Illustration by Macey Keung
From iconic anthems like “We are the Champions” evoking an unequaled sense of victory, to “We Will Rock You” being a universal motivator, Queen has undeniably had a pervasive influence on our modern culture. This British rock sensation of the ’70s and ’80s upended the music industry with innovative and original musical breakthroughs. One of the most sensational songs in their discography, “Bohemian Rhapsody,” is the namesake of Bryan Singer’s new biopic film that follows the life and legacy of Freddie Mercury, lead singer of Queen.
The first moments of the film provide a glimpse into the life of a rock star, effectively portraying the exhilaration of performing in front of millions. It depicts the historic LiveAid concert of 1985, one of the most viewed broadcasts of all time, and Freddie Mercury’s backstage procedures as he prepares for the biggest performance of his life. The importance of this moment is revealed near the end of the movie, after the viewer understands the tumultuous journey that brought Queen to this stage. As Mercury walks out, the film cuts to the beginning of this journey, setting up an anticipation that won’t be satisfied until the very end.
The film focuses on both the music industry and the personal aspects of Mercury’s life in equal standing. A central theme explores the journey of a gay man coming to terms with his sexuality, especially important at the time due to the prominence of the AIDS epidemic. However, what is lacking from this narrative is a proficient understanding of what that identity means in the context Mercury grew up in. Coming from a family of immigrants and growing up in a Zoroastrian household, there was a notable absence of discussion around familial acceptance of homosexuality, a theme that could have been very powerful in hindsight. What the film does choose to portray in terms of LGBTQ+ identity is the prevalent underground party and drug culture present at the time, an important aspect no doubt, but not entirely holistic in approach. It also touches on abusive relationships within the community, which is an extremely important topic that can often be overlooked.
In terms of the music industry, the film wonderfully depicts the trials and triumphs necessary in order to reach rock star status. Starting with the formation of Queen after a nightclub concert, the road to the band’s success was marked by the revolutionary and unconventional ideas presented by Freddie Mercury, played by Rami Malek. The soundtrack chronologically correlates to the period of time in the movie, and through it the audience sees a natural progression of the bands success. Emphasized by the iconic tracks of Queen’s career, the plot continually builds in action as fame and glory come closer and closer to reality for Mercury. However, as much as the success of the band grows, the interpersonal relations within it deteriorate equally so. Mercury’s interactions with his fellow band mates become increasingly pressed, to the point where the band discusses breaking up. Aggravated by the unhealthy situation of Mercury’s lifestyle at the time, which was defined by excessive partying and manipulation by his boyfriend, the film delves into the raw, emotional character of the lead singer and how he attempts to tackle his inner demons. In the end, what unites the band and repairs some of the damage inflicted is the music that originally brought them together, all culminating in the LiveAid concert.
Each actor fully embodied not just the screenplay characters they represent, but also the real life musicians that the roles drew from. The dynamics of the relationships between these figures are represented impeccably by the acting, with numerous emotional moments fully rounding out the characteristics of these people.
Although criticized for factual inaccuracies and directorial faults, as a whole the film provides a window into the world of a rock star, with everything that entails. In memoriam of Freddie Mercury, who died in 1991, this film does justice to the great lead singer whose music defined a generation of rock, breaking boundaries both in the industry and in the general culture at the time.