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A Film Critique of the Movie Boys Don’t Cry

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Introduction

This paper develops a film critique of a movie Boys Don’t Cry released in 1999.  The film is about discrimination in the society against homosexuals and other forms of sexual preferences or differences. The main objective of the paper is to critically analyze the various aspects of the film in order to generate a conclusion that would prove the thesis statement.              

The film is chosen because of its tremendous impact on the viewers because of the excellent story line, substantial themes, and remarkable film making skills of the director. Boys Don’t Cry was directed by Kimberly Peirce and co-written by Andy Bienen. The film was an American independent romantic drama film that portrayed the life story of Brandon Teena, who is depicted as a transgender. Hilary Swank played the role of Brandon Teena who was born as a female but has chosen to be a man.

The main thesis of the paper is that the emotionally charged scenes, which are attributed to the remarkable film making skills of the director, and socially relevant theme that emphasizes discrimination against homosexuality have made the movie an intriguing and interesting to watch. While watching this movie it is nearly impossible not to be touched emotionally by the tragic incidents that occurred in Brandon’s life because of his sexual preference. Aside from that, the film maker has made the scenes emotionally appealing that contributed to achieving of the award winning status of Boys Don’t Cry.

Storytelling

The film is about the transformation of a character from one gender to the other. The story has evolved around the confusion of the sexual identity by main character named Brandon. Brandon has been presented in the film as a non-operative transgender person. He is biologically female since birth but has tried to exhibit male behaviors up to the point that he completely convinced himself and the people around him that he is a male. Consequently, Brandon has been depicted as a male until he reached the adolescent stage.

With his presentation to the public, Brandon has successfully persuaded people who know him that he is a man. In fact, nobody doubted his masculinity and never suspected that he is biologically a female. The ways he dressed, acted, and talked clearly characterize a male teenager. This is why he belongs to the category of intersexed people because of his sexual confusion that has resulted to identity crisis.

As the story goes on, it is noticeable that Brandon is always in constant struggle with the public perception of him. He has done everything he could in order for his significant others to be convinced of him as a male. For that matter, Brandon has made sure that his breasts would not be revealed by putting garments underneath the clothes. In other words, he presented himself to the public by wearing male attires and by behaving in masculine manner just to convince people that he is a male.

However, his life has been full of disappointments because of his constant struggle to be an acknowledged male. One of his problems occurred when the brother of a woman he was going out with discovered that Brandon was really a female biologically. This was the dramatic scene when his secret was revealed for the first time. Brandon became confused and anxious about what happened because the woman’s brother was shocked of what he discovered. Brandon did not know what to do with the secret being revealed to the public. Unfortunately, it was the start of his misfortunes and he became the object of ridicules and threats of it. He was actually physically beaten by people in a bar because he was different. In addition, his cousin ousted him out of the trailer where he used to live.

After some excruciating experiences in his hometown, he decided to go to another place where nobody really knows him. Brandon accidentally settled in the Falls City of Nebraska. In this city, he met two ex-convicts named John Lotter and Tom Nissen, with two others Candace and Lana Tisdel. These characters of the story were convinced at first that Brandon was indeed a male. They had no idea about the secret of Brandon. The sexual identity of Brandon was not revealed until a romantic affair has blossomed between him and Lana.  Lana was also fully convinced that Brandon has biologically male body.

The love affair of Brandon and Lana has actually lasted for quite some time. Brandon has successfully persuaded Lana that he has a biologically male body through his masculine behavior. For instance, every time they would kiss, Brandon has not allowed Lana to touch his breasts or his other private parts. Also, Brandon did not permit any opportunity for him to be seen undressed while having their romantic gestures with each other.   

The plan of Brandon was almost perfect until he was arrested and was imprisoned in a women’s detention center. When Brandon was captured for certain legal charges, the policemen placed him in the women’s detention center because his sexual identity was already discovered. Interestingly, Lana was the one who aided Brandon’s release from prison. In doing so, Lana was surprised that Brandon was detained in the women’s center of the prison.

In an attempt to further hide the truth from Lana, Brandon lied and admitted that he was a   hermaphrodite. Brandon further explained that he would soon have an operation for a sex change. As an evident of Lana’s love for Brandon, the woman accepted her boyfriend regardless of the sexual identity.

