‘The Normal Heart’ is an AIDS story that resonates

By Aparna Verma, Catonsville HS, Catonsville, Md.

Back in ’80s, the HIV/AIDS crisis was rising in New York City. More people, notably gay men, were afflicted by this terrible disease, and, in a time where there was little medical knowledge about this virus, the ordeal was quite frightening. Young men were dying, and the people just didn’t know why. “The Normal Heart,” an original HBO film, depicts the plight of these young, unheard men in the 1980s. It is based on the largely autobiographical play written by Larry Kramer, who experienced this crisis first hand.

Directed by Ryan Murphy, “The Normal Heart” centers around gay activist/writer Ned Weeks, played by Mark Ruffalo, a character who Kramer confesses is based on him. Weeks advocates for an increase awareness towards the HIV/AIDS crisis, and he is rather forward in his approach, to say the least. He is not afraid to speak up, and he even criticizes and blames the government of the United States of America for being silent. The community organization that he helps to establish, Gay Men’s Health Crisis, is opposed to his type of approach, however. Bruce Niles, played by Taylor Kitsch, is the president of GMHC, and he, as well as many others, prefer private, calmer strategies.

“The Normal Heart” is a tragedy, make no doubt about it. It tells of the silence of many during a time in which an unknown and terrible disease was wiping out a generation of young men.”

Still, the movie seemed to reverberate as one watched the despair young men faced once they discovered the notorious, red welt on their skin, lesions caused by a rare cancer called Kaposi’s sarcoma, a blaring sign that they were afflicted by a disease that was impossible to defeat. “The Normal Heart” hits home when Weeks’s boyfriend, Felix Turner (played by Matt Bomer), realizes that he has HIV. The tearful ordeals that follow, Weeks’s stubborn refusal to believe that Turner is sick, and the lack of response from the city government paints a dark picture of what these young men had to face. People, normal people, and even doctors, refused to acknowledge the disease. Some doctors refused to treat these men. When Niles’s boyfriend died, an orderly shoved him into a trash bag and asked Niles for $50 just to carry him out.

One of the best scenes depicted Dr. Emma Brookner, played by Julia Roberts, in a peer review meeting with her fellow doctors. Despite all of her research and the rising amount of cases, these doctors refused to give Brookner funding. Her outburst, her vivid anger, the desperation and frustration in her voice, beautifully showed that the silence and the ignorance of many was intolerable. People were dying, and the city did nothing.

“The Normal Heart” touched on a variety of issues, such as gay politics (which is just as messy as D.C. politics), morality, and the complexity of love, and blended them beautifully into a cohesive, emotional, poignant story that, unfortunately, is largely true.

“The Normal Heart” has received critical acclaim that praises the performance of the actors, and most notably, the heartbreaking screenplay. Review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes gave the film a score of 93 percent based on reviews from 27 film critics with an average score of 8.1 out of 10. The consensus reads: “Thanks to Emmy-worthy performances from a reputable cast, ‘The Normal Heart’ is not only a powerful, heartbreaking drama, but also a vital document of events leading up to and through the early AIDS crisis.

Peter Travers of Rolling Stone awarded the film 3.5/4 and praised it: “Written, directed and acted with a passion that radiates off the screen, The Normal Heart is drama at its most incendiary, a blunt instrument that is also poetic and profound. As gay men in crisis, Taylor Kitsch, Jim Parsons and Joe Mantello all excel. But it’s Kramer, still raging over what’s not being done, who tears at your heart.”

“The Normal Heart” is a tragedy, make no doubt about it. It tells of the silence of many during a time in which an unknown and terrible disease was wiping out a generation of young men. They received little help, and all the medications or procedures that they had to endure were, in the end, useless. Perhaps what is scary is the sheer ignorance that many paid. People turned away from these men; they simply didn’t care. Imagine your body decaying and deteriorating before your very eyes, while you could do nothing about it. It’s frightening.

Simply put, “The Normal Heart” is a must watch. Like many great movies, it makes you think. It’s poetic, it may make you cry, but, hey, it’ll be worth it.

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