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Theatre / The Normal Heart

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"I am trying to understand why nobody gives a shit that we're dying!!"
Ned Weeks

The Normal Heart, a landmark play by Larry Kramer, is a romanticization of Kramer's life in New York City during the early 1980s at the dawn of the AIDS epidemic. It depicts the events leading to the creation of the nonprofit GMHC, as well as his relationship with Felix Turner.

It was turned into an HBO Made-for-TV Movie in 2014 by Ryan Murphy, with Mark Ruffalo in the lead role of Ned Weeks, Matt Bomer as his partner Felix Turner, Julia Roberts as Dr. Emma Brookner, and Jim Parsons as Tommy Boatwright.

This play and its movie adaptation provide examples of:

  • All Gays are Promiscuous: Aside from Ned and Tommy most of the leads are portrayed this way.
  • All Love Is Unrequited: Julia Roberts seems to portray Emma as having a huge crush on Ned.
  • Author Avatar: Ned Weeks is openly an avatar for Larry Kramer.
  • Based on a True Story: The plot was loosely inspired by
  • Big Applesauce: The film takes place in Manhattan and Fire Island, Long Island and is filmed in New York City.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The movie ends with Felix and Bruce both dying of AIDS, general apathy continuing with Reagan slashing funding for AIDS research and no cure in sight for AIDS, but Ned goes to the "Gay Weekend" at Yale, and notices how gay men and women can love openly and without discrimination, leading to the modern gay rights movement.
  • Broken Aesop: A big plot point, leading to Ned's firing from GMHC, is that the gay people of New York would rather not stop having sex, even in the face of a deadly and incurable disease that might well be sexually transmitted.
  • Cast Full of Gay: Out of all the characters only Ned's brother Ben and Emma are straight.
  • Dance of Romance: After a GMHC fundraiser pays off in a big way, clubbing ensues — during which a slow dance breaks out. Cue Felix and Ned in the most adorable gay example of this trope ever, as they just hold each other close. In the background, we can also see Bruce and Albert lovingly dancing. And then there's the dialogue that cements it:
    Ned: Imagine if we'd had this when we were young. No fear, no shame...
    Felix: All I was imagining all those years was you.
  • Forceful Kiss: Ned, being Ned, is ranting about politics to cover up how nervous he is. Felix calls him out on it, at which point Ned pretty much gives up on words, grabs Felix, and kisses him — hard, and passionately. This rather effectively communicates his true emotional state, i.e. he's desperately attracted to Felix and terrible at expressing it. Felix seems to get the point, as they fall into bed together not long afterward.
  • Headbutt of Love: Ned and Felix, repeatedly, in the film. It will either melt your heart or break it. Possibly both at once.
  • I Can't Believe a Guy Like You Would Notice Me: Ned to Felix, natch.
    Ned: Felix, let's move somewhere far away, just the two of us on a desert island.
    Felix: Don't you dare stop for one single second what you're doing. And I appreciate you not yelling at me about what the Times isn't doing, or my not being more political. Why don't you?
    Ned: It's a relief not having to talk politics to someone. That's not the reason.
    Felix: No?
    Ned: It's because you're too good to be true. Because I've been waiting for a lover like you my whole life, you haven't showed up until now, and I'm scared shitless that I'm gonna do something to fuck it up. Am I crazy?
    Felix: Of course. That's why I'm here.
  • I Was Quite a Looker: Felix seems to have an issue with the effect of AIDS on his body.
  • Idealized Sex: The first time Ned and Felix make love in the film (and the only instance of this shown), complete with Intertwined Fingers, Hollywood Kissing, and Tears of Joy. The point is presumably to show that the two characters have at last found their One True Love (which, of course, they have). It's a striking contrast to a later scene in which Ned gently bathes and cleans up after an obviously AIDS-stricken and dying Felix, which — while equally tender — is not in the least erotic.
    • Actually, the first time they had sex was as an anonymous hook-up in a bathhouse a few years earlier (as Felix reminds Ned during their first date). The sex is also idealized, but in a different way: It's very rushed and almost aggressive, the upright position would likely hurt the bottom due to the angle of penetration, and there's only a perfunctory bit of spit as lube, yet Felix shows no particular sign of pain and seems to hold the encounter in fond memory. Considering how many people involved in the filming of this have lots of personal experience (i.e. it's not like with Brokeback Mountain which was originally written by a woman and acted out by straight actors), this depiction of anal sex is rather weird, to say the least. Though apparently this is not a rare phenomenon in gay romance movies.
