Directed by: Ryan Murphy
Written by: Larry Kramer
Cast: Mark Ruffalo, Alfred Molina, Matt Bomer, Jim Parsons, and Julia Roberts
The Normal Heart is an emotionally driven film that depicts the onset of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in New York City in the 1980s. The film translates well from stage to screen due to the collaborative efforts of screenwriter and playwright, Larry Kramer, and director, Ryan Murphy (Glee). It tells the story of writer and gay activist, Ned Weeks (Mark Ruffalo) who fights to bring social awareness of the atrocities the gay community face amongst government officials, the public, and even within their own social circles as individuals are stricken by the widely spread virus with no underlying cause and no cure. Ruffalo is riveting and his performance carries the weight of the film effortlessly. From moments of an awkward first date, to the intensity of a confrontation with his brother, Ben Weeks (Alfred Molina), to the devastating tenderness of a hospital room scene, Ruffalo never misses a beat.
Ned, along with Bruce Niles (Taylor Kitsch), Tommy Boatwright (Jim Parsons), and Mickey Marcus (Joe Mantello) creates a group called The Gay Men’s Health Crisis. But his rough and tumble methods of pushing the medical community, city, and nation to refrain from denying the burgeoning epidemic clashes with the group’s placid efforts. Ned fights with harsh words, calling the community to arms, but his upfront efforts to deliberately question or stop promiscuity often drives him into a corner where he is left to fight his war alone.
AIDS researcher and polio victim, Dr. Emma Brookner, played by an explosive Julia Roberts, works to push Ned to continue his efforts, but like Ned, she is isolated from her medical peers and her frustration grows as the number of dead patients rises.
Kramer’s screenplay works to find the freedom to be the voice amongst those who choose to be silent. The Normal Heart masterfully carries the audience through the struggle for equality in a sea of people who live in fear of being who they are, who must hide their relationships, their romantic encounters, how they feel and who they love, While it is very much a politically driven drama, one cannot help but see it as a love story. Publically, Ned is a volatile activist driven by anger and the need to be seen as not just a gay man who is losing his friends to an illness, but also as a man who is struggling to save lives and open the eyes of the people.
The love story is unfolds in his private life. We see Ned is a man who is alone, an outcast even among his peers, who wants to fall in love and be loved. This is exceptionally told through Ruffalo’s manner as he stands off to the side, a wallflower at a party where many of his friends have lovers of their own. Enter New York Times writer, Felix Turner (Matt Bomer). The pair fall in love in a flurry of passion and as the crisis gains momentum, Ned and Felix find solace in each other. Bomer’s turn as the calming voice balances Ruffalo’s heart wrenching performance right to the last scene. Through Ned and Felix’s relationship, Kramer tells his audience that love is not discriminatory, and it is something that carries on long after the lovers’ time together has past.
There is a line that is taken directly from the play: “It keeps getting bigger and it doesn’t go away.” This sentence embodies the heart of the film, where love and death are entwined, and the fight for the end of denial and a realization of what rings true echoes the ideas of those real people and events in Kramer’s life who the characters are based on. This is an exceptional political love story worth watching.