the death of his ex-girlfriend and also fulfill his dream of writing one last good song before he dies.