"Boys don't cry" is something that the playground teaches you even if your parents don't. Boys don't cry. They just don't. Asking why is a stupid question. Because they're boys. Because they don't. There is no label that puts a boy at the bottom of the social totem pole as much as that of being a crybaby.
In 1979 the Cure came out with what I guess was some sort of avant-garde pop at the time and made Boys Don't Cry the title of the US release of their debut album Three Imaginary Boys. The song itself was released as an indie single in the UK and was not included on the album. The song was a silly "she left me" kind of song. But the basic idea is that boys have nothing to gain by crying. It does not discuss whether they have something to lose by not crying.
I try to laugh about it
Cover it all up with lies
I try and laugh about it
Hiding the tears in my eyes
'cause boys don't cry
I did not like the Cure when it was the vogue to like them. Robert Smith was a whiny, overcoiffed lamer who couldn't hold a candle to Ian Curtis and Adrian Borland, or even to Kirk Brandon. Over time I got used to them and Boys Don't Cry was the first album that I accepted as listenable. Pornography and Faith followed a bit later. I still think that The Head on the Door was teh suxx. And I still loathe F-I-R-E-I-N-C-A-I-R-O every bit as much as I did when my sister played it twenty times a day.
So much for The Cure. Now for the disease that's still looking for a cure, and the film that featured the album's title track.
Release: October 1999 (US)
Director: Kimberly Peirce
Production: United States
MPAA rating: R (graphic violence, sex, and rape scenes)
Cast: Hilary Swank (Brandon/Teena), Chloe Sevigny (Lana), Peter Saarsgard (John), Brendan Sexton III
Plot (POSSIBLE SPOILERS): A young FTM leaves the city after some legal troubles and ends up in
a rural setting where men are men, women are waitresses, and boys don't cry, where he leaves a deep impression on people.
The film is based on the true story of Brandon Teena, born Teena Renae Brandon. Brandon, a transman, is staying in his cousin's trailer in Lincoln, Nebraska. He gets kicked out after getting chased by people after fights and altogether getting into more trouble than the cousin is willing to deal with. Brandon ends up in a small town in rural Nebraska where he hooks up with Lana and various other characters. The environment is pretty much a stereotype of rural, blue-collar America, where there is little to do during the day and even less after dark. The men he hangs out with and treats as his peer group have criminal records, drink a lot, and generally exude redneck machismo. Tom and John are Boys Who Don't Cry. Ever.
Brandon sticks around. Lana and Brandon become lovers. Before too long, he moves in with Lana and her mother. Brandon gets himself arrested for forging cheques and is outed by the police blotter. He then claims to be a hermaphrodite preparing for surgery. Most of his new friends react badly to the revelation but Lana is convinced and continues the relationship. After Tom and John become satisfied that Brandon is not what he claims to be but entirely bio-female, they rape him and warn him to stay away from Lana. Brandon fails to heed the warning and reports the rape. The sheriff's department does little more than ask stupid questions and have a little chat with Tom and John.
Brandon Teena stayed in town and was murdered by the same two people in Falls City, Nebraska on New Year's Eve, 1993. Two more people in the house (one in the film) were killed with him.
Comments based on the film's portrayal of people and events
One big question is whether Brandon Teena was a lying, cheating scoundrel, which he undoubtedly was, because of his troubled past, or because of a personality trait. A "boy" may not cry but car theft and forgery are hardly part of the male stereotype. Had he remained Teena Brandon, would she have been a car-stealing, cheque-forging woman? Was the criminal mindset tied into his male personality or was it just his personality? That's left as an exercise to the viewer. I am not pretending to understand the complexity of living a transgendered life but these are questions that seek an answer.
Brandon's risk-taking behaviour and thrill-seeking could be interpreted as a symptom of PTSD but the film does not show any other signs that would lead us to believe that this is the case. Brandon's family has suggested that the existence of a male persona was a reaction to sexual abuse as a child. While Hilary Swank slipped up and was criticised for describing Brandon as a "confused lesbian", she did also use masculine pronouns in public. Her error is clear, though: Brandon Teena was not a confused lesbian. By modern definitions of sexual orientation he was heterosexual.
I see a conflict between the way in which Brandon prepares and maintains his male exterior, and the way in which he carelessly puts himself in situations where exposure is not only a distinct possibility but also, as
it turned out to be, a risk to his safety. Though we do see the occasional crack in the "boys don't cry" facade, we see less fear and caution than we'd expect. In the end we're left with the impression that Brandon Teena or Teena Brandon, regardless of gender, was a reckless young person with a cavalier attitude toward life.
Lana Tisdel broke off the relationship after Brandon was outed. She did not leave town. In fact she sued the distributors for using her name and likeness and for the general portrayal of her character. It is not known how much she collected. Call me naive but I'm still a bit curious about the fact that she couldn't tell a strap-on from the real thing.
This film is a dramatization. Were it anything else, it would have been superfluous to the documentary The Brandon Teena Story that preceded it. As a film it's intense, violent, and graphic but suspiciously romanticised. As a chronicle of bigotry and hatred the way it really exists in America, it's worth watching but it is not a masterpiece by more than an aspiring director. The script takes a few more liberties with the actual story than I'm comfortable with. It leaves as many questions about its fidelity to the actual events as it does about the characters themselves.
Film critic style rating, stars 'n' all: * * * (3/5)