The plot of the film has thickened when the two ex-convicts learned Brandon’s true identity because of a newspaper revealing the real name of Brandon. With the violent nature of Tom and John along with the extreme prejudice against homosexuality, they ridiculed and sexually abused Brandon in abandoned area. By taking off his pants, the two forced to look at the sexual organ of Brandon to validate the sexual identity. Though Brandon tried to fight back, he was physically and sexually assaulted by Tom and John.

Out of fear Brandon just kept the incident a secret. Lana was convincing Brandon to report the case but because of the threat of Tom and John, the incident became a secret. In the decision not to report it to the police, Tom and John were able to kill Brandon in the abandoned house. The story ended when Lana transferred to another city. She received a letter written by Brandon expressing his love to her. 

Acting

In terms of acting, the main actress Hilary Swank, who played the role of Brandon Teena in the film, has certainly given justice to the character. If one would look at the appearance of Hilary Swank in other films such as The Next Karate Kid andTV series Beverly Hills 90210, she has an entirely different look in the movie Boys Don’t Cry. Hilary Swank has effectively internalized the character of Brandon Teena because of masculine gestures with matching male haircut and attires. It was really an award-winning role for Hilary Swank because her acting seemed so real that it would be difficult to detect her true gender if one did not really know her. Aside from that, the haircut was quite masculine that it has emphasized that Brandon was a male character.

The acting of Hilary Swank is even captivating when she was raped by Tom and John at the latter part of the film. The rape scene seems so real mainly because of Hilary Swank’s performance. Of course, Hilary Swank’s performance is not only commendable in the said scene but throughout the whole film. Her acting was mostly believable when she was kissing Lana as if she was really a homosexual or a lesbian.

Indeed, seldom that I view a movie where such character exists. I could not imagine how Hilary Swank would perform a role where she is not a lesbian but is trying to be a man. Actually, the character of Brandon is not a lesbian but rather a person who would like to be a man. Hilary Swank pulled the appearance when she wore male attires and a masculine haircut. More importantly, depicting a role of a person trying to be a man is quite difficult, but is very convincing from the audience’s point of view. The substance of the film is certainly founded on the performance of this actress.

Aside from Hilary Swank, the other actors like Peter Sarsgaard (John) and Brendan Sexton III (Tom) also performed excellently. They were especially believable in the rape scene. It would seem that the aforementioned scene is not scripted because of the acting of the two. Of course, Chloë Sevigny who played Lana has also contributed to the admirable performance of Hilary Swank. These four actors and actresses have made the film a very interesting one (Rooney, 2001).

Cinematography

The film was directed by director Kimberly Peirce. The film making prowess of Peirce as a director has definitely revealed through the Boys Don't Cry. Aside from choosing the right actors and actresses to play the important roles, director Peirce has managed to make the film more visually appealing. The dim lighting in Nebraska that Peirce has applied would signify the gloomy outlook of the story of the main character.

It would be observable that the lighting is predominantly dark and saturated. This visual style depicts a kind of story that Kimberly Peirce would like to send to the viewers. The dark and surreal effects of the lightings symbolize that the film would have a happy ending. In this aspect of the cinematography, the photographic techniques of director are very effective.

Kimberly Peirce has made the violent scenes more emotionally appealing by moving the camera in a more flexible manner. Almost every angle of the rape scene, especially the one when Brandon was being stripped off of his pants, was taken in order to arouse the emotion of the viewers about the frustrating and humiliating incident. Also, the camera was composed in the manner that scenes were taken on a concentrated way without any form of shaking. This is an essential part of shooting the scenes because characters are often distracted when camera is too shaky.

Incidentally, there were no special effects to exaggerate any of the scenes. The main plan was to present a film that would depict a life of an ordinary person with an identity crisis. This is why most scenes were taken at night to give the illusion of the male features of Hilary Swank. This is noticeable when Brandon and Lana were kissing. The brightness of the background is balanced with the appropriate darkness that would emphasize the characters while hiding the true identity of Brandon.

Sound

In terms of the soundtracks, the film has a compilation of country and rock music. Obviously, the title of the film was taken from the popular rock music played by The Cure, British rock band. The soundtracks have made the film even more appealing because they perfectly fit the theme of the movie. The masculine behavior of Brandon is supported by the variation of songs that are predominantly rock. The music was particularly noticeable when Brandon and Lana were making love in the car although the volume was just low.

