You probably know Hilary Swank in relation to Million Dollar Baby, a really good movie directed by the great Clint Eastwood....Well, I saw her long before that in a shocking independent movie Boys Don't Cry, where she is, as always, EXCELLENT!
So, here's some thinking about this moderately filmed motion picture and my fascination about the creation of meaning through specific compositions in certain scenes....
Many view films focusing solely on the bare action of the story. They focus on what they see in the action and do not pay much attention to the various and numerous techniques that directors use to create meaning. Thus, there is much criticism among viewers, for example, that adaptations from novels can never be as ‘accurate’ and as true to the atmosphere of a story as a novel can be. Disagreeing with the observation mentioned, I’ve noticed that transforming meaning of a word or a sentence into a moving picture is everything but an easy task. A picture cannot express meaning with words because it conveys meaning with icons instead of words. But it can still say (express) more than a thousand words.
(Hilary Swank as Brandon Teena)
In this short text, I will focus on the technical part of the film analysis and how meaning is conveyed through certain techniques that are used in the film. The theme of transsexual is conveyed not only through the story but even more so through the specific camera work, such as flashbacks and the super fast photography, but also slow motion photography and freezing of the frame. Through these, the specific meaning and in addition, symbolism is created.
Boys Don’t Cry is about a transsexual, Brandon Teena, who suffers from an identity crisis because she is a he in a female body, which is beyond the tolerance and understanding of the community. The camera work conveys the troubles and suffrage of Brandon Teena wonderfully, because each technique conveys his mental state and also how the themes of transsexual and homosexuality are treated. The viewer can for example get a clear picture of the dilemma in
- a male spirit captured in a female body – through the fast driving scenes and super fast photography of the scenery. The director also uses Biblical symbolism of the crucifixion of Jesus when Brandon ’s identity is violently exposed to show the humiliation of the moment. Brandon
The meaning created with the camera work is discussed through five scenes
About the construction of meaning in Boys Don't Cry:
The following scenes (which I mention further ahead in this post) awoke the most interest for the analysis of the special techniques that the director is using especially because by using special effects and techniques and specific compositions, the director is trying to convey specific meaning. Through these we can also see how the themes are treated. As can be seen, homosexuality as well as transsexual is seen as something alien and unacceptable by the society. Thus,
is an outcast who has to move from town to town every time he gets into trouble whenever his identity is discovered. Brandon
The film is mostly set in landscape, on roads, in deserted places and sometimes inside a house. Most of the film, however, is set in
, which is depicted in a way that implies otherworldliness. This ‘otherworldliness’ is not ‘dreamy’ or fairy-tale like but rather rough and real. The Falls City community are poor, alcoholics and very conservative but nonetheless, the atmosphere that the director creates with the distortion of lights and time through super fast transition from day to night and vice versa; with the numerous images of factories and smoke and metal gives the setting a kind of ‘space’, surreal impression. All of these elements serve to present a community of dreamers and aliens. They live in their own world and get drunk. In addition, most of the film happens through the night, which also gives it a dreamy, unreal kind of feel. (c.f. Pidduck, 102) Falls City
Pierce, the director also used the frame of the road movie to make a sort of entertainment of these real events.Third scene: The sex scene with the flashback
is always on his way to somewhere, and his speedy state of mind is communicated through scenes of driving fast, almost floating, and in landscapes shot in time-lapse photography streaked with the light of passing cars. He is an icon, an outsider whose choices are understood as the backdrop of the Brandon Midwest, where the story is set. However, it is important to notice that Pierce only used the frame of the road movie, not its real essence. (c.f. Aaron, 96) Namely, the road movie is about mobility and being able to escape, which doesn’t. He stays and gets killed. By using the frame of a road movie and then ending Boys Don’t Cry unlike a road movie, Pierce wanted to shock the audience. She offers entertainment of the road and then slaps the viewer in the face because there is no freedom or escape into the freedom for Brandon . Brandon