  • Incurable Cough of Death: Craig in the beginning, who coughs while blowing out his birthday cake. He's dead not soon after.
  • Intertwined Fingers: Ned and Felix, the first time they make love. It's exactly as heartbreakingly romantic as you think it is.
  • Irony: Bruce spends a good part of the story worrying that he may have infected many of his lovers. Considering the usual timeline of AIDS infection, it's most likely either the other way around or they were infected by completely different people.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Ned is confrontational, tempestuous, blunt to the point of rudeness — and a desperately hopeless romantic who never even contemplates leaving Felix even as AIDS ravages his body.
  • Knight in Sour Armor: Ned, Ned, Ned. Over and over and over again the world lets him down, but he keeps fighting for what he believes in because he just can't stop caring, even when caring so much repeatedly breaks his heart.
  • Lighter and Softer: Though there is nothing 'light' or 'soft' about it, the film version tempers the searing rage of the original play with a deeper exploration of the relationship between Felix and Ned, giving them more moments of tenderness and peace together. Naturally, this only amplifies the tears it jerks from your soul at the end, but leavening the fear and anguish with tenderness does add much more 'sweet' to the 'bitter'.
  • Literary Allusion Title: Comes from W.H. Auden's poem "September 1, 1939".
  • Lonely Funeral: Given how much the AIDS epidemic has consumed most of their friends and the lack of awareness about the disease at the time, only a handful show up at Nick's funeral, including Ned, Tommy, Felix, and Bruce.
  • Love Dodecahedron: Tommy has a crush on Ned, who is dating Felix but also has a lingering crush on Bruce. Bruce lives with Albert, but used to live with Craig, and Craig liked Ned. Emma also has feelings for Ned.
  • Love Hurts: Oh, God, Ned. Finds the kind of transcendent, once-in-a-lifetime romance with the man of his dreams... and has to watch him slowly die from AIDS. It hurts.
  • Metaphorical Marriage: In order for Ned to assume executor position of Felix's will, they decide on a commitment ceremony with Ned's brother as witness and Emma officiating.
  • Modesty Bedsheet: When Felix and Ned are tangled together in bed after making love for the first time, the bedsheet covers the relevant bits — and only the relevant bits, making it quite plain that Matt Bomer, at least, is skin-to-the-wind underneath said bedsheet, while Ruffalo is barely more covered. To the sorrow of absolutely no one attracted to men.
  • Mood Whiplash: The movie begins with everyone happily celebrating Craig's birthday. Within 20 minutes he is dead after a bout of pneumocystosis/tuberculosis and epilepsy. It gets worse from there.
  • Mr. Fanservice: The film stars Matt Bomer and is produced by HBO. They took advantage of it. Mark Ruffalo also gets some exposure, and with good reason. Further, the opening has Taylor Kitsch and Jonathan Groff walking around in tiny bathing suits while in impeccable shape. Only to be brutally and harrowingly subverted after AIDS begins to ravage Felix's body, as the resultant Shower Scene proves. Not even a healthy (and naked) Ned can distract from that.
  • Official Couple: Ned and Felix are the love story of the play.
  • One True Love: Felix tells Ned while they are dancing that "All I was imagining all those years [before we met] was you," and calls Ned his "great, true love" when he is dying. Ned agrees instantly with this, and earlier in the film says point-blank that Felix is the man he's been waiting for all his life.
  • Shoot the Shaggy Dog: The last shot of the movie informs us that Bruce did get AIDS and died of it.
  • Socially Awkward Hero: Ned. Oh, Ned. Abrasive, blunt, a stuttering idiot when he falls in love — and a hero for the ages.
  • Token Lesbian: Estelle, who gets involved in the GMHC because her best friend died of AIDS.
  • Tragic AIDS Story: A 1985 play about the dawn of the AIDS epidemic in the gay community in the early '80s. Painfully Truth in Television; it is an essentially autobiographical account of Larry Kramer's founding of the Gay Men's Health Crisis and, later, the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP). The main character, Ned Weeks, is essentially Kramer; his "great, true love" Felix dies of AIDS at the end of the play, as do several other main characters and hundreds off-screen. The play's raw fury at the government's and the rest of the world's refusal to help — even as the death toll exceeded that of the American Civil War — when the play debuted in '85 is in part credited with bringing national attention to the crisis for the first time.
  • "Well Done, Son" Guy: It appears that Ned is that way towards Ben. Bruce may be as well towards Ned.