Lana Tisdel (Chloë Sevigny): God, I hate my life.
Brandon Teena (Hilary Swank): I hate your life too.
After revisiting Office Space, I couldn’t help think that 1999 wouldn’t be too proud of how little we in 2012 have been sticking it to The Man. Though after revisiting Boys Don’t Cry, I feel like 1999 would be at least a little proud of how hard we’ve been sticking it to the queerophobes. Sure, there’s still hatred and violence and discrimination, but how many of us watching Boys Don’t Cry in the theaters honestly thought there’d be things like “gay marriage” in 6 U.S. states only 13 years later?
I have to admit, I wasn’t the most open-minded kid before I saw Boys Don’t Cry. I was super-cool with homosexuality at the time, but less so with transsexuality. I never saw it as sinful or psychotic, but I did think it was kind of silly- I guess because I hadn’t yet been exposed to transsexualism in real life, and in the movies I saw, it was always treated like farcical camp. (Even in The Silence Of The Lambs, it’s often hard not to laugh at Buffalo Bill’s preening.)
Boys Don’t Cry didn’t completely open my mind about transsexuality overnight, but it definitely blew down most of the doors. Because while I may not have been very sympathetic to those in gender identity crises, I’ve always been a sucker for a good love story. And the love story between Brandon Teena & Lana Tisdel is one of the most tragic and beautiful love stories I’ve ever seen. When I hear the phrase “star-crossed lovers,” I don’t think of that flimsy so-called “romance” of Romeo & Juliet anymore. I think of Brandon & Lana.
Aside from being a powerful love story, Boys Don’t Cry is also, in a way, a terrifying, slow-creeping horror movie. Here, the horror arises when seemingly-decent people are transformed into monsters not by full moons or ancient curses, but by having to confront things their feeble brains can’t compute. (Peter Sarsgaard’s John Lotter reveals some jealousy and volatility throughout the movie, but his rapid descent into evil is practically werewolf-like. Although, come to think of it, casting Brendan Sexton III as Tom Nissen might as well be a neon sign that says SLEAZY VILLAINY AHEAD.) Even if you don’t already know how the true story ends, within the first few minutes you can see the dark road it’s heading down. You can already hear the sick, desperate laughter of the monsters even before they appear on screen. Part of that is due to the narrow-minded nature of the early-90s rural American setting, and part of it is how Kimberly Peirce films that setting. The starlight spins ominously in proto-Breaking Bad time-lapses; in David Lynch-like fashion, the streetlights bleed as country-dreampop whispers on the verge of nightmare.
While the ending is far from happy, it does offer hope. Brandon dies a tortured prisoner, but Lana carries him in her heart as she finally escapes that Nebraska hellhole, the road before her a brilliant array of dizzying light. (Subsequent title cards inform us- misguidedly, if you ask me- that real-life Lana eventually moved back to her hometown. Yikes, did we really need that last cold, hard truth spoiling the last lingering sunbeam that shined on these characters?)
At least there’s more hope for the world outside the movie. Sure, there will always be monsters, and right now the queerophobes are still raising hell. But that’s because their territory’s shrinking, and they’re more scared than ever. Thanks to the efforts of things like Boys Don’t Cry, in another 13 years queerophobic monsters will be an endangered species.