A Normal Heart is one of those films that isn’t just great because productional elements (though those are brilliant!), it’s great, because it takes a subject matter that could so easily have been romanticized or given the “buzzfeed”/“UpWorthy” treatment of “we’re going to guilt the audience into feeling like jerks unless they agree with our obvious and generic thought process.” No, A Normal Heart, fortunately, does not fall into this shallow thinking. Instead, the film treats it’s characters like, well, human beings. No good and evil, no pity, no audience guilt, and no ‘pretending’ to understand a specific group of people. It understands that we, as humans, have this thing called humanity that provides empathy with any another human. By doing this, A Normal Heart immediately destroys all stereotypes, making it’s characters relatable to any audience member, and gives us a story that, while focused on the AIDS epidemic and Gay Community in the 1980’s, could easy be about any community whether big (race, gender, religion, politics) or smaller (music communities, families, arts communities, etc).
There are 3 characters that perfectly show this accommodation for the “human soul”: 1) Mark Ruffalo’s Alexander “Ned” Weeks, a Gay Rights Activist who tries to spread awareness of the AIDS virus. Now, the stereotypical way of portraying a Gay character in media would be to give him a more feminine-alto voice, give him high end designer clothing, give a strut to his walk, and make him demon-free (as he is our protagonist after all!) But no, Ned is actually a bit of a dick. He speaks in a relatively baritone registered voice, his attire is put together and reasonable without being flamboyant, he walks as a human would normally walk, and yea, he’s got demons, he’s got quite a few demons. His demons rank from have a poor connection with his brother (played Alfred Molina), to his unwanted slams and “forced outing” of political leaders which leads to him being fired from his own AIDS research group. Despite this, his heart is always in the right place, though his mind and mouth may take it on tangents.
2) Bruce Niles, played by Taylor Kitsch. What I like about Bruce is his exact opposite character trait to Ned. Unlike Ned, Bruce is more put together, emotionally and physically, which allows him to carefully choose his words with political figures and interviewers. This allows the AIDS research facility to grow without upsetting anyone (unlike Ned who just insults them, when they don’t help.) Regarding stereotypes, Bruce is a bit closer to that Hollywood “Gay Archtype” than Ned. His attire is a bit more flamboyant, his hair very groomed, and he is little too overly sexual (but I mean, on a Stereotyle scale of 1-10, if Ned’s like a 2, Bruce is maybe a 5, so…). While, Bruce also represents the “friendly rival” persona commonly found in Films (ex, Rush, Amadeus), it is the scene where he must bury is lover that truly brings out his humanity and it’s this scene which reminds us that A Normal Heart is not a Gay Rights Film about AIDs, it’s a humanitarian look on how a community struggles with a plague. How any community would struggle; how it destroys our very soul, unless we fight it. No person should have to steal their dead lover out of a hospital in a garbage bag while their lover’s Mother weeping, nay, wailing to the heaven’s for mercy, and all they can do is stay calm until it’s over.
3) Finally, Jim Parson’s Tommy Boatwright. Tommy, who’s very flamboyant nature, his higher range tenor voice, his more feminine personality, and his dialect fits very close to the Gay Stereotype we often see in media, never deters from who he is as a person. Though he may fit an Archtypical mold, Tommy’s relationship to his friends and his storing of their calling cards when they die of the virus, immediately makes him the most relatable character. Despite elements of that cast that many of us could individually relate to, it is no doubt that we all see ourselves as Tommy. We all feel his suffering, but continue to see the world in an optimistic light, knowing there his hope at the end.
Ned, Bruce, and Tommy, and the many characters in between, help to flesh out the humanity A Normal Heart whilst representing a community that not all of us fully relate to. By dissecting and discarding the stereotype, it allows us to see ourselves in their positions without feeling scolded or guilty, strongly emphasizing awareness about this epidemic, the community, and gender equality. I hope we can get more of this and less Buzzfeed. Common Internet, I believe in you!