Based on the play by Larry Kramer, the HBO TV movie The Normal Heart depicts the AIDS crisis as it unfolds between 1981 and 1984 in the New York City homosexual scene.
It’s a really strong film, with moving performances from Mark Ruffalo, Jim Parsons and even Taylor Kitsch (Can he act? I argue yes, given the right material but time will ultimately tell).
If you don’t know much about this period, this film is a great place to start. You are guided through the epidemic. The first cases of “Gay Cancer”. Early meetings of a gay health initiative while men die in horrific quarantine conditions. Grass roots activism while authorities stand aside and do nothing.
As a straight woman who was a child when these events unfolded, it was a revelation how important the sex part was to these men’s sexual identity. Early on, when details about how the disease is transmitted are still sketchy, a doctor recommends abstinence. Her audience is outraged, and when you think that sodomy had only been decriminalized in New York the year before, it’s easy to understand why.
What seems like excess now (endless anonymous sex in orgies, bath houses and discos) must have seemed then a natural, enthusiastic reaction to the lid being lifted on generations of oppression. And after all that, AIDS? It is beyond unfair.
- One of my un-problematic faves is books and comic reviewer Glen Weldon. In an episode of Pop Culture Happy Hour last year he discussed this film and contrasted it with its obvious companion piece (if you’re up for eight hours about the AIDS crisis) Angels in America. The episode is available here and the discussion begins at 25:44.
- There is a very informative timeline of the AIDS crisis on the New York Magazine website.