“As sad and as heart-wrenching as [The Normal Heart] can be, there is chilling honesty explored in the film…”

Ryan Murphy’s The Normal Heart was a necessary film to make given the immense amount of support the gay rights movement has garnered in the United States over the last several years. Since 2010, support for same-sex couples/marriage has seen numbers above fifty percent, and it has become commonplace to see my Facebook news feed to display pictures of yet another state who legalized gay marriage. America is quickly moving towards a country that allows gays to marry in all fifty states.

With every progressive movement or reformation of law that occurs in America, or the world for that matter, we as people need to be reminded where we’ve been and the harsh road that often had to be traveled down in order to obtain those same freedoms. The Normal Heart shows a time when a serious crisis in the gay community was overlooked by the federal government, despite numerous people dying and hundreds being diagnosed almost daily with the HIV/AIDS virus. It shows a frightening time in America history where a large group of people felt crippling feelings of isolation and loneliness thanks to lack of government response, lack of medical support and assistance, and the senseless propagation of ignorance and ethnocentrism.

The film stars Mark Ruffalo in arguably his most daring role to date. He plays Ned Weeks, a gay writer who seeks to organize some form of action and response to a new disease, originally referred to as “gay cancer” before being labeled “HIV/AIDS” in the mass media, threatening the wellbeing of sexually-active homosexuals. Ned’s approach, however, is different from his friends’ approach, which is more calm and quietly-assertive contrary to Ned’s often contentious and angry assertions towards the public and the federal government for turning a blind eye to what seems to be an unstoppable epidemic.

The Normal Heart
Directed by
Ryan Murphy
Taylor Kitsch, Matt Bomer, Julia Roberts, Mark Ruffalo
Release Date
25 May 2014
Steve’s Grade: B

He enlists in the help of his brother Ben (Alfred Molina), despite him always possessing a cold attitude towards him, Dr. Emma Brookner (Julia Roberts), his new lover Felix Turner (Matt Bomer), who works for ‘The New York Times,’ a closeted investment banker named Bruce Niles (Taylor Kitsch), an equally-frustrated virus researcher named Mickey Marcus (Joe Mantello), and another concerned homosexual named Tommy Boatwright (The Big Bang Theory‘s Jim Parsons, who in fact is homosexual). In a time of neglect and what looks to be unrelenting abandonment, Ned and company try to find ways to penetrate the mainstream media and other sources in order to get the recognition and treatment for HIV/AIDS that it so desperately needs.

Standing tall in the film’s center is Ruffalo in a knockout performance as an understandably aggravated writer, who believes in blunt action over dodging-and-weaving around the point at hand. Alongside Ruffalo are people like Roberts, Kitsch, Mantello, and Parsons who work with him in lockstep to achieve a strong final product rather than an uneven array of actors who find themselves one-upping each other through each scene.

Being that The Normal Heart is based on a play by playwright Larry Kramer, it’s only expected that the film would find ways to incorporate a series of monologues in its screenplay that would work to develop not only the agony but the context and backstory of what it was like to fight a brutal and unforgivable set of affairs in the early days of the HIV/AIDS crisis around 1980 to 1983. Ruffalo delivers a handful of strong monologues when they are examined for their insights and relevance, however, they stretch the boundaries of realism on some notes. As great as nearly every person in the film is, Kramer’s dialog occasionally becomes theatrical rather than practical, and the notion and idea that this is a film adaptation of a play based on real-life events come through not because the film feels heavily dramatised but the dialog feels calculated in many regards.

The scenes that hit home tremendously are the scenes showing suffering and despair; scenes that detail what it was like to have HIV/AIDS. Victims are shown lying in beds covered in dark-red bruises, coughing, vomiting, pale in color, and in a permanent, irreparable daze. In addition, the harshest scenes are the ones that shows peoples’ partners or lovers washing their loved-one down in the shower because they lack the physical strength to do so themselves. Emotional leverage like this isn’t milked because what we’re seeing is complete and total honesty, and that this act of love and compassion is what the sick could count on instead of waiting for the government to step in and do something.

The Normal Heart is almost required viewing for every American just to see where we’ve been, how far we’ve come, and what had to be endured so progress and the fight against social ignorance could be achieved. As sad and as heart-wrenching as the film can be, there is chilling honesty explored in the film and I’ll be damned if it wasn’t one of the strongest dramas in terms of depictions and themes of 2014 thus far.

The Normal Heart will air through the remainder of May and throughout the month of June 2014 on HBO.

by Steve Pulaski