There is a challenge when it comes to depicting figures that are as familiar to us as Freddie Mercury. First meeting a young Farrokh Bulsara, we are endeared to him from the onset, and taken into his world in a way that means we feel for him, even when he acts out later along the line.
For, whilst it’s not necessary to suffer for great art, inevitably pain can lead to music that can help others transform their own pain.
Mercury’s character (played by Rami Malek) comes across as cool and quirky, with a quiet confidence from the onset when mocked about his teeth by his future band mates, and his response is to belt out a song, showing the power of his lungs. Inevitably, this confidence turns to arrogance. Yet, amongst the wild drug-fuelled parties his loneliness is clear, and this is only taken advantage of by others who see his vulnerability beneath the showmanship. He easily has the wittiest one-liners throughout the film, yet we can also see how humour is often used as a coping mechanism. For, whilst it’s not necessary to suffer for great art, inevitably pain can lead to music that can help others transform their own pain.
Not only is Malek believable as Mercury in character and accurate in his speech, but his singing voice appears surprisingly authentic too. This turns out to be because his voice has actually been mixed with Marc Matel. However, the quibble I have with the film is that when Mercury comes out as bisexual to his then-partner Mary Austin, her response is that he’s gay. This assumption isn’t corrected, despite Mercury’s constant longing for Austin, his assertion of “believing in each other”, and his continued friendship with her until his death.
the film generally lacks nuance and glosses over issues such as this, as well as some of the throwaway sexist remarks we hear now and again
The myth that men can’t be bisexual and must be gay is far too prevalent, even in today’s society. It would have been better if his bisexuality was made more obvious. Instead, we get a happy-ever-after with Jim Hutton, as if he was lying about his attraction to Austin all along. Although this romantic “happy end” is touching in itself, especially when accepted by his more conservative family, the film generally lacks nuance and glosses over issues such as this, as well as some of the throwaway sexist remarks we hear now and again. The people around him, including Queen band mates, are clearly uncomfortable with his sexuality, and they comes across as homophobic in the film. This is perhaps what led Mercury to be so lonely; he felt he had to “choose” between this part of his life and his more accepting acquaintances and follow LGBT people that he would only see at his hedonistic parties.
The film’s critics have also noted the safeness of it, and the clichéd aspects of other characters. Indeed, Freddie Mercury does steal the show. It may attempt to chronicle the life of Queen as a band, but the spotlight very much shines on Mercury. Overall, the movie is not perfect, but in a film that we all know does not have a happy ending with Mercury’s HIV-related death, it still manages to empower and uplift, reminding you that the energy and power of Mercury (and Queen’s music as a whole) lives on beyond karaoke nights and tribute acts. It lives inside our hearts and minds.
Featured image credit: Carl Lender
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