The Normal Heart

Despite the many cuts (darn you, HBO Singapore!), I couldn’t help but be moved by the film version of “The Normal Heart”. I have read Larry Kramer’s work some 20 years ago (the novel “Faggots” and the play which this HBO film was based from) and I could relate to Kramer’s status as some sort of an outsider within the gay community, which was ironic because the gay community itself existed outside the mainstream. I kind of felt the same because at that time, I had very few gay friends and I hadn’t gone into the gay lifestyle of going to gay venues, dining at gay-friendly establishments, and patronizing gay-owned businesses.


“The Normal Heart” draws much from real events and real people in the first few years of the AIDS epidemic in the US. In particular, the notoriously lacking response from government (from the mayor of New York, the Health Department, to President Reagan himself) and the delayed reaction of the gay community. Kramer’s alter-ego in the play/ film is writer Ned Weeks.

After reading the play then I thought that Kramer/Ned’s anger was too much and at times, unwarranted. Now, many years later, as I watched the film, I realized that his outrage was not only appropriate but also justified in the face of such inertia not only among government but also within the gay community itself.

On one hand, I can understand the gay community’s paranoia against anybody–individual or organization that told them to tone down the main expression of their hard-won liberation. Add to that the fact that Larry Kramer in person was not the most charming guy as opposed to the actor who played him (Mark Ruffalo), who oozes with it in buckets. The film managed to portray the gay community as both diverse and divided, along with HIV/AIDS as more complex than a health problem. It wore its heart on its sleeve, but this was no simpering, drama-queen, Susan Hayward-type of film. It was gutsy and ball-sy and all kinds of gay bad-ass!

the normal heart_panel

L-R: Ryan Murphy; Mark Ruffalo; Julia Roberts; Matt Bomer; Jim Parsons; Taylor Kitsch (image courtesy of

The movie is anchored by Ryan Murphy’s deft direction, with great performances from the cast, especially Mark Ruffalo, Jim Parsons, and the Julia Roberts. This time she managed to nail the emotions of a truly frustrated and pissed individual that she was probably aspiring for in her previous screen outing as the (tepid) evil queen in “Mirror Mirror”. Among the supporting cast, Alfred Molina and Jim Parsons were outstanding.

A revelation to me was Matt Bomer. I’ve only seen him in his TV show “White Collar”, in a role that doesn’t demand much from him. Who knew he had so much acting depth in him? His physical transformation, although fascinating, wouldn’t have been that heart-breaking if it didn’t contrast with the sparkle in his wide blue eyes. It was as if his soul itself was protesting his body’s devastation, asserting the spirit’s will to live in spite of his deteriorating body.

The film didn’t completely shed its origins as a play, as some parts were very ‘talky’ but put in the proper context this very minor quibble doesn’t matter. “The Normal Heart” should be required viewing to the new generation of gay men, who came into gayness with a complacent attitude towards HIV, and the advocates who didn’t live through the first 10 years of AIDS. This could teach them a thing or two on strategies. It is a piece of gay history that they can learn a lot from. It remains relevant to this day. There is, after all, a resurgence of HIV transmission, especially among young gay men. Especially here in the Philippines, where the numbers have been steadily rising.

If you have HBO, watch this. Or be like me, who will download the un-cut (and thus, complete) version from my favorite torrent site, for multiple viewing.


About the pensive poet

development worker. kasuyo. bugtong na anak. retired drag queen. kalaguyo. kaibigan. future carpenter, bread-maker, or bar-tender. feeling manunulat at makata. borderline obsessive-compulsive. control freak. book worm. isnabero. mahiyain. astang cineaste. aspiring photographer.

Posted on June 2, 2014, in journal, review and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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