What your view of sports and life would be if you had too many concussions
This movie is not on my list of essential films.
NOTE: This installment of Sports Analogies Hidden In Classic Movies is not being done as part of a blog-a-thon. Instead, this is a monthly event hosted by MovieRob called Genre Grandeur. The way it works is every month MovieRob chooses a film blogger to pick a topic and a movie to write about, then also picks a movie for MovieRob to review. At the end of the month, MovieRob posts the reviews of all the participants.
For March of 2020, the honor of being the “guest picker” went to Getter of Mettel Ray. The topic is “LGBTQ+ Movies..” So, in the immortal words of Lou Reed, it’s time to “take a walk on the wild side.”
WARNING: I’m not a “politically-correct” (PC) sort of guy, largely because I firmly believe it to be little more than “inverted McCarthy-ism.” That means “PC” to me is mot often used either to twist or stifle language into meaning something it doesn’t, or to either promote a political agenda or suppress dissent thereof. I heartily believe the sentence “I believe in free speech” ends with a period. If you think it reads “I believe in free speech, but…” you’re a politically-correct type, which means you are simply a censor waiting to happen. If that’s true, do us both a favor and don’t read any further, because the following will be ANYTHING but “PC.”
“Boys Don’t Cry” is a tale centering on the exploits of “Brandon Teena” (played by Hilary Swank) who is biologically a woman having been born “Teena Renae Brandon,” but is living as a man. Naturally, this leads to trouble considering Brandon is living in rural America circa 1990; intolerance lives everywhere, but anybody being intellectually honest would understand it’s going to be easier to find in the sparse populations of the remote part of any country, not just America. This is an important thing to keep in mind, because every single person on earth has biases, and this movie is the perfect vehicle for bringing them out.
Consider this your second warning. If you reacted strongly to any part of the prior paragraph, here’s another chance for you to stop reading at this point.
Nobody really needs the supercomputers at NASA to figure out the trouble coming here centers on the discovery than Brandon is not what Brandon appears and/or purports to be. The brother of one of Brandon’s girlfriends brother discovers the reality, and it takes no time for word to spread throughout Brandon’s small town. As a result, Brandon receives death threats, gets involved in a bar fight, and is ultimately evicted. Needing a place to live, Brandon moves to Falls City, Nebraska, where there is a befriending between Brandon and ex-convicts John Lotter (played by Peter Sarsgaard), Tom Nissen (played by Brandon Sexton III), and their friends Candace and Lana Tisdel (played by Alicia Goranson and Chloë Sevigny respectively).
The point of entry for the main plot comes as Brandon becomes romantically involved with Lana, who is obviously unaware of her new lover’s past; Brandon is on the run from the law Together, Brandon and Lana make plans to move to Memphis; the plan being Brandon will manage Lana’s career as a karaoke singer career. As the relationship progresses, the inevitable happens…Brandon and Lana become intimate, during which the legal term “inevitable discovery” happens. But now knowing the truth, Lana continues.
Speaking of “inevitable,” Brandon’s arrest by the Falls City police was another thing bound to happen as a result of the failure to get far enough away from the past being avoided. Having prior charges still on the books (Brandon has a thing for stealing cars), upon processing into the jail Brandon is placed in the women’s section. Lana bails Brandon out of jail and asks about the placement in the women’s jail. Knowing what Lana knows about Brandon, this may be the dumbest question ever asked in the history of Hollywood. Proving the level of “assholery” in play here, Brandon lies to Lana, spinning a yarn about being born “intersex;” Brandon uses the term “hermaphrodite”…which was factually incorrect, but uses it to set up the further lie that genital reconstruction surgery is in the future.
Subsequently, Candace finds the proof about Brandon’s true identity in documents listing Brandon’s birth name. Regardless of the setting, the reaction is both expected and predictable. Candace and company enter Brandon’s room, where they find even more evidence to confirm what they already know. In behavior which shouldn’t shock anybody given they are ex-cons, Tom and John violently confront Brandon, forcing a revelation of Brandon’s genitalia. They try to make Lana look, but she shields her eyes and turns away.
At this point, Tom and John force Brandon into John’s car. They drive to a remote location, where they brutally beat and rape Brandon. Afterward, they their victim to Tom’s house, where despite being seriously injured, Brandon escapes through a bathroom window. In more predictable behavior, Tom and John threaten Brandon not to tell anybody what happened, but Lana finally convinces Brandon to report the attack to the police. And in a fine bit of stereotyping, the small-town police chief is portrayed as a ham-skull who is more interested in Brandon’s “sexual identity crisis” than the viciousness of the crime committed.
Then comes the nonsensical ending. Tom and John get drunk and decide they need to kill Brandon, despite the fact the cops aren’t going to do anything about the rape and assault. Lana tries to stop them, but they go to Candace’s house where John blows Brandon’s brains out. Tom shoots Candace in the head as a result of a struggle with Lana who is still trying to stop them. Then Tom tries to kill Lana but John stops him. The coup de grâce to the clumsiness of this movie is Tom stabbing Brandon’s corpse as if the viewer needed reminding of the hateful nature of these crimes.
