Updated: Jul 22, 2020
“Bohemian Rhapsody” and more reflections on lies. (SPOILER)
How like my God to deliver affirming messages right on time from sometimes unexpected quarters. As I bump along this growth season in my life, enter the highly acclaimed “Bohemian Rhapsody,”a biopic about rock legend and vocal virtuoso Freddie Mercury and the band Queen.
An artsy gal from the tail end of the Queen era who once sang with a rock band for-like 20 minutes, I enjoy movies about artists and musicians. I’m inspired and sobered by glimpses into the creative process and the emotional torment that so often plagues creatives—including me. There’s another blog topic for another time.
A human like me. Kind of.
I’ve always appreciated Queen’s remarkably unique sound and many recognizable hits but didn’t know much more than a few random headlines about Freddie. Years ago, I do remember reading a quote that made a lasting impression:
"You can have everything in the world and still be the loneliest man. and that is the most bitter type of loneliness." says Freddie. "Success has brought me world idolisation and millions of pounds. but it's prevented me from having the one thing we all need-a loving ongoing relationship.
Freddie's candor immediately endeared him to me, his vulnerable honesty resonated as a very relatable truth. Freddie’s realization wasn’t new. Solomon made the point a few thousand years ago (Ecc.1), also born from first-hand experience. I’ve been there, too, in a non-rock star kind of way.
I was touched to see that in the movie Freddie, born Farrokh Bulsara, was portrayed as endearing. A shy, guileless oddball whom I would have liked as a friend, Freddie was the beloved black sheep of his caring, conservative Indian family. (I didn’t know he was of Indian descent, born in Zanzibar, now Tanzania. Did you?).
We quickly see that his father is dismayed by who Freddie is. Freddie’s father often repeats, “Good thoughts, Good deeds. Good life,” the pillar of the family’s faith, Zoroastrinism. We get the distinct feeling that young Farrokh just doesn’t measure up in his father’s eyes. The disapproval is unnerving and painful. Farrokh probably seems to get that feeling, too. In fact, longing for his father’s love and approval seems to overshadow Freddie’s life. I know the feeling.
The promise of LOVE. (shimmer & twinkle)
Early on however, Freddie finds deep love and acceptance with a young woman, Mary Austin, who would become Freddie’s short-lived fiancé and remain a constant and devoted companion.
Watching their early courtship blossom is sweet and familiar. The mystical, albeit egocentric (see The Road Less Traveled by M.Scott Peck) quality of falling in love. Deep mutual understanding, inexplicable familiarity, longing, desire... Mary lovingly embraces and affirms who Freddie is. Early on, she even casually helps the dapper, androgynous future rock star select a woman’s garment without judgment, long before Freddie ventured into bisexuality. We witness their young love unfold--ecstasy, fun, intimate connection. Eventually, Freddie proposes to Mary and we can just feel the depth of his devotion and hopefulness.
Meanwhile, Queen’s star is rising. They’re blazing a new musical trail. Their manager finds them a remote estate in the English countryside where they can make magic. And they do. Glimpsing Queen’s creative process is powerful and inspiring, especially to a frustrated artsy type like me. As an aside, the movie reveals how much of an artistically interdependent ensemble Queen’s amazing musicians were.
The bait and not the hook.
The film portrays that it was then, during this heady, breakthrough musical retreat, that Freddie acknowledges his attraction to men. Queen’s handsome, scheming manager Paul Prenter makes a pass at Freddie, which Freddie does rebuff, but we sense the refusal is curious. Up until this point, Freddie is clearly somewhat effeminate—really, in my view, just his own unique person—but truly faithful to Mary.
After this groundbreaking time, when Bohemian Rhapsody was recorded, Freddie confesses to his beloved Mary that he’s bisexual. But he quickly assures Mary he still loves her, too. He still wants them to be together. Mary is utterly crushed. She can’t accept the implications. Their engagement ends. Freddie, too, is heartbroken by the loss, but by now, he’s tasted the forbidden fruit and the intoxication of creative brilliance and fame. Still, Mary and Freddie remain very close, and Freddie even buys Mary a house next door until she eventually gets married, over which Freddie clearly suffers.
