film review: The Normal Heart

film note: The Normal Heart

The Normal Heart
Directed by Ryan Murphy
2h 12m, USA, 2014

Originally published on Letterboxd with no likes.

I’m not sure I can review this objectively since there were moments while watching this film that I completely broke down. As a personalized document of what happened to gay men at the beginning of the AIDS crisis, this was more devastating emotionally than even the two documentaries on ACT UP, How To Survive a Plague and United in Anger.

I pretty much insisted that a straight friend of mine watch the former and he finally did. He came back from it and said that he didn’t realize what had happened, had had no idea. And he said something that has stuck with me: For gay men, it must have been like the apocalypse.

That’s exactly right.

Today no one understands the terror, the anger, the confusion, the feeling of being _assaulted_, not just our bodies, but our identities and our ongoing liberation. All of that is there and then some in Ryan Murphy’s movie and Larry Kramer’s screenplay. If anything, it’s too restrained. Friends were getting sick one week and dying the next, sometimes lying on gurneys in hospital corridors unattended, if any hospital would take them at all. Really folks, you don’t know. But if you come away without feeling anything after the glimpse of all this movie gives you, that’s more than just a failure of imagination — The Normal Heart dramatizes the beginning of the struggle for all we’ve achieved and take for granted today — it’s also a failure of humanity.

Now we have the Cocktail and a 99-percent-effective prophylactic called Truvada, Larry Kramer, who wrote the eponymous play and the screenplay of this HBO drama, is on record as labeling as cowards the men who use Truvada. The character Ned, a self-confessed asshole, is based on him. So whatever is lacking in Murphy’s film is probably Larry’s fault. But we forgive him. He’s one of our heroes, one of the survivors, and there are some of us that are still here, too. That we would be 30 years later was by no means a given. Far from it.

So in the middle of our triumph now there is still so much grief. That’s in this movie, too.

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