They had been married for 25 years when Roy Applewood announced his intention to undergo a sex change operation. He shocks his wife Irma, his church and his community. He is ridiculed by his co-workers and shunned by his pastor. His wife is revolted and tells him to leave the family home. But after witnessing her husband’s attempt to shoot off his head with a shotgun in a moment of sheer loneliness and desperation, she takes him back into their house and resolves to accept him–man or woman. She sums it up in a single statement, “I want him alive and I want him with me.”
HBO’s adaptation of a Jane Anderson play, Normal takes a deeper look into marriage, parenthood and love. Of course, it’s fiction. To my mind, the story dealt with the ideal rather than the real.
Can it happen? Can a woman, after 25 years of ‘normal’ marriage truly accept her husband not as the man with whom she had shared her bed, her life and her dreams but as another woman in the household who just happened to be the source of the sperm that led to the conception of their two children?
I don’t take issue with the right of Roy Applewood to make his choices. As far as I’m concerned, every person has the right to make choices as to how he can be ‘whole’–how he can reach his potential as a human being. Full potential for happiness, fulfillment and self-respect.
On the other hand, a parent would weigh his choices to strike a reasonable balance between what would be good for him as a person and what would be good for each member of his family. Was Roy being selfish? He was an adult. Yet, he relied heavily on the understanding and acceptance of his family as though expecting his adolescent daughter and grown son to be more adult than he was… to be more giving than he could be. There seemed to be the implied statement that for 25 years, I have done everything for you… now, it’s my turn and I need you to return the love and caring that I have given you. Until Irma threw him out in the beginning of the story, he truly expected to carry on with their lives normally after the sex change operation.
I do not know if even the most broad-minded and magnanimous woman will be able to do what Irma did without damage to her own psyche, emotions and ideals.
I tried to see it from the point of view of Irma as well as from the daughter Patty Ann’s perspective. If I were in either of their shoes, could I? Would I? I honestly do not know. I do know, however, that when pushed to the extreme, people find themselves capable of things they never dream of under ‘normal’ circumstances.
As a film, there is nothing wanting with Normal. Superb performances from Jessica Lange (Irma) and Tom Wilkinson (Roy). Even the supporting cast delivered. The treatment of the issue, sensitive and controversial though it was, was handled with a minimum of hysterics. There was no trace of preachiness or of being judgmental (only the pastor was unequivocally judgmental). Roy was not repulsive; he was endearing. Irma was not a victim; she was a pillar of strength. Their two children were not insensitive. After the intial shock came acceptance and, with their mother, they brought out a whole new dimension to the meaning of love and being human.
Normal is just a play that was made into a film–the figment of one woman’s imagination. But it tickles the mind and the heart into exploring avenues that can lead to some very deep self-assessment. It makes one think and feel beyond the ‘normal’ parameters of human experience.
Normal, my kind of movie.