Archives / 1997 Directors Lab

Boys Don’t Cry

Description

Dawn. A bloodied and beaten 19-year-old boy stumbles, breathless, to his girlfriend's house. But when her mom refuses to let him stay, saying she doesn't want it in her house, he escapes, traveling back to the moment that initiated his journey.

Two months earlier, Tiffany Lewis transformed herself into Lewis, her fantasy of the ideal guy. Lewis materializes at an abandoned gas station on the edge of a dark, open Nebraska highway. A guitar over his back, hitchhiking to New York, he stops over in a small town, where he encounters a group of teenagers adrift in an emotional no-man's-land. Narcotized to their own aspirations, they sleep all day and circulate all night around the local Kwik Stop, waiting for anything to happen. Lewis is their antidote. One drunken night turns into another and, seducing them with his fantasy, Lewis is drawn into the group.

Lewis is attracted to Lana, a precocious and funny girl, who at moments glimpses that there might be something else out there. Lewis wins her and her friends over, weaving stories of his imaginary speed-metal band, drag racing down the strip and joking with them about their obsession with fat and cellulite. Lana is skeptical of Lewis' drugstore gifts and dreams of New York. But when he mirrors her unarticulated dreams of escape she starts to fall in love with the brash young kid who transforms the landscape around him.

Lewis simultaneously gravitates to Keith, Lana's ex-boyfriend, a charismatic ex-convict. Mesmerized by Keith's recklessness and yet confident he can manage it, Lewis steals cars and drinks with Keith. The seduction is mutual until Keith senses Lewis is replacing him. Lewis' tenderness gives Lana and those near her a window through which to finally see Keith's brutality. As the girls move away from Keith and draw Lewis even more deeply into the center of their emotional lives, the relationship between Keith and Lewis grows competitive and barbed.

Meanwhile, everyone close to Lewis is witnessing clues that he is not who he says he is. One night Lewis takes Lana by moped to the river and makes love to her with the sensitivity of a girl and the strength of a boy. The experience so entrances Lana that in recalling to her friends, she omits describing the bandages she saw binding Lewis' breasts, and heightens the fantasy to include a skinny-dipping scene that never could have happened. The other girls similarly distort what they have seen to preserve the fantasy that Lewis is the "perfect guy."

However, soon a bounced check reveals Lewis' identity publicly. The fact that Lewis, a girl, has been a more persuasive guy than Keith, enrages Keith and shakes the core of his manhood. Attempting to restore his power, Keith publicly strips Lewis, rationalizing his attack as getting at the truth. But even after seeing that Lewis is biologically female, Keith asks, "What are you?" And when Lana re-embraces Lewis as a guy, Keith erupts and rapes Lewis, attempting again to force him back into being a girl.

The movie picks up where it opened—a beaten boy who has been reduced to a degraded girl seeks help. However, because he too closely reflects the women's own vulnerability, they reject him. Lewis tries to put himself back together as "Lewis." But the rape, by stripping the artifice, has knocked him into a radically unfamiliar consciousness. Now inhabiting a space belonging to neither male nor female—without the option of fleeing into either one for safety, he is thrown back on the resources of his imagination. Recognizing his part in orchestrating his own fate, Lewis finally strikes out against Keith's brutality, pressing charges for the rape.

Lana is shocked to see that, far from giving up, Lewis continues to explore his dream. When he invites her to leave town with him, she finally realizes that despite not being able to deal with the complications of his ambiguous identity, she really is in love with him. However, when Keith discovers that Lewis has transcended the violation he inflicted and that Lana plans to go away with Lewis, Keith sets out to destroy Lewis at any cost.

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