A Normal Heart Viewing Party: Two Generations of Gay Men Watch the Past Turn Into the Future on HBO

By Avram Finkelstein
27 May 2014

Mark Ruffalo and Taylor Kitsch inThe Normal Heart.
Photo by Jojo Whilden

Avram: I was also puzzled by the omission of the generations of activism that Ned Weeks and Larry himself were screaming for. But I also acknowledge there is at least one generation who knows nothing about the terrors of that moment, and mightn't that be what the revival of interest in the play is about? This production certainly stands on its own two feet in that regard.

And still, loads of people see it in the abstract — I mean, you kinda admitted some version of that yourself. And, apparently, the same might be true for me.

My every sleeping and waking moment is centered around HIV/AIDS, and I was familiar with the scene where Ned Weeks throws a milk carton at the wall because he thinks his dying boyfriend isn't fighting hard enough. I had even talked about that scene with Larry, but this time, for the first time, it reminded me of my greatest regret about Don's illness.

After his last, second hospitalization he asked me if it would be okay to refuse the Pentamidine we had to requisition directly from the Centers for Disease Control, because the treatments caused him severe pain. And I screamed at him, right there on 42nd Street, a block away from our apartment, for asking my permission to die over the pain of living. It is a source of great shame for me, but I couldn't agree to let him go. I was your age, Dan, when that was happening to me, too young to understand what he was asking of me — what he needed of me — and I was going through this terrible moment alone because I was too afraid to lean on him to help me through it. We had shared everything as a couple, but I robbed both of us of sharing the most important thing you can go through with someone, because I felt so lost.

And to make things worse, he had sworn me to secrecy so he could continue to work. That was a scene in the movie. And the last time I took him to the hospital, they thought he was my father, another scene. And so was having to bring Don's food in from the hospital corridor.

As I was watching, I was remembering it all and realized: that milk carton scene, it wasn't just theatrical histrionics. It was real; it is what I was going through the year you were born, Dan. And on the other side of town, Larry was going through it as well.

Maybe watching it with you — a person I trust completely when it comes to understanding the vast complexity of this moment — freed me to see something I hadn't noticed before. I am extremely conscious of my connection to all of my comrades in the trenches back then. Like Larry, it's all I think about, write about and talk about. But I am also connected to everyone before that activist moment, everyone else who went through it, on the other side of town.

So it seems that in my living room, Larry, the polemicist, had finally reached Avram, the propagandist, because Dan, the mensch, was there in the room with me. Three generations, in a room, watching the past turn into the future, on HBO.

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Mark Ruffalo
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