Review: The Normal Heart
There has been a lot written and said about Larry Kramer’s play, The Normal Heart, since it was introduced in the 1980’s. And the recent HBO film adaptation directed by Ryan Murphy, starring many well known names which include Mark Ruffalo and Matt Bomer, will have people talking about it once again for a long time.
The theme of the film revolves around the early days of AIDS…before it was recognized as an actual crisis, back when no one knew anything about it…or wanted to know anything about it. I was still very young and what I remember most was the lack of information we were getting. After, watching TNH for the first time as a film I understand more now about why we didn’t get that information. I understand the obstacles. In this respect, the film held nothing back, and it even openly exposed the closeted gay mayor of NY at the time, Ed Koch. That I already knew through gay circles. But it was never disclosed in public. When Koch died a year or so ago, they did not even mention it once. There are still people who will argue the point for the sake of Koch’s image.
And that’s because anything gay related came with the stigma of shame, which in turn created men who were often filled with such self-loathing and doubt that hiding who they really were ruled their lives. We’ve all been there at one point…all gay men. A lot has changed since the early days of AIDS, but remnants of that shame still linger on as always. Films like TNH designed to educate and disabuse the myths help reduce the stigma for future generations of gay men, many of whom don’t even realize what’s happened.
In full disclosure I came to the film with mixed feelings about how Ryan Murphy would pull something like this off, so to speak. I couldn’t help imagining Glee scenes where Matt Bomer was wearing a white suit tap dancing to Singing in the Rain. But what I found in Murphy’s adaptation instead was the fastest two hours I’ve spent in years, and a film that handled one of the most serious issues of the twentieth century that held nothing back.
Matt Bomer has had a great deal of press with this film, and rightly so. He was excellent and after seeing him act in TNH I’m glad he won’t be part of Fifty Shades of Grey. He’s too good for it. Every performance in the film was excellent. But the one that stood out for me the most was Mark Ruffalo. He didn’t even look like Mark Ruffalo. He became the character. He created the ultimate illusion every good actor strives for at least once in his/her career. And he did it so effortlessly.
Part of the storyline discussed the beginnings of ActUp and Gay Men’s Health Crisis. I remember them as well, but didn’t know the details. I did some work for an activist publication in Philadelphia called We The People, where I wrote for a newsletter in the early 1990’s. I’m going to post the fiction I wrote about AIDS at the time very soon, never thinking that one day there would be HIV drugs and that HIV would become a chronic illness instead of a death sentence. Back then there didn’t seem to be much hope, which is also something this film showed well. Though Murphy can be self-indulgent at times, he managed to break that mold with TNH.
The way gay marriage was handled will make you cry at times, especially knowing how far we’ve come and how little those in the past had in terms of basic equality. I just hope younger people watch this movie and see how it was back then. It may not be easy to fully grasp it all, but it’s important to get the overall impression of how things were. Even the politics in TNH film was different. It isn’t partisan. This time each and every political statement really happened right down to the way the President of the United States handled AIDS.
I think one of the things I found most interesting about TNH film is that the subject and the characters back then were on the fringes of society fighting for recognition in a very unfair environment. And here we are, almost forty years later, and it’s a mainstream film millions watched on national television.