Film Review (Boys Don’t Cry) Movie Review Examples
Boys Don’t Cry is a sensational film that debuted in 1999. Co-written by Kimberly Peirce and Andy Bienen and produced by Peirce, the film tells the story of Brandon Teena. Born Teena Brandon, she changes her identity and moves away from her hometown of Lincoln, Nebraska. This she does to escape the social stigma of being called a “dyke.” In her new Falls City community, she passes herself off as a man and gains acceptance as one. When the truth eventually comes out, after she is involved in a traffic offense, tragic consequences ensue. This paper reviews the film and looks at how it managed to portray violence. It also addresses the perception of women in the film. Further, it attempts to shed light on the causes and results of this violent behavior.
One of the issues extremely evident in this film is that of hegemonic masculinity. The film brings out the negative effects of hegemonic masculinity on the society. Hegemonic masculinity refers to the male character as typically defined by culture (Grozelle, 2014). The male identity is naturally associated with some toughness and dominance, as well as the use of violence as a method of conflict resolution. This expectation is well brought out in the film. For instance, in the beginning, as Brandon is driving down an empty road in the dark, a car overtakes him, followed by flashing police lights (Peirce, 1999). This is important as it recurs later in the film when Brandon is involved in a police chase on instruction from John. Throughout the film, men are engaged in dangerous behavior with cars. Car culture, involving aggression and over speeding, is often associated with masculinity (Grozelle, 2014). Another instance is the cutting of hair by Brandon, which brings to the fore the belief that men have to display certain habits in order to be accepted socially. These may include trimmed hair, low voices, and masculine clothing.
Hegemonic masculinity can be used to explain the violence that is on show throughout the film. Violence is the medium through which masculinity manifests and is celebrated (Grozelle, 2014). Men participate in acts of aggression, bar fights, and car chases as well as self-mutilation. This is done in order to exhibit their strength and power. Brandon feels compelled to engage in such activities in order to prove his manliness. This proof of manliness is also, what gains him respect from John and Tom. The notion of masculinity held by the film’s characters is entrenched in the fabric of society. Brandon, the main character, in adopting a masculine role, starts to exhibit a dark emptiness. This is a feeling young men experience as they seek acceptance by engaging in “masculine acts” as described by culture (Grozelle, 2014). Societal expectations of what it takes to be a ‘real man” have led to stigmatization of those seen as not conforming to these standards. They gain tags such as fags, pussies or sissies (Grozelle, 2014). The scene where Brandon and John are drinking late in the night while seated around a campfire evidences this. John shows Brandon the self-inflicted scars on his body, left by a knife. He then attempts to persuade Brandon to mutilate himself, but Brandon refuses, saying, “I guess I’m just a pussy compared to you.” (Peirce, 1999)
The categorization of gender is another theme explored by this film. This categorization, in terms of biological sex, dictates individuals’ behavior towards each other. People use the surface information to infer femininity or masculinity. An illustration from the film is the scene where John and Tom force Brandon into the washroom and physically remove his pants (Peirce, 1999). This brings out the need to assign gender based on biological sex. John and Tom have no knowledge of Brandon’s “identity” up until when he is arrested on earlier charges and subsequently locked up at the women’s detention center. When John and Tom see his name in the newspaper, written as Teena Brandon, they confront him. This reflects in the society too; where individuals feel a compelling urge to classify people based on biological sex. For example, when a child is born, if it is female, the child is dressed in pink. If, on the other hand, the child is male, then he is dressed in blue. When one deviates from this norm, then they become a target for possible violence. This outcome is evident in the case of Brandon (Hunt & Dick, 2008).
The stigmatization of individuals whose gender is in question is evident in the film. After John and Tom rape Brandon, he escapes and runs to file a report with the local police about the attack. Here, the local sheriff is of little help. Instead of aiding him, he embarrasses Brandon during his interview about the rape (Peirce, 1999). The sheriff heaps the blame on Brandon, claiming it is a result of his misleading gender. In the interview, instead of dwelling on the crime of rape, focus is on the categorization of gender. This scenario can explain why many in the LGBT community choose not to report crimes. With this homophobic approach by the police, the community people feel they cannot expect justice from the police (Hunt & Dick, 2008).
The issue of gender-based violence is also an important one to highlight in this book. When men engage in gender-based violence, it is because they feel a desire to exhibit dominance and to demonstrate their power and authority (Grozelle, 2014). In the film, when John and Tom find out that Brandon is not a man, they drag him to an abandoned parking lot where they beat and rape him viciously. The men use this sexual violence to reassert their dominance. They feel that by refusing to accept her gender, Brandon has somehow challenged their masculinity. This compels them to rape her as a form of correcting her sexual behavior or as a method of punishment.