Style and Directing

The directing style of Peirce was technically competent because the scenes were chosen seriously according to the script. As claimed by Eileraas (2002) in her article, the director has actually depicted the scenes that would move the audience emotionally as they were taken with intensity by the actors and actresses involved. Aside from that, the settings have been captured based on the mood of the scenes. For instance, the rape scene was shot at night to portray an emotionally charged event. The said scene also is convincing with the acting of Hilary Swank and her attackers in the film. The director just allowed the actors and actresses to portray what is supposed to be done in the said rape scene.

Directing is all about execution and director Peirce has evidently unraveled the potentials of her actors and actresses because of the excellent portrayals of the scenes, which made the film very convincing. Director Peirce is basically commendable in the use of cameras and the direction of the performances of actors and actresses. 

Impact of Society on the Film and Vice Versa

The theme of the film is certainly socially relevant. Its emotional appeal would come from the fact of life that community still discriminates people with different sexual orientations. The society perceives these behaviors as socially unacceptable. Boys Don’t Cry is a film that shows how transgender and homosexuals are prejudiced by the society at large. Brandon’s misfortunes in the film are actual depictions of how transgenders are usually treated by the society during that time. It would only mean that such sexual identity was not yet accepted based on the cultural standards. Brandon was a classic example of a person who has already accepted his unique sexual identity, but was ostracized and abused by those who do not accept and understand his condition.

The film has a very serious impact, especially on those who are still confused of their sexual identity. There are many Brandons in the world that can relate to the theme of the film. For them keeping their true sexual identities should still mean struggle  in order to be accepted by the public. This is because if such sexual identities are revealed, they may be subjects to certain physical abuses and maltreatments that Brandon has experienced in the film. For a fact, the abuses that Brandon went through in the movie were clear cases of gender discrimination. The insights that can be taken from the film are so deep that the viewers would rethink how people like Brandon would survive in a very judgmental society (Eileraas, 2002).

Apparently, the film has presented the various kinds of verbal and sexual abuses that the society can give to transgenders. It is also helpful in alleviating the awareness of the viewers of such discrimination. The film is trying to imply that a change of attitude should be done toward people with such sexual orientations through the degrading and emotionally moving scenes. It was definitely an eye opener to the public because the film has effectively attracted sympathy and compassion toward the main character. Though Brandon was treated as somewhat like a criminal, he did not do anything wrong except choosing a sexual identity that is not accepted by the society (Eileraas, 2002).

Genre

The film is a combination of romance, tragedy and drama with some action scenes. Though that is the case, it would be observable that the whole story is a dramatic account of the life of a person with distinct sexual orientation. For the most part of the story, Brandon has been confused about his sexual identity. The love scene with Lana was just a little part of the story that has made Brandon’s life meaningful, which was even disrupted by disappointing succeeding events.

While viewing the film, it is inevitable not to be saddened by the events that have made the life of Brandon so miserable. The story is really a tragic one mainly because of the discriminations and the sexual assault that Brandon has experienced in the film. The tragic events have even resulted to Brandon’s death in the hands of those who raped him at the end of the story.

Application the Approach to Analysis and Interpretation

In scrutinizing further the whole film, it is worth noting that it is adheres to social realism. As social realist, director Peirce has depicted the life of a discriminated transgender. Social realism is an attempt to portray the life of a person in the truest manner. In this context, the representation in the movie is as much as possible a replicate of what happened in reality. Moreover, social realism advocates that the dark or ugly side of life should be represented in a realistic way. Basically, social realism is also a commentary about the injustices that affect ordinary people and trivial aspects of life (Trumbull, 2009).

Boys Don’t Cry is certainly a social realist film because the prejudices that a transgender like Brandon has experienced have been magnified through the movie. Director Peirce has intentionally chosen this piece of reality to expose the unpleasant occurrences that have victimized Brandon.

Conclusion

It is necessary to conclude that the film Boys Don’t Cry is interesting and emotionally charged movie because of the excellent film making skills of Kimberly Peirce as a director and the remarkable portrayals of Hilary Swank and the supporting casts. As a fact, director Pierce has magnificently utilized the flexibility of the camera in order to capture the emotionally charged moments in Brandon’s tragic life. The rape scene and other incidents have been showed meaningfully and realistically through the effective manipulation of the camera.

The film has been especially admired because of Hilary Swank’s superb performance as a transgender. The film has converted the said actress from a girl-next-door into a more serious character. The transformation of Hilary Swank into a transgender character was noticeable due to her acting prowess and the motivational skills of director Kimberly Peirce. With the mentioned observation and analysis, the film is highly recommended for public viewing in order to enhance the level of awareness of most people about transgender or homosexuality.

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