Director Ryan Murphy’s adaptation of the acclaimed Larry Kramer stage play “The Normal Heart” is a stunning and often grueling drama that thankfully never sugarcoats the painful illness it touches upon. It’s a human drama about human beings stricken with a horrific disease that reached pandemic proportions in the 1980’s and was generally ignored by the media and the government for many years. “The Normal Heart” is a tough watch because it is also the first chapter in an ongoing war that continues to affect the world and is still generally ignored, and dismissed as hopeless by many to this day.
The on screen adaptation chronicles protagonist Ned Meeks’ and Doctor Emma Brookner’s quest to bring a voice to the sudden onslaught of AIDS on to the Gay community. Star Mark Ruffalo gives a riveting turn as Meeks, who battles through constant obstacles to urge the importance of finding a cure for AIDS, or at least garner support from a wider medical community to help reduce the inexplicable tide of infections that ended the lives of many individuals, and helped label it as a homosexual exclusive virus. During a getaway weekend, Meeks is made aware of the virus when an ex-lover becomes ill, prompting alarm, especially from Meeks who takes it upon himself to find out why he died from the illness, and how it’s begun spreading among the community at large.
Much of “The Normal Heart” is injected with humanity, but also an urgency that makes the film a very balanced amalgam of a medical drama and a romance drama. The writers of “The Normal Heart” though give every relationship a tragic undertone, while every moment of bliss between our characters is given a ticking time bomb element where the levees will break at any moment. This particularly becomes evident when the AIDS virus spreads wider among the gay population revealing the hideous effects of the illness, and the monstrous prejudices of people refusing to treat those afflicted by the disease. Much of the narrative explores the initial reaction to the AIDS outbreak, and how the gay community responded, as well as the desperate battle by Doctor Emma Brookner to rally doctors behind her, all the while the entire world and anyone with power turns a blind eye.
Director Murphy assembles a powerful cast of performers including Roberts as the sole saving grace for the community being affected by the AIDS virus, while Mark Ruffalo is fantastic as the driven, to a fault, Ned. There are also great turns by Matt Bomer, Taylor Kitsch, and Jim Parsons, the secretary for the Gay Crises group who eventually becomes a symbol for the death toll that continues to grow as time shrinks every minute. “The Normal Heart” doesn’t seek to pull any punches and depicts the love and pain of the Gay community as raw, universal, and gut wrenching. “The Normal Heart” isn’t uplifting or filled with hope, but it’s an important film about civil rights, and the horrific effects AIDS has had on humanity and continues to have to this day. It’s an impressive, relevant, and moving ensemble drama that I can’t recommend enough.