Kimberly Peirce captures the life of a trans man named Brandon Teena (Hilary Swank) in Boys Don’t Cry, which is the retelling of a harrowing true story which follows Brandon’s quest to find his true identity, only for it to be rapidly revealed and demolished.
The film starts with an essential scene in which Brandon is getting ready for a date. He wears a blue and yellow plaid flannel shirt over a white vest which is tucked into belted blue jeans, as he gets his hair cut short by his cousin, Lonny, in a trailer. By doing so, Brandon manifests the appearance of a typical male resident of Lincoln, Nebraska. The scene is key as it portrays the power clothing and hair have in our society, as it communicates our identity to the world, in this case our protagonist conforms to heteronormative masculine stereotypes in order to be perceived as a man in public. While many feel that conforming to heteronormative gender roles only reinforces and validates them in society, many still wish to pass as their preferred gender for an array of different reasons, one of many, especially in the case of Brandon, is simply safety.
Brandon soon moves to Falls City, Nebraska and acquires a new group of friends, one which he becomes romantically involved with is Lana Tisdel (Chloë Sevigny). Through a set of revelations, Brandon’s sex becomes apparent to his new friendship group and the horror that follows is deeply disturbing.
As ex-convicts John Lotter (Peter Sarsgaard) and Tom Nissen (Brandon Sexton III) taunt Brandon, they kidnap him as he runs away, in order to take him to an abandoned junkyard where they rape him. With every thrust Brandon is reminded of the sex the rest of the world see him as, one he so sorely tried to conceal. Intertwined with the rape, both men repeatedly hit Brandon whilst still recognizing him as a female, going against the traditional ideology that a man should never hit a woman, which only highlights that while John and Tom believe they are raping a girl, their traditionalist values would suggest that they are hitting him as a boy.
In this Midwestern tragedy, Pierce highlights the injustices the transgender community face too often in the world. And finally, the true case of Brandon Teena shines a light on the battles someone can suffer when they are pressured by the idea of gender, as constructed by society.
Boys Don't Cry
director KIMBERLY PEIRCE
director of photography JIM DENAULT
cast HILARY SWANK, CHLOË SEVIGNY, PETER SARSGAARD, BRENDAN SEXTON III and ALISON FOLLAND
words PRIYESH PATEL
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