In this scene, vision, knowledge and narration is transferred to Lana. The viewer gets a close up of her face while she receives oral stimulation. Here, her expression as well as music rise in intensity and climax with a cut to a low-angle point of view shot of moving lights that resolve into streetlights seen from a car. Next, there is a great match cut to Lana’s open mouth, sitting in a car and partying with her friends. A slow motion shot conveys her sexual euphoria with
into an image of pleasure in her female friends’ company. Brandon
Then we see her on a bed, conversing with her friends, narrating her sexual encounter. As she talks about it, we get Lana’s subjective flashback to her sexual encounter with
. The camera cuts from a tight overhead shot of all three girls on the bed to an overhead close-up of just Lana. From a shot from Lana’s optical point of view we see Brandon ’s cleavage. This implies that she knows his true identity without ever uttering a word about it to Brandon himself or her friends. Obviously, through the flashback and the close-ups of her face and her view being different from what she tells her friends, her treatment and thus acceptance of cross-dressing and homosexuality is implied. By not revealing Brandon ’s true identity it is also implied that the rest of the community would not accept it. (c.f. Aaron, 95) Brandon
Another scene that implies that Lana knows about
Brandon’s true identity and a scene that also treats Lana herself homosexually is when Candace discovers ’s true identity and comes to tell Lana about it. Lana is high spinning on a roundabout on her back, just as she is in the sexual act before with Brandon when she told him she was in a trance. The composition here is repeated when Candace comes and is framed centrally between Lana’s open legs. This not only implies that Lana is exposed as having a woman in that position, but also that Candace is homosexually represented. (c.f. Aaron, 95) Brandon
In the scene where
’s true identity is revealed, the film shifts to gritty, claustrophobic interiors captured in tight, edgy, hand-held camerawork. This is the climatic scene o the film because this sequence gives the final statement on the separation of gender from anatomy when John wants to specify Brandon’s identity, but Lana responds to “look at your little boyfriend” with “leave him alone! (and not ‘her’ as the disclosure of Brandon ’s genitals reveals)”. (c.f. Aaron, 94)This response is stressed and then the frame almost freezes and a fantasy sequence begins when Brandon stands in the bathroom with an arm over the shoulders of Tom and John on either side of him. This scene is marked with two still shots, like snapshots – first Tom, John and Brandon are frozen, motionless in a medium shot. Then there is a cut to a reverse shot with Lana and her mother, and Brandon dissociated, sort of removed, watching himself in the bathroom uncovered. With these slow moving shots and the fantasy element of Brandon observing what is happening to him, the terrible humiliation that he is feeling is marked. In addition, there is an obvious resemblance to the crucifixion of Christ. (c.f. Aaron, 94)Brandon not fully dressed, with apart on John’s and Tom’s shoulders convicted of a crime that is not even a crime but something that John and Tom do not understand and do not tolerate because of their own ignorance. Brandon
Sixth scene:The rape scene
From the previous almost surreal break in the film, as
’s identity is revealed, the film switches into flashback to portray the rape. Here, Brandon is violated as a self identified male forced by John and Tom into sexual submission as a woman, and through the brutal police interrogation. The rape scene is basically a flashback while Brandon is at the police station, answering questions about the rape. We get the rape scene from the victim’s point of view. Tom and John take him to a deserted factory. An extremely long shot in slow motion distances us from the action as John picks up Brandon and throws him into the back seat. There we see four brutal close-ups of Tom’s rape. Camera here holds a shot on Brandon ’s bruised face in profile, his shoulders torn and racked with brutal motion from behind – thus, the viewer is asked to experience the rape from the victim’s point of view. (c.f. Pidduck, 101) Brandon
My final thoughts about the movie:
Boy’s Don’t Cry is a true story of a girl whose identity was male. She was killed trying to pass as the opposite sex. The story is too sad and terrible to be turned into an entertainment piece, but in the telling of the story, the director managed to use techniques that convey meaning on a higher level from that of pure entertainment. The techniques used are artistic and make the story not only that (= artistic), but also almost educational in the sense that the transsexual and homosexual phobia is criticized and proven to be amoral. By using the techniques that Pierce did, the meaning conveyed through the use of camerawork does justice to the terrible story even though it was turned into an entertainment form.
Written by Tina Puksic (class seminar paper)
Written by Tina Puksic (class seminar paper)