Unconventional Love Stories series: ‘Boys Don’t Cry’

I’m normally not one for lists, but I thought it would be an interesting change to do a short series of my favorite unconventional love stories in film. Each post will be a brief description of a love story in a film and how that love story is extraordinary,  or even unseen, existing beneath subtle layers. I think the love story in my first film, Kimberly Peirce’s “Boys Don’t Cry,” falls into this latter category.

“Boys Don’t Cry”: John Lotter and Brandon Teena

The homoerotic relationship between the transgender Brandon Teena and John Lotter, Lana’s obsessive and frighteningly over-protective ex-boyfriend, is insightfully conveyed through the nuanced eye of director Kimberly Peirce. Brandon initially idolizes John, seeing him as his guide into his new male identity; if Brandon can hold his own alongside John’s ferocious masculinity, he can truly become Brandon. John Lotter’s endearing perception of Brandon as a precocious, often hapless kid brother eventually turns into bewilderment and jealousy. Brandon becomes an object of endless scrutiny for John, who is desperately trying to figure out why Lana chose this slight, effeminate newcomer over him.

The most erotically charged moment between John and Brandon is when Brandon is blindly driving—more like recklessly speeding—through a dust cloud on a dark Nebraska highway. The film actually begins with a short clip of this moment, because this is Brandon’s ultimate masculine fantasy. Brandon is tentative at first, but is provoked by John, who is sitting, suggestively, directly behind Brandon in the car. This scene in the car is a unique encapsulation of the love triangle between Brandon, John and Lana: Brandon is trying to impress Lana with his reckless masculinity behind the wheel, while John is attempting to maintain his role as alpha-male by expressing his sexual dominance over both Lana and Brandon.  At one point, John leans forward into Brandon from behind, their heads almost touching, and whispers driving directions as he squeezes Brandon’s shoulder. If the dialogue were muted, it would appear as though John was whispering sweet nothings into Brandon’s ear. Brandon presses the gas and revs through the dust, and John slouches into the back seat, clearly experiencing some kind of ecstatic/sexual release, either from the high of the car chase or from the erotic dominant/submissive interplay between himself and Brandon. For the driving-dust-cloud scene described above, fast-foward the below video to 5:51. Or watch the entire clip, which includes one of my favorite lines from Brandon as he checks his good looks in the mirror.

Next up, Ada and Baines in “The Piano.”

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About Vanessa Graniello

Vanessa's film articles and reviews have appeared in The Moving Arts Film Journal, The Alternative Film Guide, and the newsletter for the Cinema Arts Centre in Huntington, NY. She is currently an adjunct lecturer in the English Department at St. Joseph's College in Patchogue, NY. View all posts by Vanessa Graniello

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