Bohemian Rhapsody Review: A Lesson in Failure from Freddie Mercury

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Bohemian Rhapsody Review: A Lesson in Failure from Freddie Mercury

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

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here are only two real stars in the Freddie Mercury biopic Bohemian Rhapsody – leading man Rami Malek’s prosthetic two front teeth, which give him a campy-yet-innocent air, and lend his voice an interesting cadence. As for the rest of the movie, like the now-legendary lyric from the song goes, “Nothing really matters.” Bohemian Rhapsody teased us by promising a front-row seat to the hedonism, heartbreak, and hijinks that defined a British-Indian rock titan, but the Bryan Singer-directed film is a waste of its subject’s dramatic potential.

Watching Bohemian Rhapsody feels like listening to a DMX album on Apple Music –  it’s a lobotomised clone of the original, stripped of all its sizzle and charisma, until what remains is a hollowed-out husk. Where’s the craziness Freddie was known for? Where are Brian May, Roger Taylor, and John Deacon? But most importantly, where’s Freddie? He seems lost, in what was hyped to be a dive into the man’s mind. The film winds up as a mundane retelling of common knowledge easily discovered after a couple of hours spent on Google.

This is Bohemian Rhapsody in a nutshell.

Sure, it has its moments, like the film’s climax, an uncannily accurate portrayal of Queen’s transcendent performance at Live Aid 1985. There’s the lyrics to some songs, which appear on screen, encouraging the audience to get involved, just like they would at a Queen gig. But perhaps the best reason to watch Bohemian Rhapsody is because of how it deals with one of the most universal experiences people deal with, failure, and the effect it can have, even on a larger-than-life character such as Freddie.

Knowingly or unknowingly, most of us are uncomfortable acknowledging our failure, because as Freddie puts it, “The human condition requires a bit of anesthesia.”

Knowingly or unknowingly, most of us are uncomfortable acknowledging our failure, because as Freddie puts it, “The human condition requires a bit of anesthesia.” Freddie suffered from AIDS at a time when the stigma around the disease was at its peak, and his particular condition saw him devoid of friends, lonely and alone. His anesthetic was simple: He got shitfaced with total strangers, people who only saw the hedonistic rockstar before them, ignoring the insecure, buck-toothed Parsi boy who wanted nothing more than to share a drink with the people he loved the most.

Over time, shy, awkward Farrokh Bulsara was left behind in favour of Freddie fuckin’ Mercury at the crazy parties that became part of his rockstar mythology, where he embraced the choices that contributed to his downfall.

Even the subtle, understated opening title is a far cry from the flamboyance you expected. At its core, this film is about a misfit, a failure in the eyes of the world, who keeps fighting until he makes it big, only to lose everything with one visit to a doctor’s office. But the downfall isn’t the end. Instead, Freddie accepts that he’s fucked up, and there’s no coming back, so he might as well go out with a bang.

There’s a lesson in there about the proverbial fall from grace: Rather than freaking out about your free fall, take a minute to appreciate how good the breeze feels on your face on the way down.

Freddie’s response of “Ay-oh!”, his trademark stage chant, when a fan stricken by AIDS recognises him while leaving the doctor’s office, is the perfect example of this attitude of acceptance, as is the scene where Freddie steps on stage for the first time since his diagnosis and plays the opening piano riff to “Bohemian Rhapsody”, his face a mask of composure, ready to do the thing he was put on this earth to do, perform.

Bohemian Rhapsody, though mediocre, speaks to everyone who’s ever struggled to face their own frailties and failures, shrugging them off for another time or as someone else’s fault. In its own failure to portray the life and times of one of the greatest rock bands to have ever stepped on stage, it ends making a compelling statement about facing your failures. You’ve got to face the music, just like Freddie did, because that’s the only way this song ends.

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