Category: Films about actual people who had sad lives. It’s a well-known fact that lots of people in the world have rough lives. But this isn’t just true of people in Third World countries and such. Even here in America, empirically the best country of all time, some people have it tough. Often, if they’re really sad, or if their experiences can teach us lessons about how we should live, people make films about them. Brandon Teena, the protagonist of this film, is one such person.
More specifically, we can also classify Boys Don’t Cry as a movie about LGBT issues. Unfortunately, these movies are often sad, as the LGBT community has throughout history endured harassment and discrimination that exists to this day. Other films in this genre include The Laramie Project, Brokeback Mountain, and Milk.
My familiarity with this issue: I am not gay. However, I love the gays. I love ‘em as much as any straight person I know. I have many gay friends, and I am all about gay marriage. Boys Don’t Cry is of course more specifically about a transgendered individual. While I do not personally know any transgendered individuals, I’d bet that if I did, I’d love them as much as I love the gays.
Plot summary yoinked from IMDb: “Brandon Teena is the popular new guy in a tiny Nebraska town. He hangs out with the guys, drinking, cussing, and bumper surfing, and he charms the young women, who've never met a more sensitive and considerate young man. Life is good for Brandon, now that he's one of the guys and dating hometown beauty Lana. However, he's forgotten to mention one important detail.” (Let's just note how harmless this makes the movie sound. As if the "one important detail" he's forgotten to mention is that he's actually the King of Spain or something.)
What I thought of the movie: Jeez. It’s a really well-done movie. Hilary Swank won an Oscar for portraying Brandon Teena, a role that requires her to make the audience believe that she could make everyone around her believe she was male. (Let’s note this now: the gender terminology here is tricky, and as someone who never took women’s studies or queer studies or any other such course in college, I apologize now for not being up on that. Though the person who the film is about was born Teena Brandon, to refer to him by anything other than Brandon Teena would really kind of be missing the whole point. The term Wikipedia uses is “female-to-male pre-operative transsexual,” and I’ve never gone wrong trusting Wikipedia before.)
The truly remarkable thing about Brandon Teena was his audacity (meant in the positive, Barack Obama sense of the term much more so than the “how dare you have the audacity” kind of way). The director of the film, Kimberly Peirce, has stated that what struck her most about Brandon was “the intensity of her desire to turn herself into a boy, [and] the fact that she did it with no role models.” (Thanks again, Wikipedia!) The degree to which the concept of transgender was known, let alone accepted, in 1993 was very small; the degree to which it was known in small-town Nebraska was pretty much zero. The other characters cannot understand what Brandon Teena is, nor can they comprehend or empathize with the concept of a “sexual identity crisis.” The movie really captures the desolate oppressiveness of this small town and its inhabitants. For all the conversations that he and his girlfriend Lana (Chloe Sevigny, in a deservedly Oscar-nominated performance) about leaving town, the sad fact is that, after a certain point, Brandon Teena really never had a chance to get out alive.
How I, John Krizel, related to the movie: Based on what I knew about the film and the life of Brandon Teena, I figured I wouldn’t have too much in common with the characters here. But then I read this sentence in the aforementioned IMDb plot summary: “He hangs out with the guys, drinking, cussing, and bumper surfing, and he charms the young women, who've never met a more sensitive and considerate young man.” You’ll often find me hanging out with the bros, having a drink and a cuss, and if they mean what I think they mean by “bumper surfing,” then we’re 3-for-3 here. And I don’t even need to address the second part of that sentence. C’mon now. So that gave me some hope.
Generally speaking though, I had little to go on here. I grew up in Oceanside, New York, on Long Island, and while I was a bit of a nerd in my younger years, the worst thing that ever really happened was if someone wrote a really catty LiveJournal entry about me. I can recall many weekends sitting around with friends at someone’s house, bored, and constantly hearing the phrase, “there’s nothing to do here.” Compared to Falls City, Nebraska, where the film takes place, my hometown was like the Vegas Strip. All the characters do is drink beer, the aforementioned bumper surfing (a MUCH more dangerous activity than what I was thinking), drink more beer, and act homophobic. At least in Oceanside we had bowling.
How I felt after the movie ended: Pretty depressed. I’d say more depressed than yesterday. (Maybe this is because Wladyslaw Szpilman survives his ordeal? Something to think about.) I knew going in that Brandon Teena was raped and murdered, but that did not make watching the last half hour of the film any easier. It’s terrible, terrible stuff. Added to which is the fact that I will never be able to watch Hilary Swank or Peter Sarsgaard (who plays John Lotter, one of the men who raped and murdered Brandon Teena) in anything ever again without thinking of this movie. Oof.
And yet... maybe this makes me a bad person, but there is an element of gratefulness that comes with watching a movie like this. Namely, that I have never had to deal with anything as bad as Brandon Teena did in his tragically short life. Of course, right behind that emotion comes the guilt for thinking that in the first place. So it's a balancing act at this point.