This is your third and final warning as what lies ahead has a very high “may piss you off” quotient. don’t be the person who assails my comments section with some lofty load of “righteous indignation.” You were warned.
When “Boys Don’t Cry” was released in 1999, critics hailed it for it’s telling of the Brandon Teena story. I’ll give it that. The problem is it tells a story which needed to be told in a way that completely misses the intention of the film. The director herself admits this.
One of Peirce’s main goals was for the audience to sympathize with Brandon. On the film’s DVD commentary track, [director Kimberly] Peirce said, “The work was informing me about how I wanted to represent it. I wanted the audience to enter deeply into this place, this character, so they could entertain these contradictions in Brandon’s own mind and would not think he was crazy, would not think he was lying, but would see him as more deeply human.”
I found that odd because this movie really does exactly the opposite. Seeing why isn’t hard if you work backward from Peirce’s own words. Was Brandon “human?” Of course…we all are. Was Brandon “crazy?” I do know there is a term psychologists and psychiatrists use called “gender dysphoria,” but since my expertise in either field is limited to Psych 101 over 30 years ago I’m far from qualified to speak to that. Was Brandon a liar? There really isn’t much doubt about that.
That’s where I’ll start cataloging the reasons why Brandon is so unsympathetic. Just look at the following list as a starting point for characterizing people who don’t deserve sympathy or trust.
Like it or not, Brandon is all those things. I’ve already established the lies Brandon tells Lana, which she laps up too eagerly because she’s in love. Don’t misunderstand me here; I’m not talking about polite “little white lies” like “No, your mother’s meatloaf isn’t nauseating.” It’s clear Lana will buy anything Brandon sells, so much so it almost gets Lana killed. A true hallmark of a shitty human being is one who will abuse somebody’s trust to the level Brandon does. Anybody who does that might as well rent a billboard that says “I don’t give a shit about anybody other than myself.”
That billboard also applies to thieves. Stealing gets about an “8.5” on the “Selfish-o-Meter.” Unless you’re a pathological kleptomaniac, theft is another act which is all about “me” and “you” can go piss in your hat.
Roll those first two into one, and the common theme quickly becomes the third…”bad decisions.” Lying to a supposed loved one? Whatever…it’s not my heart that will get hurt. Steal? There’s nothing wrong with taking what I need until I end up in a 6×9 cell. Once you’re there, it’s not hard to carry that theme to what eventually got Brandon killed…hanging around with a couple meth-head ex-cons.
And therein lies my biggest problem with this movie.
I’m a big believer in Martin Luther King, Jr’s dream about people being judged on the content of their character rather than the color of their skin. Granted, race isn’t a factor in this story, but sexual identity is right up there with race on the “Identity Politics” hit parade. In other words, they are both things which don’t immediately hit my eyes when looking at people, let alone a character in a movie.
But “Boys Don’t Cry” expects me to do just that; it expects me to see Brandon through a prism of sexual identity first. The problem is that a prism is intended to blind me to the gigantic personality “red flags” flying here. It’s like reading the ingredients on a cereal box; sexual identity is on the list, but it’s way down there in terms of importance. Thief, liar, and maker of bad decisions get my attention first.
But the best example of how this movie exploits the concept sexual identity is it deliberately twists (spoiler alert) the double-homicide denouement. In reality, it was actually a triple homicide. Besides Brandon and Candace, a man named Phillip DeVine was also murdered. He’s never mentioned in the movie, largely because his presence and subsequent killing introduce the possibility that the killings may have had another motive. The movie’s omission of DeVine’s murder has helped to sweep this from the folklore, and the convictions of both John Lotter and Tom Nissen involved a lot of them blaming each other for the killings. Naturally, that was an attempt on both of their parts to both save their own necks by muddying the waters.
But what got lost in that obfuscation; motive really didn’t matter than much in the face of overwhelming physical evidence…was that it was entirely possible DeVine was the actual target. There were investigators who thought the motive for the murders could have been a drug deal in which Lotter and Nissen felt they had been cheated by DeVine, and they killed him in revenge. That theory continues with Candace and Brandon having been eliminated as potential witnesses.
The bottom line mirrors the trial; the reason why matters less than the fact that three people ended up dead. But the fact this movie deliberately twists reality to fit a supposed message to me completely backfired. The directer herself admits that. If the goal of “Boys Don’t Cry” was to make Brandon Teena a sympathetic character. Sexual identity isn’t enough alone to get me there; in my book, consenting adults can do whatever the hell they want as long as they aren’t hurting anybody. But liars and thieves hurt innocent people.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying anybody deserves to get raped and murdered, but if the old saw about “good things happen to good people” is true, then the opposite “bad things happen to bad people” must also be true. Being a proven liar and thief, Brandon Teena was not a good person.
End of story.
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