By Aaron Cutler
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By Alan Scherstuhl
Boys Don't Cry hasn't garnered the kind of box-office returns you'd expect from an Oscar winner.
That's understandable. No matter its brilliance, the film's pallor of rural white trash dysfunction was probably too unsettling for that cash-cow megaplex demographic.
After all, it was, as the Sunday Herald in Scotland recently said for the film's home-movie debut, set in a "small hick town called Falls City," a "place where bumper surfing and cheap highs are the main form of excitement," a place where cross-dressing Teena Brandon could show up and be "the closest thing to exotic the dead-end residents of Falls City have ever encountered."
It is, as another reviewer stated, about the wrenching ennui of living life "in the Nebraska of the soul." It is the numbing oppression of a "dead-end, redneck town," another home-movie reviewer said last week.
Boys Don't Cry is one of those bitter sociology pills like Germinal or Gulag Archipelago. It viscerally repulses like a two-hour tape loop of Ned Beatty squealing like a pig. It is, we soon learn, a place to be avoided at all costs.
So who the hell would pay eight bucks to be taken to hell for two hours?
Millions more of us, though, will probably pick up the movie in video stores. The equation changes -- the value of witnessing several great performances in your own home is greater than a downer plus three bucks. In this format, thousands in Phoenix and millions more around the world will be willing to stomach the hell that is Falls City, Nebraska.
I've also avoided the movie because of its bleakness. But I wasn't avoiding the pain of seeing a human cesspool. I was avoiding the pain of seeing my human cesspool.
Or, more likely, the pain of seeing a place I love depicted as a human cesspool. Or, perhaps, the pain of realizing everybody in the world is finding out I am the effluent of a human cesspool. Or, perhaps, the pain of confronting the fact that people you love, including your mother and father, just had the home they love forever branded on the international stage as the archetype of human cesspools.
My pain is a cesspool of ambivalence.
I grew up in Falls City. I've rooted for the Falls City Tigers ever since I could root. Falls City, population 4,600 and dropping, is the stage and backdrop of all my formative memories. It is the one place I most identify as home.
My great-great-great-grandparents were the first permanent residents of the town. They were firebrand Wesleyan Methodists who came to that spot to establish a station house along the Underground Railroad. According to many dead and hopelessly unreliable sources, my great-great-great-grandmother once held off slave traders with a pot of boiling water. That may be a tidbit of apocrypha about a small percentage of my bloodline, but I hold it as dear as others hold the perceived royalty of their blood.
As a writer, I'm peeved by the lack of dysfunction in my upbringing. My parents were nurturing and supportive. Besides the occasional bully or white-trash drunk or ineffectual teacher, my village watched over me and educated me and guided me and, as far as I could tell, actually cared about me. I wish I had some of Frank McCourt's abject Irish-style suffering, but instead I got a maudlin Providence backstory.
And I was by no means the darling. I was a crappy athlete and weak and skinny and pretty much a strange little somewhat effeminate punk rocker with a twisted sense of humor and the wuss-bag hobbies of golfing, running, reading, singing and collecting pop cans. I probably looked something like an ugly, awkward Brandon Teena. But even at my most stridently odd, I never felt too far out of the loop.
And really, my girlfriend was sweet and bright with good teeth and she had a future and she knew the difference between a penis and a sock and her goal in life wasn't to get knocked up by me so she could have a little doll that would validate her and give her the love she didn't get from her ineffectual Valiumed mom and drunken pedophile dad. And I was not an abusive mate and am not, as far as I or the authorities can tell, a sociopath. And I promise you: If I killed you, I would not throw the murder weapon onto a frozen river.
In fact, this crime first gained national exposure because it was such an aberration. Shocking crime rocks sleepy Midwestern town. In Cold Blood revisited. But then somehow it became indicative and metaphorical. God help you if you ever become someone's metaphor.
I am not a total loser. Falls City is not a human cesspool. "I don't. I don't. I don't hate it. I don't hate it." Absolve, absolve.
And now, that sigh of resignation. As we've all learned from the writings of the disparaged, there's nothing more pathetic than a homer trying to defend the honor of his home. How strange and uncomfortable to become a Falls City apologist.
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