Advocacy films, awareness raisers and voices around challenge, these are nothing new but are still worth their weight. HBO’s ‘The Normal Heart’ (after playwright Larry Kramer’s play of the same name) starts at the beginning and builds on a historical crisis. When the mystery of the HIV/AIDS epidemic grasps on like a leech in the early to mid 1980s and takes many lives against a passive government, a group of gay activists in New York City form a movement to get the help they deserve. The overall story gives a predictable, yet very personal look at a criticized community’s helplessness and the fairness needed around a basic right: our health.
With a strong star cast, director Ryan Murphy (Glee) helps us grow attached to the relationships that build in the story, and we are just as torn as we witness the devastation of HIV/AIDS. Friends from friends, lovers from lovers, sons from parents: the vulnerability and fight of these select characters give a honed look on what the frustration must have felt like around a problem without a solution in clear sight. As Ned Weeks (Mark Ruffalo) starts campaigning to encourage the support of funding, research, and awareness of the disease, he and his friends, a group of homosexual men on the same mission, grow more heated towards a strained end goal. As more and more in his community are diagnosed and lost, with efforts continually shot down, Weeks gets less tactful and much angrier. Also prime figures and backers are Dr. Emma Brookner (Julia Roberts), organization president Bruce Niles (Taylor Kitsch), Mickey Marcus (Joe Mantello), Tommy Boatwright (Jim Parsons), reporter and Ned’s boyfriend Felix Turner (Max Bomer), and brother Ben Weeks (Alfred Molina).
Discrimination, love, sex, ignorance, the newness of the disease are the common notable traits in ‘The Normal Heart’ that one expects in a film of this topic. With Ned Weeks the central character, we see him learn, love, and lose, as do the majority of the characters. Like Tom Hanks in ‘Philadelphia,’ the fight, the agency, the statistics behind these stories around HIV/AIDS- until the end - are what we take away. The conclusion does leave one too may unknowns about Ned’s fate and the group’s efforts, but ‘The Normal Heart’ is a sincere testament to the strife of a community in crisis, with still some hope to spare.