3 Stars — Powerful
With a clear understanding of the struggle of the bisexual lifestyle, director Bryan Singer creates a compelling work of art in Bohemian Rhapsody. Focusing primarily on the lead singer of the versatile rock bank Queen, we follow the journey of Farrokh Bulsara as he remakes himself into rock star Freddie Mercury (Rami Malek).
The son of immigrants to England from Zanzibar who practiced the Zoroastrian religion, Mercury was a musical genius with unusual flare and confused identity. Loving the music scene in London, he was there the night that his favorite band, Smile, lost their lead singer. Finding lead guitarist Brian May (Gwilym Lee) and drummer Roger Taylor (Ben Hardy) in the alley behind the club, Mercury pushes himself on them with an impromptu but powerful audition. Soon he found himself on stage with these musicians and their bass player, John Deacon (Joseph Mazzello), in a raw but powerful performance.
That same night, Mercury met the love of his life, Mary Austin (Lucy Boynton). She was attracted to Mercury’s unusual style and was enamored with his musical and performance skills, and they understandably fell in love. Their love was to be everlasting, and he wrote “The Love of My Life” as a song to her. But the difficulty of being a couple during his meteoric rise to fame and wealth was further complicated by his bisexual attraction. Choosing to not be faithful to her, Mercury entered a deep and increasingly lonely path.
We won’t divulge all that happens in this journey, but there are several events of notice. The first is the creative power of the band members as a group. In a wonderful scene where they are recording their top hit, “Bohemian Rhapsody,” it is clear that though Mercury was the author, each person added their skills to the enterprise.
Second is the abusive power of those who latch onto greatness. In Mercury’s life, it was Paul Prenter (Allen Leech), whose manipulation isolated him under Prenter’s solitary control. Talking him into leaving the band to strike out on his own, Prenter then screened phone calls and encouraged his partying not only with drugs and alcohol but with sexual promiscuity that cost Mercury his life to the disease of AIDS.
Third, genius is hard. Although there was much more going on with his father and his sexuality and his marriage, under it all was a man who had a gift that made him uniquely different and therefore alone. Any type of genius is a two-edged sword, but the genius of the musician, performer or athlete seems to be more difficult because of the fame and wealth, which in themselves isolate even when surrounded by others.
The film ends in a moving re-enactment of Queen’s performance at Live Aid in 1985, six years before Mercury’s death. Fully in the moment, the performance of the actors for the film and the original members of Queen allows us to join them in the acceptance of their true identities, or as Mercury explains, “Doing what I was made to do.” That is the goal of all of us, whether or not we are geniuses.
» Freddie Mercury’s father taught him to have, “Good thoughts, good words, good deeds.” Do you believe those values are adequate by which we can live our lives, or do we need more? What would that more be? How would you say this counsel helped or hurt Mercury in living his life?
» Brian May states: “It’s America. They’re puritans in public, perverts in private.” Have you found that to be true in your experience? Why would he think that?
» When Mercury confesses his infidelity to his wife, explaining that he is bisexual, she says, “Your life is going to be very difficult.” This proved to be prophetic. Is it the bisexuality or the unfaithfulness, or both, that made his life hard?
— Cinema in Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is a former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is the retired pastor of Free Methodist Church of Santa Barbara and lead superintendent of Free Methodist Church in Southern California. For more reviews, visit www.cinemainfocus.com, or follow them on Twitter: @CinemaInFocus. The opinions expressed are their own.