Sex , substances and success can be BIG potholes.
I don’t want to comment on Freddie’s sexual orientation. It’s not the point. And does it really matter? Didn’t Adam and Eve betray God for knowledge? Haven’t I betrayed God for ambition, alcohol, cheese and chocolate?
The point is that Freddie betrayed the love of his life for the elusive transience of sexual desire. In Mary, he’d found as secure, unconditional and affirming a love that a human can have this side of heaven. And he didn’t even betray her for another love of his life, but rather for a fleeting and ultimately destructive physical desire. Some might argue it was a vital aspect of his true self, one he just had to honor. Well, if our sexuality defines us, we’re all in deep trouble. Ask any long-married couple or the chaste by choice or by chance.
Of course, we know that Mary’s devotion might not have saved Freddie from his fate. There are no human saviors in the truest sense, but I can’t help but wonder how often Freddie wondered what might have been. The movie suggests that he did, as does his legacy. One of his sweetest hits was “Love of My Life,” written about Mary. Listen to the lyrics.
Not surprisingly, the end of Freddie and Mary’s relationship does signal Freddie’s slow decline, initially masked as thrilling ascent.
Sex , substances and success can be BIG potholes on our journey.
Good is bad and bad is good.
Guileless Freddie quickly becomes a reluctant Diva. Hear me. The man was a musician and entertainer who said he never felt more connected and himself than when he was singing to an audience. He was a really good Diva. But in that tension some creative people experience between stage and sofa, there was great insecurity and solitude. Sex, drugs and alcohol both numbed and fueled the inner conflict, eventually distorting Freddie’s childlike earnestness and even his genius.
Manager Paul Prenter does become Freddie’s short-lived lover, eventually betraying him, and only after mercilessly exploiting him as a prop for his own ambitions. At the same time, ever faithful friend, Mary Austin has been persistently trying to reach Freddie, but is blocked by Prenter, who doesn’t relay messages.
Who (or what) comes between me and my truest friend?
He’s far gone and alone, having arrogantly broken with his bandmates, ultimately a musical failure. Finally hitting a bottom, Freddie breaks with Prenter and reclaims a little something of his authentic self. To his credit, he humbly makes amends and they’re reunited in time for the epic Live Aid performance. But Freddie’s isolation and longing is deep and insatiable.
Eventually, he does connect with Jim Hutton, a London hairdresser who shunned the trappings of fame, and was by Freddie’s side for seven years until his death from AIDS in 1991. Freddie never publicly talked about his sexual orientation and only disclosed his diagnosis the day his death at 45.
It’s so sad that while many of his friends and contemporaries, like Elton John, Rod Stewart and Mick Jagger, are still going strong, Freddie’s light was snuffed out so soon.
True wisdom: The easier way... and...Thank God for Jesus.
They say smart people learn from their mistakes and wise people learn from others’. I really do want to be wise in the face of my own temptations. Really! I want to see the shiny apple for what it really is. The hook and not just the bait. I don’t want to betray my True Love.
I try to explain to my 13-year-old (even while I’m reminding myself) that what the Bible teaches is not about spoiling our fun. It’s about lovingly guiding us along a safer, more serene path. A path that is less likely to hurt us or others. A path that minimizes the perils and their griefs. Believing God has our best at heart doesn’t prevent the unavoidable trials of this beautiful, broken world. But it makes it easier to avoid and navigate the dangerous detours with faith, love, joy and peace.
Even so, I will close by saying that betraying God—and others we love--by our human foibles and failings doesn’t condemn us. In Christ, our truest Love and Savior, we have the promise of forgiveness, the unconditional love and acceptance we all ache for, and enduring freedom.
Remember: God loves you no matter what.
Grace, peace, love and joy,