November 24, 2010

Queer Review: Boys Don't Cry

Boys Don't Cry falls into the general category of films that can be very difficult to watch, but that should not necessarily a reason to avoid watching it. Two scenes in particular stand out for there uncomfortably graphic presentation of a rape and multiple murder. This movie is a downer and I came to the end of it feeling unusually depressed. What makes this movie redeemable is that this is a non-exploitative presentation of a real trans female-to-male individual who was brutally violated and then later murdered for daring to live according to his true identity.

The story follows Teena Brandon, who at the beginning of the movie, has just moved to a small rural Nebraska town. At the start, Brandon seems to fit right in. He wins over the girls with his sensitivity and the guys like him as he appears to be just like one of them with his drinking, cussing, and bumper riding. Then its discovered that Brandon is not biological male and events spiral out of control towards their tragic and inevitable conclusion.

The movie's cast is headed by Hilary Swank, who gives the most memorable performance. Swank presents Brandon as cocky and fearless, yet her performance also shows subtle moments of uncertainty and fear beneath the swagger. Chloƫ Sevigny and Peter Sarsgaard also give strong performances as Brandon's lover and main antagonist respectively.

Kimberly Peirce directed Boys Don't Cry and - other than a few pretentiously surreal shots and short scenes - provides a firm grounding for the film. She does a very good job of building a sense of dread and making the audience acutely aware of the danger Brandon is in once events have reached a tipping point.

A couple of scenes stand out that I want to mention. One, where Brendon is being cruelly forced to expose himself (to determine his biological gender) he looks up and sees himself standing outside the bathroom he's in, watching himself being violated. It's a brief, yet powerful moment and made me think about how many people undergoing traumatic events often report having an out of body experience.

The other scene, is where Brendon is raped. The scene is not presented any more graphically then is necessary, but this is the point where most people will find themselves involuntarily looking away from what is happening on screen.

I am recommending this film in spite of it's depressing and disturbing content on the grounds that it is telling a worthwhile story and told it rather well. The only negatives are the aforementioned surreal scenes. Overall, this film deserves to be seen for Hilary Swanks superlative performance and the strength with which it tells the story of Teena Brandon.

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