Death of Fire Island

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The Normal Heart

NB: This is a made for TV film

Director: Ryan Murphy

Cast: Mark Ruffalo, Matt Bomer, Julia Roberts, Stephen Spinella, Alfred Molina, Taylor Kitsch, Jim Parsons

HBO’s The Normal Heart directed by Glee and Eat, Pray, Love director Ryan Murphy is a startling and heart wrenching tale of the outbreak of AIDS in New York’s gay community in the early 1980’s. Mark Ruffalo plays a middle aged openly gay man, Ned Weeks who gives one of the best performances of his career as he becomes the outspoken champion of gay rights and one who urges the American government to do more to fight the stigmatisation of AIDS as it ravaged the homosexual community in the mid 1980’s.

This film is set at a similar time as Jean-Marc Vallee’s Dallas Buyers Club, but unlike this Oscar winning film, is a made for Television, bravely done by HBO featuring some exceptional performances besides Ruffalo that includes Matt Bomer as his lover, Felix Turner, a young, handsome New York society journalist dying of AIDS related illnesses along with Julia Roberts as Dr Emma Brockner a wheel-chaired bound no nonsense doctor who is adamant that the American gay community need to be sufficiently educated about this disease. She goes onto advocate that the New York gay community need to immediately curb their promiscuous lifestyle, so lavishly explored in the film’s opening scenes on Fire Island, in upstate New York, the gay resort famous in the 1980’s for White Parties, wild sex and unabashed homosexual hedonism.

Audiences watching The Normal Heart should be warned this is a sad, graphic and dramatic tale of a community ravaged by an illness which they were not equipped to handle, both physically and emotionally. Remember that this is set at least 30 years ago before all the medical advances in ARV treatment globally and when AIDS research was in its infancy. Without the sufficient funding from the American government, those that suffered at the forefront of the epidemic, was an already marginalized community known only for their lascivious and risky sexual behaviour.

What director Ryan Murphy does so brilliantly is remind the audience that despite all the stigma and the prejudice, these were real professional people dying of a yet unquantified illness with a virtually non-existent health care regime and support structure.

At the core of The Normal Heart based upon a play by Larry Kramer is the remarkable performance by Mark Ruffalo who certainly has proved his worth as a serious actor in recent years especially after his recent Oscar nomination for The Kids Are Alright.

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The Normal Heart as a mainstream film, like Steven Soderbergh’s Behind the Candelabra would have a fairly limited appeal, but it is comforting that HBO takes a bold leading in making these films and even attracting such A list talent like Julia Roberts, Michael Douglas and Matt Damon.

Watch out for an unrecognizable Taylor Kitsch (Savages, Lone Survivor) as Bruce Niles a young, arrogant and gorgeous gay man who appears to be immune to all the community activism and terrible threat affecting his friends along with The Big Bang Theory’s Jim Parson’s in a brilliant and touching performance as Tommy Boatwright who counts the dead on his Rolladex.

This drama is brutal, heart wrenching and truly inspiring film making even if it only was made as a TV film, but really should be seen by everyone gay or straight especially in the wake of the recent commercialization of gay culture in Western mainstream media along with the associated rights and civil liberties which the gay and lesbian community have been granted in Europe and America recently, viewed within the 21st century progress made in transforming HIV into a manageable disease through a strict regime of medication controls.

The Normal Heart is highly recommended viewing, boosted by superb performances all round which should go a long way in deconstructing the stigma surrounding marginalized communities especially at the outbreak of an initially incomprehensible disease.

 

 

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