All Mixed Up

Truth can sometimes be stranger than fiction.

Brutal, uncompromising, stark, jarring - these are the words that most accurately describe Kimberly Peirce's debut directorial venture "Boys Don't Cry". Based on a true story, the film is about Brandon Teena (by birth Teena Brandon, who lived from 1972-93), a girl who suffers from a sexual identity crisis.

Briefly this is how the story progresses. Living in Lincoln, she dresses, acts and behaves like a boy, dates several girls and visits bars. An encounter with a sweet-looking teenage girl in one such bar, Candace (played by Alicia Goranson) and her two friends John (played by Sarsgaard with flair) and Tom (played by Sexton), one night leads her to Falls City, a small, off-the-map town, inhabited largely by poor, struggling white folk. Here Brandon meets Lana - a bewitching beer-junkie. The two fall in love and commence a sexual relationship.

John, obsessed with Lana from the very first and suffering from a lack of impulse control according to doctors, first befriends Brandon and then rapes her several times on discovering her deceit, alongwith his friend Tom.

The abused Brandon escapes the duo and in police custody reveals her disorder and implicates the two before the authorities, despite their warnings to the contrary. Lana and Brandon, deeply infatuated with each other, decide to run away to Memphis together, according to plans they've been making all along. However, John and Tom discover Brandon's whereabouts on the very night of this planned escape. Angry with her for revealing their identities to the police as well as afraid for their own lives, they gun down Brandon and Candace (who happens to be sheltering her) at point-blank range. A broken, shocked and traumatised Lana is taken away from the crime scene by her mother. This is where the film closes.

As you can see, the flick hardly falls under the category of "entertainment". It is painful and extremely loyal to events as they really happened. It reveals however a mine of psychological and sociological complexities.

Quintessential small-town America, with its economically deprived families and demotivated and trigger-happy youth who wander around aimlessly at all hours and are frequent visitors to jails are portrayed in all their decadence and waste. A lack of any solid family structure, and therfore a resultant lack of a moral and value system, is truthfully depicted, too.

Psychologically, Brandon's complex persona - innocent in the ways of being a girl and yet brash and charming as a boy - is excellently played out. Hilary Swank has delivered an unarguably intense performance as Teena Brandon, twenty-one years old, living out the last few months of her life, for which she deservedly won the Golden Globe, the National Board of Review, the Academy, the Los Angeles Film Critics Association and the New York Film Critics Circle's awards for Best Actress in 1999. Also commendable is Peirce's strength of filming and committment to reality. Already, she has proved her prowess as the eye behind the lens that will not concede or negotiate with the authenticity of what she sets out to depict. Her skills won recognition from the National Board of Review which gave her the 1999 Best Directorial Debut award.

A lot of what is considered the norm is inverted in this movie. Not only do two girls discover love, but the film itself, in its treatment of characters and approach to the story, breaks every boundary of film-making in the commercial entertainment industry, and the incidents prove that there are times when truth can be infinitely more riveting and stranger than fiction.

This article was first published on 19 Jun 2000.