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Published:May 27th, 2014 12:16 EST
HBO`s 'The Normal Heart' Conjures Up a Blind Spot from our Not So Distant Past!

HBO`s 'The Normal Heart' Conjures Up a Blind Spot from our Not So Distant Past!

By John G. Kays

The Normal Heart was so well done and so realistic, I almost thought it was a documentary! It was very painful (count how many times I`ll use this word) to watch it, but I did so anyway three times, until I got to a place where I felt comfortable with the plot (some internet research was helpful in that regard also). 

Then it dawned on me just how brilliant each of the main characters` performances truly are. Although my prejudice becomes apparent with the role played by Jim Parson, as Tommy Boatwright. Tommy`s personality is both humorous and compassionate, providing an anchor for the others, as they witnessed the first wave of the terrible HIV/AIDS virus (it arrives in 1981).

The reason why I mentioned above, that I was thinking in terms of documentary, is that as I watched Normal Heart, I found myself trying to remember where I was and what I was doing in my life, say, from 1981-1985. I don`t know that I had total, precise recall; it comes more in flashes and painful feelings I`ve experienced. 

I remember doing my laundry one time on Cedar Springs Rd (in Dallas), and seeing AIDS related flyers plastered on business windows, along the strip where the laundromat (I frequented) was located. I think Mickey Marcus`s passionate soliloquy (nailed by Joe Mantello) triggered this long-lost memory. Nobody knew where it came from and many thought it was God`s wrath or revenge against homosexuals!

I suspect this is what The Reagan Administration thought; no wonder Ned Weeks (played perfectly by Mark Ruffalo) was so angry. Ned`s unproductive meeting at the White House with one of Reagan`s staff reminded me, in part, of their callous stance on the epidemic that was hitting the country, in that early to mid 1980s period, As a reminder, they believed only gays were getting it, not heterosexuals, which proved to be wrong.

The closing credits, graced with the Simon and Garfunkel song, Only Livin` Boy in New York, provides you with some incriminating stats, where Reagan didn`t bother with mentioning the HIV/AIDS crisis until September 17, 1985. This brought back some of the revulsion I was feeling at the time; I realize now why I`ve buried many of these memories (and I`m not gay).

It`s up to me to study this history and to uncover some of these unpleasant memories, just as a warning, as far as how these events unfolded in the news, and how the powers that be (during the 1980s) were obscenely sluggish in reacting to the crisis. Although, I need to thank HBO (and all those involved in The Normal Heart production) for awakening a curiosity, that urges me to open up my sleepy eyes and see what happened in our not so distant past. I have in my notes a bit about the three best scenes which I believe elevate this film, rewarding it to a Five Star film. 

First, there is the scene of Dr. Emma Brookner (played by Julia Roberts in her best role to date) blowing off steam at the peer review panel (the Feds, I think) for refusing to fund her research. Second, is the disturbing flashback scene of Bruce Niles (Taylor Kitsch) taking Albert (Finn Wittrock) on the plane back to his mom in Phoenix, before he dies (they didn`t quite make it). Third, is Mickey`s vetting rant; (one idea he gives you) if you know you have AIDS and you have unprotected sex with someone, does this make you a killer? My sister pointed out to me, that final Rolex Card, pulled by Tommy, was one for Bruce; I mistakenly thought Bruce would survive, so this brought me way down (I may have been in denial the first time around).

So what does this all add up to? I`m a student of history myself; Larry Kramer`s screenplay (and his original play) are still very relevant today, perhaps even more so. It`s hard to do, but we need to go back through this. The documentation exists, but I suspect, many of these accounts are left untouched, since it`s just too painful to look at it once again. 

I thought Dallas Buyers Club did a good job last year towards an initiation; it forced me to re-visit the `80s (not just the good times). And now The Normal Heart is urging us to go back there again, for a longer, more focused visit. Looking through The Dallas Morning News archives (which are online) would be a good way to take a trip back in a Time Machine, which is only travels as far as our own minds. Why is it we forget about those things that are purely painful? Preservation, I suppose.