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Movie Review

Boys Don’t Cry

MPAA Rating: R for violence including an intense brutal rape scene, sexuality, language and drug use.

Reviewed by: Jim O’Neill
CONTRIBUTOR

Extremely Offensive
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Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Adults
Genre:
Drama
Length:
1 hr. 55 min.
Year of Release:
1999
USA Release:
September 2, 1999 (festival)
Relevant issues
Hilary Swank in Boys Don't Cry

About murder in the Bible

Death in the Bible

Rape

Rape victims stories

Shame and rape

Justice

Justice

Justice of God

Just One

The final judgment of God

GAY—What’s wrong with being gay? Answer
Homosexual behavior versus the Bible: Are people born gay? Does homosexuality harm anyone? Is it anyone’s business? Are homosexual and heterosexual relationships equally valid?

What about gays needs to change? Answer
It may not be what you think.

What does the Bible say about same sex marriages? Answer

Read stories about those who have struggled with homosexuality

Featuring: Hilary Swank, Chloe Sevigny, Peter Sarsgaard, Alison Folland, Brendan Sexton III
Director: Kimberly Peirce, Jim Denault
Producer: Christine Vachon, John Hart, Pamela Koffler, Eva Kolodner, Jeff Sharp
Distributor: Fox Searchlight

Teena Brandon was 19 when she was murdered in Nebraska in 1993. Her story made national headlines not because she was a lost youth who met a tragic early end—we read about several on the bottom of page forty seven of every newspaper every day, or because her criminal record was significant—her crimes were as pedestrian and petty as they were common, or because her home life left her aimless and detached from the rest of the world—her aimlessness is what gave her a connection to the rest of the aimless children who were a part of the times she grew up in. Teena Brandon was famous not as a person. In fact, Teena Brandon, the person, stopped existing before her death. It was her alter-ego, Brandon Teena, who became the celebrity that captured the imagination of the public, and the media. “Vanity Fair” did an “in-depth” story. A documentary is made for television. Hollywood was sure to follow. Teena Brandon could have been the black dahlia of the nineties if her killing wasn’t soon eclipsed by that of Matthew Shepard, another sexually motivated murder, and if not for the contrast of landscapes. The dahlia died in the 1950’s in the optimistic limitless landscape of sunny Los Angeles.

The Brandon murder, like the Shepard one, involved evil of a different sort in a different time in a different place. The backdrop was not glamorous. The roads seemed to lead to nowhere. The dahlia had choices in her life and one day she made a bad one. Brandon and Shepard didn’t seem to have many choices. The Nebraska and Wyoming landscapes, even in the press reports, come across as flat and cold and icy, without hope and without comfort.

Scene from Boys Don't Cry

First-time director Kimberly Pierce has caught the desolation of the Nebraska landscape in “Boys Don’t Cry” in a way that makes it as vivid as the sorry characters who inhabit its motor homes and untended farmhouses. She also infuses the film with a dreamlike quality. Clouds roll in a surreal-like way and the sky turns a neon-like blue above the character’s heads. These images are beautiful, but for the people below they are images that are out of reach. As is Teena Brandon’s wish of being a boy.

She passed as a boy, despite some glaring evidence to the contrary, thanks not as much to her own efforts which were oftentimes as inept as her petty crimes, as to the gullibility and the self-deception of the people around her. When her deceptions are uncovered by two ex-cons, one of whom is the brother of the girl Teena successfully beds, the two men rape her. When Teena tries to escape with her girlfriend the men murder her.

The film is often touted as a search for identity and fulfillment in a world that doesn’t understand differences. But Teena’s search is common to many of today’s spiritually-starved adolescents: she wants to have sex. She prefers women to men and it is easier to find them if the pursuer is a man. I didn’t get the notion from the movie, or from the magazine pieces, that there was a deep-rooted identity problem, one in which Teena was actually a man living inside a woman’s body. Her personality doesn’t seem complex enough for that. Her major talents seemed to be in picking the right suckers at the right time and knowing when her trail was hot enough to necessitate a quick exit out of town. Hilary Swank gives a masterful performance as the tortured Teena, elevating the character to tragic status. She uses her wide mouth in an inviting and seductive way. Broad-mouthed stars like Joan Crawford and Lana Turner kept their smiles in check, in part to keep from looking comically foolish. Swank is not afraid to use her smile and it works like magic. But she also curls her mouth downward to depths that evoke an almost limitless sorrow. Even better is Chloe Sevigny as Teena’s love interest. She has the harder role of making herself believe and making us believe she believes that Teena is, despite the hearsay and the feminine anatomy, truly a boy.

“Boys Don’t Cry” is a well told, but sad story. Teena Brandon was an unfortunate soul who lived in a godless world without hope and without salvation. The film offers no solution to the dilemmas that it presents. The printed epilogue at the end of the movie, now a fixture of this “based on fact” genre tells the story of the characters who are still alive. We expect a surprise or a shock from the white on black print, but the content is always predictable. The most shocking thing about the story is how soon it is bound to repeat itself. And how soon the repeat will be repackaged as entertainment.

Graphic content includes bloody violence; a gang rape scene; extreme profanity and various obscenities; and several sexual encounters including nudity and movement, implied oral sex and other sexually suggestive dialogue and situations (including homosexual).


Viewer Comments
…this film was excellent and I recommend it to all who would be interested in something that provokes thought and expands their knowledge.
—Brett Aurit, age 20
…while many Christians would argue that the film advocates homosexuality, I would argue that the movie advocates tolerance and love toward people different than you and me… “Boys Don’t Cry” also brings to light the reality of hate crimes against the lgbt community, which are sadly a result of the growing homophobia of Christians and non-christians alike.
—Collier Goode, age 19
I was not surprised at how Brandon was treated after the two guys found out his true sex. I was not surprised because time after time I have heard stories of how people react when they find out someone is gay… The movie also shows how women are “still” treated as if they are nothing more than a piece of meat to many men. As soon as the two men found out that Brandon was a female, they raped her. Even though it seems like the one guy had “feelings” that were more than just friendship to Brandon even when he thought Brandon was a man. It speaks volumes about a lot of men who say they would never have feelings for or have sex with another man. Another example of just how many sicko’s and liar’s there really are in this world. Bravo to the people who got this story out. It’s time for people to hear the truth.
—Roger, age 32
…This movie reminds us that nobody, regardless of whether you agree with their actions or not should be treated in such a cruel manner just because you don’t agree with how they deal with their emotional problems… There is a graphic rape scene that is hard to watch, but I commend the filmmakers for showing it in graphic detail so that the audience can understand…
—Andrew, age 23
Transsexualism is a thought-provoking issue, especially for Christians. Is it possible to have a female body and a male personality? Would God allow this? How would He have such a person deal with their condition? As a movie, “Boys Don’t Cry” was very well made. The photography, acting, music and editing were near perfection. I would not suggest it for children or new Christians, though—many of the issues raised are disturbing spiritually, and there are lots of graphically violence and sexual scenes.
—Kim Brasfield