Since my last post, I’ve calmed down and I’ve been able to overthink about the reactions to Bohemian Rhapsody that I’ve seen, and I’m going to set my thoughts down in a series of numbered points.
That said, we need an image for this post, so…here’s some shirtless Freddie Mercury!
- Historical fiction does not have to be strictly factual. It almost feels like heresy for me to type that sentence, since we fixate on the historical accuracy of works in this genre, but it’s true. When an author/creator begins a work of historical fiction, they’re using history as a guide rather than trying to recreate the historical record with exact precision. So if you find historical inaccuracies in a piece of historical fiction, remind yourself that fiction does not have to be literally true for you to enjoy it, and that the story may have departed from the facts in order to create more drama for a fictional narrative or to be more appealing to an audience. Also, a piece of historical fiction may skip over sections of the subject’s story because they are difficult to describe and/or show. (For instance, Bohemian Rhapsody skips the more difficult slogs in their early career, like the part where they couldn’t land a record deal; the part where the ended up in a strange contract with a recording company called Trident, where they had access to state-of-the-art recording equipment, but only at really bizarre hours because they got the studio when established artists like David Bowie and Elton John weren’t using it; and the part where they couldn’t finish their first American tour because Brian May got a terrible infection in his arm from a travel inoculation/vaccination that he had to have before the trip, and it got so bad that everyone was worried he might have to have his arm amputated. Yeah, there might be a reason that stuff didn’t make the movie. I mean, would you want all of the odd hours you worked and all of your weirdest medical problems showcased in a full-length feature film?)
- Biopics are largely symbolic rather than factual. You see, it’s incredibly hard to fit a person’s entire life into a two-hour film, even if they died relatively young. So maybe instead of expecting every scene in a biopic as a scene that literally happened, it might be better to understand the film as a symbolic representation of how that person lived and of their personality, or at the very least, how that person, people close to them, and/or Hollywood executives want them to be remembered. Also, it’s not necessarily evil or bad that people want them to be remembered in a certain way; that’s just human nature. No one has objective, emotionless memories of anyone, let alone a cultural figure like Freddie Mercury, so the film is going to be injected with certain people’s perspectives (in this case, Brian May’s and Roger Taylor’s).
- The people who are extremely angry about the film are a vocal minority. If you look at comment sections on posts about the film, like this one from Buzzfeed, the majority of the comments about the film are positive. Additionally, Bohemian Rhapsody has a critical score of 62% percent and an audience score of 93% on Rotten Tomatoes, so it’s Fresh (though not “Certified Fresh,” which is a phrase that seems to be reserved for films with a critical score of 82% or higher). This is the site’s Critical Consensus, found here: “Bohemian Rhapsody hits a handful of high notes, but as an in-depth look at a beloved band, it offers more of a medley than a true greatest hits collection.” The thing is, though, I never expected this to be an in-depth look at the story of Queen. That would be better suited to a miniseries or a multi-season series in the vein of The Crown. I was expecting a fun overview, and that’s probably what many other audience members expected, too. In fact, that may be what some audience members, like my mother, wanted. When the credits started rolling, my mother looked over at me and said, “That’s about as much as I wanted to know.” And that’s fine.
- Dealing with Freddie Mercury’s sexuality and his death from AIDS was always going to be “problematic.” I put “problematic” in quotes because that word has become a blanket term that woke liberal young people use to describe things and/or people that somehow do not exactly fit with their personal politics. I’m a liberal young person who tries to be woke, but I can see that if I expect every piece of media I consume and every person I meet or admire to align with my political views, I will be perpetually upset, and I can’t live that way. Some reviews claim that Bohemian Rhapsody treats AIDS as a punishment for Freddie’s same-sex relations and general promiscuity. The angry video review I linked to in my last post claimed that the Freddie Mercury biopic that Sacha Baron Cohen wanted to make, one that focused exclusively on Freddie’s private life and his dying of AIDS, was the proper way to explore it. However, the problem with the first criticism is that Freddie was extremely promiscuous and that probably did contribute to him contracting AIDS. That may not be something we want to think about now; it’s not nice or good, it’s just tragic. But unfortunately, it did happen, and to pretend otherwise probably wouldn’t be a good idea. The second criticism, though, leads me to my next point, which is…
- The remaining members of Queen getting involved in the film-making of Bohemian Rhapsody may not have been done with malicious intentions. The young man in the video review I mentioned above seemed to fervently believe that Brian May and Roger Taylor got involved in the making of Bohemian Rhapsody solely to save their own brand and to throw both Freddie Mercury (who is dead) and John Deacon (who retired from the music industry in 1997) under the bus. That guy thinks that they did this by making Freddie look like a dick and by giving John the least amount of screen time out of all the four band members. That was just speculation, though, so I think I’m allowed to speculate, too. I believe that the reality is more complicated by that. I think they got involved to protect both Freddie’s legacy (or what they believe his legacy is) and their brand at the same time. For instance, they prevented the film from focusing solely on Freddie’s decline and death from AIDS. Why? Well, probably because when he told them that he was terminal, he said that he just wanted to make music until he died. He didn’t want too many people to know about his illness, and he certainly didn’t want the press and the public to know. That’s just not what he wanted, and I think they most likely wanted the film to respect that wish. However, Brian and Roger are a bit idealized as characters. For instance, if the film were a bit more realistic, they would be arguing ALL THE TIME. Then again, that might be a bit annoying and distracting, so it might have been left out for ego reasons, or for streamlining reasons.
Those are the most major points that I wanted to make about the film. The rest I can’t make without revealing spoilers. (Yes, I know most of you know how it all turns out, but this is the internet, so you can never be too careful with spoilers.) Just remember: historical fiction is always inaccurate compared to the real historical record, and that is neither good nor bad. It just is. Because that is fiction for you.