It’s 2:47am on Thanksgiving Monday, the day has just begun, and I’ve been awake for all two hours and forty seven minutes of today. I can’t sleep. I’ve often heard that writers write in order to try to purge themselves of their thoughts; however, Dumbledore and his pensive along with the infinite amount of books in the world seem to disprove that theory. Nevertheless, I’m going to give it a whirl.
Yesterday night I watched the film adaption of Larry Kramer’s novel The Normal Heart. Before I headed to bed I made a note in my journal about how it will most likely haunt me for awhile. My prediction is already proving to be true.
It isn’t the visual content that is keeping me awake, at least that’s not the full reason for my bout of sleeplessness. While I have been known to be squeamish around vomit and I grimaced during the film at particularly graphic images of the ill characters I would not let myself look away. Because this was reality. This is reality.
For those of you who are not familiar with Kramer’s autobiographically tinged screenplay the plot revolves around the emergence of the AIDS virus in the 80s and the impact of the virus on the gay community, specifically in New York City.
The film’s cast was stacked with stars from Matt Bomer to Mark Ruffalo to Julia Roberts to Jim Parsons, the movie was set up to succeed even before they began to shoot it.
Now, I’ve watched a lot of movies. Our basement is home to easily several hundred, but since I’ve been exposed to such a variety of content I tend to be picky about movies that move me. While I can easily become impassioned or energized by a film after my initial hype over it I normally calm down quite quickly. Somehow I don’t think that this will be the case with The Normal Heart. What struck me about this film was that I saw the actors as their characters, and only as their characters. They seemed to be real and so very much in pain – they were so human and realistic. This was not about extraordinary acting, it was an exercise in the very basis of the acting craft – it was about living the story of the characters, not telling a story with characters in it.
Few movies have ever actually caused tears to fall from my eyes, but as the credits rolled I will confess that I shed a tear. It may have stemmed from anger or from sadness – it really doesn’t matter; all I know is that the movie struck a chord within me.
It made me think about how different life for my out and proud friends would be if we had all been born a few decades ago. It made me wonder about where I would stand in that sort of conflict. I think that everyone would like to say that they would be the brave dissenter who would challenge social norms or would advocate for the downtrodden. Unfortunately, I am skeptical how many of us would actually step up and fill the shoes of an activist for a controversial subject if we were ignorant of what we know now.
Like how AIDS doesn’t only affect homosexuals but heterosexuals, bisexuals and every other type of PERSON on the planet. Or how people are still people no matter who they fall in love with – we are all HUMAN – hence we all have human hearts. We all have normal hearts. If we can ever agree on a definition for normal that is…but that’s another issue entirely.
I think what happened was the movie scared me; however, it’s not difficult to do that so I’m trying to dig deeper. What the movie showed was graphic at points yes, but even more than the depths of the sickness it showed love and passion. Passion for a cause that no one but the activists would believe in and yet they still believed. It showed an unflinching, unwavering, messy look at the limitlessness of absolute and true love.
It was horrifying to watch the vibrancy of that love be tainted by guilt, anger and be eaten away by a virus that does not discriminate between those who are loved or cherished and those who are needed. Death has seen so much more destruction and loss than we have – he does not, cannot stop claiming souls, whether we think they were gone too soon is irrelevant.
The Normal Heart was frank and honest about life and death in a way I’ve never seen before in any other work of art. That is what’s keeping me up at night. It addressed the unknown. It addressed the questions we don’t want to ask: What if we’re not as invincible as we believe we are? Would our parents, partners or friends stand by us in such a dire situation? Would we stand up for our oppressed friends?
Do our lives have meaning? What kind of legacy would I leave behind?
While I’ve been drafting this article I’ve been listening to “The Fisher King Blues,” by Frank Turner and I think these lyrics sum up what I’ve been trying to convey about this film.
“We were born without meaning, we will die without reason/And the world will not shrug all that much at our passing/Yes you can try and try and try/But no one ever makes it out alive./All you broken boys and girls,/With your tattered flags unfurled/Fix yourselves then fix the fisher king./Won’t you fix yourselves to fix the fisher king?”
I am not saying that life is hopeless. I’m saying that we all have our own fisher king to fix, but in order to accomplish that mission we have to turn inwards and fix ourselves first. Our society is still broken in so many ways, but change, like charity, begins at home, it begins within.
The Normal Heart was above all else an expose of humanity and human nature. We fear death. Hence we fear disease and the unexplainable disease even more. Our fear prompts anger, rash action, and sometimes, death. Our fear is not failure, but it should not define us. No human being should suffer in silence. No human being should ever be treated like trash. No human being should feel like they are not a human being.
Just remember, we all have normal hearts and we should give thanks for them every single day of our lives.