A couple nights ago, I went to see a showing of Boys Don’t Cry. The producer Christine Vachon was in town and had a Q&A after the show. I hadn’t seen the movie before and in fact didn’t even know what it was about. It came out during my no R movies days and when it got a lot of attention, I filed it away, remembered that if I ever did start watching R rated movies this was one to see. My piety/movie philosophy did not last so long and when I read about this screening I decided to go.
It deserved its R rating. It knocked the shi* out of me.
For those of you who don’t know, as I didn’t, it’s about a transgendered girl going to guy that was raped and murdered in Nebraska in 1993. The rape and murder are both very graphic and the pain you feel for Teena Brandon/Brandon Teena is ferocious and excruciating. My friend had to leave during the rape scene it was so much, I stayed but cried that angry, wounded heave that accompanies such human tragedy. It put me in a pretty severe funk.
During the Q&A, someone remarked that critics have said that 3 movies brutalize the audience: Monster, The Passion of the Christ, and Boys Don’t Cry. Ms. Vachon replied that Brandon Teena was brutalized and that this movie gives the opportunity for his story to be told. I expected that answer but the brutalization observation was right on. Monster and the Passion were too much for me. I had to turn them off, but I stayed, I don’t know why, for Boys Don’t Cry, but it did hurt me, it did brutalize me.
My friend wishes he didn’t see it. He wishes I had kept my no R rated movies rule a little longer so we wouldn’t have seen that. I have mixed feelings about my viewing of it and here’s why:
Though I do watch R movies now, I’m still pretty particular. Images stay with us a long time, and because art and particularly movie art does have the capacity to brutalize us I am very careful of what I see. Life is hard enough, there seems to be little reason to add to the hurt life already heaps upon us. Plus I just hate trash (that leaves out many PG-13 movies for me) and I don’t want trashy memories in my head. And though some may disagree, I do not think it is necessary to know the evils of the worldto produce empathy and mercy .
I also think it’s very important to hear and feel other people’s stories. And of course I don’t mean Chicken Soup for the Soul stories, I mean the things in life that have hurt us, changed in ways that we can’t understand, or shown us the world is too complicated for binaries. I have my own stories, and while it took me a long time to be able to tell them, telling them has been relieving. A load off. Having people hear them, read them is a balm of Gilead. I work out those stories in my writing and I frame and reframe the actual experiences. I’ve had a lot of response through the years to the stories that I write, some good and some bad and to be honest, I only get my feelings hurt when people say it’s too much and too hard to read so they don’t, because I had to live it and write it, not just read it.
I suppose this is partly why I don’t want to have a rule for myself that I never watch R movies, because I want to know other people’s stories. I want to know what really happens in the world and I want other people to know that I can hold their stories. However I don’t want to be hurt every time I read or see a movie. I can’t hold all the stories, no one can and how can anyone (read: me) judge about what’s the appropriate amount of hurt to be able to tolerate in what we read or see? Sometimes that makes me want a hard and fast rule (no R movies ever) because like I said before there’s enough pain in the world why risk exposing myself to more?
I’ve decided that it’s what I want to know these kinds of stories and so I’ll watch them, read them, but I’m not always comfortable with the choice I’ve made. Sometimes it hurts.