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Cult Column: Boys Don’t Cry (1999)

ByAlice Haddlesey

Mar 4, 2018

They say that you do crazy things for people that you love, but maybe that isn’t the case. Boys Don’t Cry (1999) demonstrates that life isn’t crazy – people are. People are capable of horrendous atrocities when they are afraid and when they can’t understand something.

The film is based on the true event of the 1993 murder case of Brandon Teena. The narrative is brave, beautiful and utterly heart-breaking. Everything is done painfully well; the plot will stay with you long after it has finished. Despite the tragedy, the film centres on love in its purest form, above all else.

Brandon (Hilary Swank) has short, cropped hair and walks and talks like a man, set with a bound chest and padded crotch – it is the perfect disguise. During a late-night karaoke session, Brandon falls instantly in love with Lana (Chloe Sevigny) who warbles out a haunted teenage version of ‘The Bluest Eyes in Texas’.

The consequence of Brandon’s non-conventional ‘otherness’ to the other men lead to devastating consequences. The ringleader John (Peter Saarsgard) and his sidekick Tom (Brendan Sexton III) make it their mission to cruelly and viciously attack Brandon. Brandon and Lana fall deeply, intimately in love and, as their relationship develops, the story focuses on the intricacies of a non-heterosexual dynamic. Upon discovering that Brandon is not biologically a man, Lana follows her heart and stands by him: proving that love truly is more powerful than hatred or fear.

The film is beautifully captured, from the sharp cinematography to the poignant, Oscar-winning acting by the talented cast. Swank is achingly real in her portrayal of Brandon, having intensely studied the mannerisms and behaviour of men to prepare her for the role. The love between Brandon and Lana is the sole beacon of hope; it is the thing that we desperately cling to despite knowing that there can be no happy resolution. It is candid in its simplicity – transcending physicality, it is a meeting of minds and souls.

Brandon faces oppression for his gender identity crisis: being beaten, raped and eventually murdered in a horrific sequence of scenes. This film, although intensely hard to process, is more relevant than ever as we progress into a world that openly debates gender. As knowledge surrounding gender becomes more fluid, people’s minds become more open. And yet, there is still so much more work to be done in terms of gender equality and sexual orientation rights.

This story is an example of deep-rooted homophobia and herd mentality which leads to the ‘bystander effect’. This diffusion of responsibility ensures that people do not stand up for morally atrocious crimes, if they feel like they, themselves, might be threatened. The contrast between the pure fragility of the love story to the devastation of the attack is uncanny. The assaults are graphic and harrowing but equally Brandon’s voice is stolen away before our eyes. Like so many victims of sexual and gendered assault, Brandon becomes another brutalised statistic – the audience painfully aware of his journey before his untimely end. We feel the acuteness of Brandon’s suffering.

Fear can breed true monstrosities. The tragedy is that people don’t try and look beyond the obvious, they always see only what they want to see. As long as people are thrust into boxes and forced to remain silent through their suffering, there will always be more Brandon Teenas.

Image: Jaymantri via Pexels



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