By Shreya Mitra (Kolkata, India)
Combating Ignorance and Raising Hope
“A gay man is responsible for winning World War II. That’s how I want to be remembered. As one of the men who won the war.”
This 133 minutes long HBO TV movie arrives at a high tide of time, where the general stance to homosexuality still stands hideously prejudiced and conflicted. This Ryan Murphy cinematic adaptation of the autobiographical play by the same name by Larry Kramer is a radical demonstration against the subjugation faced by the gay community at large, the 24,559 deaths by HIV AIDS in USA alone by the mid-80s and still counting. It is a strapping expression of censure to the unspeakable humiliation, ignorance, and ordeal that the gays had to undergo in the 1980s USA, ironically throughout the globe and still today. It’s a heart-numbing yet soul-lifting or as I would like to put, a soul-cleansing tale of millions of gay men who were branded alien even in their own land for being gay, for loving another of their kind. The film follows the string of events encircling the dawn of the deadly syndrome – AIDS – even before it was known as AIDS.
So what is the definition of “normal” that comes first to our minds without a second’s thought – waking up, finishing your meals, heading to work, hanging out and making out and crashing to sleep knowing that everything around me is as normal as I am.
However, what we do not realize and remember is about the little boy who never could bring himself to confessing to his parents that he loves another little boy, the talented entrepreneur who couldn’t be one, because he was gay and thousands of other gays who prefer to stay closeted and live ‘the normal life’ that society chose for them than to live their own chosen way. The film will make you realize that striving for “NORMALCY” is not about leading a normal life that are textbooks defined, but it’s about combating for being treated normal. AIDS – which can infect any straight or gay individuals alike – was observed as a infirmity that can affect only the gay men, even so that it was referred to as “Gay cancer” in its initial stage of infancy. Shame on us. How derogatory of us it is to think that just because we discriminate, maybe the disease will to!
The film’s narrative pursues the life of gay New Yorker and activist Ned Weeks (played by Mark Ruffalo) who is disillusioned with the apparent mortification that the community of homosexuals has to undergo and confers his life’s dictum to fighting for the rights of his community and raising awareness for the banes and horror of AIDS. He along with other hesitant but similarly suffering gays, constitute a community organization called Gay Men’s Health Crisis after inestimable number of homosexuals keep dying succumbing to the appalling paws of AIDS. This film portrays the vicious affliction and complete abandonment of the gays in the society and by the society. It shows how “Fight” can transform into “War” in a blink’s time, and how unpredictably it becomes more of a warfare with one’s own self than with the degrading societal norms and the people crippled in their prejudices.
The Normal Heart is that mirror which you wake up to one morning and realize, it’s been long enough that the dusts and smog around it has been cleaned. It will make you sob, atone, enrage and realize how badly you needed a clearer outlook to everything. It’s the closest you can be to death other than actually dying. Murphy does a stupendous job in balancing the emotive content with the realistic terrors and their exactness that you can’t help but be in awe of. He does not hesitate nor dread to show the unpleasant realism to validate the subject matter.
“To win a war you need to start one” adds a fitting epilogue to the whole theme of the movie. The film takes away the blindfold off your eyes to realize how unknowingly you are a part of the same society that is so sold in its debasing rituals, prejudices and an acquired and unified detestation towards homosexuals. It feels that if ever the entire world has stood unanimous in on only one aspect – then that is “Hating the gays”. What we do not realize is that humanity was never conditional to its adherence to any preference of sexual orientation. Millions of gay men had to die not because they were not aware of their cause of deaths or a cure was not in hand, but largely because the crème-de-la crème of the society completely and repeatedly refused to consider them as humans worthy enough to be mourned as they died.
So they kept dying, young and mercilessly and straight men – they silently celebrated their deaths as we rejoice after cleaning off termites of the closet. Gays were strained to die or live as marginalized as possible. The film compels us to exclaim then how can AIDS be termed as a deadly epidemic when we humans are responsible for the moral death of these several guiltless and victimized gay men who are no less human than the word seems to define.
However, the film is not slightest about the grief-stricken consequences of this societal torture as it is about the hope, faith and fight of these men who refused to be victimized each time they were made so. The daunting, unmovable, unrealistic audacity and faith of these harassed and neglected gay men is what breathes the actual dynamism in the movie. It’s a gospel of how our mental resilience alone can guide us through all inexplicable degradation and crisis. We like the fighters of this film can fail, stumble and die in our pursuit to being “normal”, but it’s the struggle that will be worth the fight and the greatest reason to die for. Rejections and exclamations like “Why are they letting us die?!” can arrive in every possible way, but it’s all about standing and rooting for what makes us human, fighting to be treated normal, fighting for the basic rights, fighting for a proper legislation to be passed on AIDS crisis, fighting for AIDS to be declared an epidemic and fighting our inner demons.
The casting along with the screenplay constitutes the strongest footing for this film. Ruffalo is brilliant as Ned and he essays his part without the slightest hint of pledge of sympathy from the audience. Along with remarkable performances by Matt Bomer, Julia Roberts, Jim Parsons and Joe Montello, the film is an cinematic artifact of best ensemble of actors who were determined to pull off a performance so real and so expressionistic that they stand inextricable from their parts.
To conclude with, this directorial is something that you would want to take to the grave, but never fully delineate in a lifetime why did you feel this way while watching it, where did you gather so much rage and pain and how is that all your senses are numbed with the sudden array of the frightening reality. In all that critical of times when you are too broke that you cannot breathe, this movie will make you more alive than one can ever hope to be.