I keep screaming inside: why are they letting us die? Why is no one helping us? And here’s the truth, here’s the answer: they just don’t like us.

Tommy Boatwright in The Normal Heart (portrayed by Jim Parsons)

Given my age, that I didn’t come into the gay scene properly until around 2004 and that I didn’t know any older gay guys growing up I had very little idea of the horror, injustice and grief that so many gay men had witnessed or had gone through during the AIDS crisis of the 1980s and 1990s.

Watching The Normal Heart, a 2014 production from HBO based on a play of the same name by Larry Kramer, was my first real unflinching exposure to this extremely unfortunate and tragic part of our recent history.

Though fictionalised in several respects (most of the characters are all based on real people but have different names and sets of circumstances), the film portrays the time in the early 1980s when the AIDS crisis was first rearing its ugly head in the United States, and in New York City in particular, which apparently had the most recorded cases of anywhere in the world at the time.

The focus of The Normal Heart is really on the characters, and how the crisis affects them and the ones they love, but the scope is also broader, demonstrating how the US government ignored the problem for many years: just before the end credits, we are reminded that President Reagen didn’t even use the word AIDS publicly until 1986, a full six years after the first patient was documented in the USA. (Source.)

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I found the performances in the film from big names such as Mark Ruffalo (Ned Weeks), Julia Roberts (Dr. Emma Brookner) and Matt Bomer (Felix Turner) to be convincing, moving and nuanced, and they all did a wonderful job of portraying the three main characters.

The supporting cast (Taylor Kitsch, Jim Parsons, Jim Mantello) also provide several poignant moments where dialogue, delivery and body language all came together to move me to the edge of tears.

This is not a film to be watched for a fun night in with friends or lovers, but I feel it is an important watch, especially if, like me, you are not so knowledgable about this small but impactful part of our history.

While I wouldn’t necessarily describe it as enjoyable, it is well made, the story progresses steadily without feeling dragged out and it evokes a range of emotions, at least in this viewer.