Review / Bohemian Rhapsody / Josh McGary
Bohemian Rhapsody is based on a true story, but there are many details which are not accurate. To that end, I have chosen to write on the movie as if its presentations are true. The points below are written as if the movie is accurate.
I am a Queen fan. I’m not sure that I’ve ever met a self-respecting musician who is not. Queen is, in my opinion, the epitome of how the creative process can bring glory to God and be actively ignorant and sometimes defiant of him. In their music, the complex harmonies and intentful conforming of chaotic sound into a single masterpiece is something that only one made in the image of God can do. This, of course, means that their music is often the saddest from a Christian perspective and that Freddie Mercury’s story is ultimately a tragedy to us as believers.
This is, of course, the opposite of how the story is painted. By bookending the film with the recreation of arguably the best live performance in the history of concerts… the LiveAid Queen segment… we are led to believe that this moment is a worthwhile anchor with which to tell the story of how the band came to be Queen.
I genuinely enjoyed the film. The acting, led by Rami Malek, left the audience appropriately enthralled at the rise, fall, and rise of Queen. Incidentally, the casting was also superb.
BoRap, as the song is eponymously referred to, does a decent job of trying to paint to clear a picture on any one theme. This is perhaps a good move for the director, given the extremity with which Freddie Mercury was said to have lived. That said, there are a few things I gathered in my viewing.
- Identity is not in family or religion but in self. This is displayed in everything from Freddie’s contrarian attitude to such mundane things as how to hold a microphone, what lyrics to sing, to even giving himself a new name. This is carried into the career of the band as they did things like experimenting with sound, abandoning touring for production and writing rock based on opera rather than popular trends.
This idea runs contrary to what the Bible teaches in general. The family is meant to teach us about God, wherein we are supposed to find our true identity. This is not to say that experimentation in artistry is wrong, but this path should be one of bolstering and building up identity rather than tearing down the one we come to the table with.
- Identity cannot be altered in any way and must be sensationalized to be accurate. This is best illustrated during a pivotal scene in which his wife reacts to Freddie’s admission that he is bisexual. The context of this scene is that of desperation on his part to keep the relationship intact despite his appetites. He was not seeking to break up with her. In fact, he demands that she keep their wedding ring on. Nonetheless, he is unsuccessful at keeping the marriage going, instead pivoting the relationship into a full-blown homosexual lifestyle. This is the result of that one coming-out conversation wherein his wife’s response to him was not one of strengthening their failing relationship but instead of directing him into his appetites by telling him, “no, Freddie! you are gay.” Even after this, he continues to met with failed attempts to strengthen the relationship, culminating in his wife eventually getting married and having children with another man.
This is true only when the context of our identity comes from God. There is a deep sadness in this movie as Freddie continues to beg attention and relationship from his wife. This “inclination” is ultimately presented as a negative thing to overcome and his acceptance of his homosexual lifestyle and her new marriage is presented as part of his healthy new mindset. Yet, a large portion of the debauchery and depression in Freddie’s life seems to have come, not from closeting his lusts, but rather from people repeatedly rathering to give him over to these lusts than to meet him head on and give him direction and sound advice. It is in the height of this state, high and drunk that a single expression of her love pulls him out of his depression. Truthfully, he had been begging her to do this for many years. But instead, he was left to develop Freddie Mercury while Farrokh Bulsara was ultimately lost.
- Family is those who understand your identity. Queen is family. From the beginning of the movie, Freddie’s father is depicted as unnecessarily over-bearing. This seems to be a cause of Freddie seeking to find his family elsewhere. He finds this in three main ways. The first is in the band. The second is in the music itself and the last is in the fandom. However, in every front, Freddie becomes frustrated that his true self is not being understood or respected.
Family is repeatedly accosted to refer to the band. This definition expands as necessary. However, every definition ultimately fails Freddie. When he defined it as the band, the band easily broke up over simple confusions and lack of patience. When he defined it as the music, he ultimately became bored and sought to make his own music. When he defined it as the fandom, he became frustrated at the lack of ability for the fans to not relegate him to a cross-dressing homosexual poster boy. Even, the family that he wanted to have with his wife ended up letting him down, while at the same time claiming that it was so he could be truly free. Biblically, family is found in our mutual faith, wherein we lose distinctions such as gender, race and so on for the glory of adoption and oneness as Christ’s body.
- Everyone deserves a second chance. Freddie is a screw-up. He is a genius first, but after the genius comes a lot of grace. As Freddie continues to gain notoriety, he becomes less and less self-aware. This apex’s in a moment of lust where he tries to take advantage of a waiter at one of his parties. Jim, the waiter, shuns his advances, for the most part, and demands to be treated as a person. This moment hangs in Freddie’s mind until he finds his own self-respect and ultimately is able to reapproach the waiter with an interaction that, presumably creates a respectful relationship. The encounter with Jim created the impasse needed for Freddie to admit that he needed more of the band and less of himself.
The concept of grace is a distinctly Christian concept. That said, its beautiful to see it played out in stories such as this. Unfortunately, and expectedly, it is a wholly inconsistent application. What could have been a true understanding of grace and redemption is instead a succumbing to social contract theory. Freddie realizes that he is worse without Queen and vice versa. This is called second chances, but in reality, Freddie has no such realization. There is no thought of reconciliation to those who had wronged Freddie… and there were many. Instead, these people are simply cut out for Freddie’s health. This surgery is painted as powerful liberation, but it is acutely one-sided and self-serving. Even Freddie’s reconciliation with his family is not a true reconciliation. It consists of a fairly open unveiling of who Freddie is as a homosexual but had his parents reacted worse, the likelihood would be that the family would’ve been cut off as well. This is not grace. It is merely social contract theory at the bottom of a barrel.
Bohemian Rhapsody is a fun movie. Its music is iconic. Its performances are captivating. But when our minds are honest about its ultimate emptiness, the movie should lead us to reflect on the sadness that one man could be so talented and so misunderstood and so in need of Christ.