Boys Don't Cry is a 1999 American independent romantic drama film directed by Kimberly Peirce and co-written by Andy Bienen. The film is a dramatization of the real-life story of Brandon Teena, a biologically born female who identified as a man and as intersexed, played by Hilary Swank, who pursues a relationship with a young woman, played by Chloë Sevigny, and is beaten, raped and murdered by his male acquaintances after they discover he is anatomically female. The picture explores the themes of freedom, courage, identity and empowerment. The film was distributed by Fox Searchlight Pictures and was released theatrically in October 1999. After reading about the murder of Brandon Teena while in college, Peirce intently researched the case—as well as Teena's life—and worked on a screenplay for the film for almost five years. All She Wanted, the 1993 book about the case written by Aphrodite Jones, inspired Peirce, but she chose to focus the story on the relationship between Teena and his girlfriend Lana Tisdel. Many actors campaigned for the lead over the course of three years; unknown Swank was cast because her personality seemed similar to Teena's.
Boys Don’t Cry, the first film that I have paid for without the promise of immediate compensation in quite a while, cost me $9.50 for a matinee.
It was worth every penny.
Boys Don’t Cry is the heartbreaking story of Teena Brandon (or Brandon Teena) (Hilary Swank), a young woman with a sexual identity crisis. She wants to be a man but cannot afford an operation. So, not content to live as a woman and definitely not comfortable with a sexual identity as a lesbian, she becomes a transvestite par excellence. Note that this is not completely over-the-top in any way, shape, or form… this is life here. Teena Brandon, at that point, becomes Brandon Teena.
Brandon Teena, ironically, is just the kind of man every girl wants: sweet, sensitive, but willing to be strong and masculine. He falls in well in the town of Falls City, Nebraska, and even gets to the point where he finds himself in a relationship with Lana (Chloe Sevigny). However, Brandon faces trouble from Lana’s previous boyfriend, the psychopathic John (Peter Sarsgaard) and his minion-of-a-friend Tom (Brendon Sexton III). Brandon’s trouble goes from bad to downright terrible when Brandon, through failure to appear at a Lincoln, Nebraska court summons (as Tenna Brandon) is arrested and her true sexuality is revealed.
Seeing as this is a true story (made as documentary The Brandon Teena Story), I have no qualms about telling you that Brandon is not only raped but subsequently brutally murdered by John and Tom. I also have no qualms warning you that Boys Don’t Cry was perhaps the most emotional joyride of a film I watched all last year, and it was only film that I saw in theatres capable of making me teary and more than one point.
Boys Don’t Cry is an incredibly tough film to watch. Coming in, you know the ending, but for every second you wish it was not going to go down as it did. When Brandon finally dies, of a shooting, you jump. Not because it was unexpected, mind you, but because of the fact that deep down you never believed that people could be that inhuman as to murder a young woman (or man, depending on how strongly you take the central point of the movie, that Teena Brandon was in fact a man for lack of phallus) over such a mundane matter over their sexuality. What is worse, of course, is that Brandon’s sexuality is not at the heart of the issue: John killed Brandon not because he believed homosexuality to be morally wrong (although he did), but because of the fact that he was insanely jealous based on the fact that Lana had sent him letters in prison when she was 13.
John’s motivation is what is really at the heart of this movie’s point. As I said before, the movie is centrally meant to say that one can be a man without a phallus. This is drilled in by the fact that Lana (even after knowing exactly what Brandon is, and even after having a lesbian experience herself), refers to Brandon as ‘him’ up until her final plea of ‘don’t hurt him,’ just before Brandon is coldly shot by John. That fact that John’s motivation for murder was jealousy, and not a contrived and cliched moral stance taken to the Nth degree, goes on to prove exactly how much Brandon had fully integrated himself into society as a man before his death.
There comes a point towards the end of the movie where Lana is asked to admit her lesbianism, echoing a point right in the beginning where Teena is asked to accept hers. Neither one is able. Those two scenes, put in conjuction, slam home the basic point that Brandon was a man who loved women and Lana was a woman who loved men. Neither was homosexual in the least… it was simply a matter of the fact that neither had the facilities to complete Brandon’s natural physical transition into manhood to match his already present mental state.
Boys Don’t Cry is a movie that is not so much watched as experienced, not so much sat through as lived through. Kimberly Pierce works her camera perfectly (albeit a little towards the MTV-side, with ghosting and time lapse photography). Hilary Swank makes me really want to kick myself for writing the article stating that Annette Bening was robbed of the Globe (Swank deserved every ounce of the thing). Chloe Sevigny is likewise heartbreaking as Lana, the woman who really loves Brandon the man that he is.
I had to pay $9.50 for the movie, and I do not care.