The Normal Heart

by Larry Kramer. An HBO tv movie, with Mark Ruffalo, Jim Parsons, et al.


Anger in the face of injustice can only take you so far.   After a while people grow tired of \ pitched hysterics even if there is good reason for them.  This is what happens to Ned Weeks, founder of the Gay Men’s Health Crisis, as he berates government officials, medical professionals, friends and relatives.

People start to peel away from him including thousands of beautiful promising young men slain by AIDS, a new virus no one knows what to do with. That it is most prevalent among gay men who “have no politics but promiscuity” exposes it  to prejudice against an unprotected group of people.

Politicians feel no need to help this completely disenfranchised class of men.  When GMHC appeals to the mayor for funding, it takes them a year to get an appointment, and they have to meet a deputy in a basement office filled with discarded furniture and trash.   Ned Weeks gets excited when his appeal to the White House results in a meeting but is soon disillusioned when the functionary he sees really just wants to know if straight men can get the disease from hookers.

The morality of how the disease is transmitted becomes one of the central conflicts of the play.    A doctor played stridently by Julia Roberts explains that the disease is probably sexually transmitted and that gay men will die if they keep having promiscuous sex.  Her warning is mostly true, but at first it falls not on deaf ears, but on the ears of those who have fought hard to develop a culture that allows them to do what they want.

Larry Kramer, the playwright and screenwriter of the movie, started ACT-UP after he grew impatient with the conciliatory aspect of GMHC.  Political action is what is needed when so many lives are at stake.  Kramer is a scold and a bit of a bully, but his ideas can not be faulted.  Mark Ruffalo, who plays Ned Weeks, is a straight actor whose warm eyes and soft voice channel Kramer’s anger in bouts of shouting and strident accusations.  It is easy to see why he is rejected by the same people he began his campaign with.

Most affecting are the scenes with his beautiful partner played by Matt Bomer.  Felix (even his name is happy) does not have so many internal conflicts.  I believed that Felix and Ned fell in love at first sight.

Love is what is needed when you are faced with a plague.  After seeing this movie a week ago, I am still thinking of what the men felt for each other, and how much was lost, in those dreadful first days of the plague.   The movie is charged with the passion of its original intent: to stir action, to get people to acknowledge that an emergency is happening, that too many young men are dying because of the complacency of the government.  What makes the play work is its grittiness.  How bracing to watch something this strident for a cause that is worth it.  I have been thinking about it all week.  It got under my skin.



About Patricia Markert

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One Response to The Normal Heart

  1. philip jostrom says:

    Dear Patty, Just read your NORMAL HEART review. I am hoping to see it next week. Great review. Getting very excited about seeing it. It was the most moving play I ever saw and I’ve seen a few. I can’t believe it was over 30 years ago. Philip

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