The next theme examined in the film is the issue of appearance versus reality. This comes to the fore when the use of mirrors in the film is considered. The characters attempts to overcome reality are a central theme in the film. The first time Brandon makes an appearance in the film, it is through a rearview mirror as he is driving. The second time he appears, he is in front of a mirror getting his hair cut by his cousin (Peirce, 1999). Thus, the audience sees the view of him that Brandon wants the world to see. The illusion of mirrors used in the film is a pointer to the importance of appearance to character. Mirrors in the film reflect Brandon’s appearance to himself. They show us how he views himself. Brandon sees himself as a man, and this reflects in his appearance in the mirror. However, the same mirror is also his enemy in that a mirror helps people see, and there is a part of Brandon that he does not want to be seen. Later on, a mirror comes into use in the scene of Brandon’s first encounter with John’s activities. The masculine car games that John engages in, including using the car to hit Brandon, forces him to have to go clean himself up in order to portray the image he wants them to see (Peirce, 1999). Since this image is not what reflects, the audience does not get to see him through the mirror.
Lana also struggles with the same problem of appearance and reality, as is evident in the scenes where she stands in front of the mirror and inspects herself. She has concerns about her looks and weight and hence her conflict, just like Brandon's, is about the projected image (Swan, 2001). Unlike Brandon though, her appearance is not hiding any secret. When Brandon’s lies begin to become apparent, mirrors are again visible. A case in point is Candace going through Brandon’s rubbish and discovering his real name. At this time, she is on her knees in front of a full-length mirror (Peirce, 1999). This suggests Brandon’s real identity is visible. Candace’s refusal to look at the mirror is symbolic in that it shows how hard she is trying to fight reality.
The film also highlights the complex issues of violence against women, and how society, in general, perceives women. For instance, consider Sherriff Laux’s interrogation and his refusal to believe that John and Tom would pull down Brandon’s pants and not poke anything inside him. Laux’s cannot even contemplate the thought that a man can see female genitals without thinking of penetrating them. This is also evident in his contempt towards lesbianism and lesbian desire, and his reluctance to believe a woman who had supposedly “lied” about her sexual identity. Laux is again in no hurry to act since he seems to feel she got what she deserved. This points to an objectification of women. Women appear to be objects for male use. The expectation is for women to be submissive and respectful of men’s superiority. Hence, the woman who dared to dress like a man had to be “put in her place” so to speak (Swan, 2001). The violence perpetrated against her is not because she is a transgender, but it happens because she is a woman. The insensitivity of the male police officers is quite clear in this and is in effect, a second rape for the victim.
The film is also a powerful indicator of transgender representation in the media. The media is a vital player in the spread of information. How the media represents groups of people is influential in either entrenching or debunking societal stereotypes about that group of people. The media often maligns and misrepresents the transgender community. This serves to entrench negative stereotypes. The film brought awareness about the transgender community and the violence they constantly face. It marked the first time that a transgender person plays a hero in a story. However, to the transgender people, the fate of Brandon only served as a warning of the danger inherent in coming out openly. The fact that pundits see the movie as a revolutionary work is indicative of the little regard Hollywood has for marginalized groups (Swan, 2001). The film casts a people from non-marginalized groups as the antagonists for once. Hence, it is a role reversal of sorts.
In conclusion, the impact of this film cannot be understated. It brought to the limelight a whole host of issues. The film made the world aware of the murder of Brandon Teena, an event that would otherwise have gone unnoticed. The film also made America sit up and take notice of transgender people (Swan, 2001). Finally, they had recognition as a distinct group and not as women and men masquerading as the opposite gender. America became alive to their issues, which has prompted a wave of change. This highlights the role of the media as a change agent. Again, the film also brought into sharp focus the issues of violence against women and hegemonic masculinity. Through it, we can understand the causes of violence, as well as patterns of violent behavior. The film will go down in history as a classic, forever associated with transgender issues.
Grozelle, R. S. (2014). Hegemonic Masculinity in Boys Don't Cry (1999). Student Pulse, 6(03).
Hunt, R., & Dick, S. (2008). Serves you Right: Lesbian and Gay People’s Expectations of Discrimination. Stonewall, A4, 1-24.
Peirce, K. (Director). (1999). Boys Don't Cry [Motion Picture].
Swan, R. (2001). Boys Don't Cry. Film Quarterly, 47-52.
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