Larry Kramer is known as a screaming, angry figure. The most prominent AIDS activist of all time, he gave a face to the anger, confusion, and rage to the gay men who were initially afraid whenever the epidemic broke out in the early 1980’s. His contributions to the gay community are countless, and he can be credited with saving so many lives with his activism. HBO’s Larry Kramer In Love & Anger recounts his leadership, but reminds us that he faced familiar conflicts with his family and similar issues most LGBT people encounter.
It was obvious that Love & Anger would later focus on Kramer’s AIDS work, but those unfamiliar with the man himself learned a lot from the HBO doc. Clocking in at an all-too-brief 82 minutes, it opens with Kramer in the hospital after a liver transplant in 2013. He’s lived with AIDS since 1988, and the complications from the surgery landed him in the hospital for a longer stay. Love & Anger cuts back and forth through Kramer’s recovery as it paints a portrait of the man we all know.
Before he found success in screenwriting (he garnered an Oscar nomination for Women in Love in 1969), Kramer suffered a rocky relationship with his father. Kramer recounts how his father continually referred to him as a “sissy” and complained that he was an effeminate young man. As Kramer tells these stories (intercut with scenes from his play The Destiny of Me), we see flashes of pictures from his youth. In all of the portraits and school snapshots, Kramer never smiles. He was a handsome guy—a cross between Michael Stuhlbarg and Mad Men’s Rich Sommer—but it always felt like he was never allowed to smile. Kramer’s relationship with his father maybe made him very serious too soon. One cannot complain, though. Perhaps the hardness with his father prepared him to be more confrontational with the disease he would ultimately afflict him?
One could read on and on about Kramer’s angered activism and his unapologetic attitude. This is compelling stuff, and it could have been the subject of a larger miniseries if HBO wanted to invest in it. The Supreme Court ruling on gay marriage is something to celebrate, but this documentary should remind the gay community of the fights that could be encountered down the road. There’s stock footage of protests that could probably not happen today. Watching cops drag protesters back and hearing screaming chants about the FDA not regulating HIV medication is still visceral and loud. A legion of fighting was created by one man: Larry Kramer.
There are testimonials from men who were involved in the initial Gay Man’s Health Crisis, and underneath a lot of their names is a small (almost fleeting) mention that they died in the initial epidemic. The archival footage still feels alive, and the confessionals remain raw and unhealed. This is a documentary about one man, but, more importantly, it’s about how he affected so many people in so many ways. One of the men mentions that it only takes one voice to start a revolution. It’s a somewhat clichéd sentiment, but in the case of Larry Kramer, it’s all too real. Watching this bearded man remind us how hard it was to just live is heartbreaking and important. Kramer clawed his way through that epidemic, and he is still fighting for his life.
No other man deserves a megaphone more than him.