Re-viewed: Ode To Freddie Mercury
I don't have any aspirations to live to 70. I don't want to sound morbid. I've lived a full life and if I'm dead tomorrow, I don't give a damn. I've done it all, I really have.
– Freddie Mercury
Freddie Mercury, the lead singer of Queen and unarguably one of the best composers in our time of rock-n’-roll music, is primarily known for his flamboyant stage presence and nonetheless flamboyant, hedonistic life-style – or that is what most medias seem to think. Why Freddie should be primarily remembered for other things than stage costumes and strings of lovers is at the core of this article; Freddie Mercury is something bigger than colorful, boozy parties and yellow leather jackets, and that’s why the movie made in honor of his life in 2018, Bohemian Rhapsody, should be praised for its respectful and clever focus on the immortal performer’s musical legacy.
Let’s start with what we know about the man. Freddie wanted to be remembered, first of all, as fun, and his worst nightmare, according to his own words, was to be made ‘dull’ – “dullness is a disease” (Freddiemercury.com). If we listen to Freddie’s own words, his legacy would be ‘never boring’, ‘a legend’ – “I am not going to be a star. I am going to be a legend” (Freddiemercury.com), ‘a Londoner’, and as he said about his relationship with music and his career, “a musical prostitute” (Interview). He was a true entertainer through and through, be it on the stage, in the recording studio, behind the piano, composing, or in his personal life. In Freddie’s own words, his legacy would also be ‘work, work, work’; he didn’t exactly ever desire a raffling-through of his personal life but wanted to be appreciated for his work persona and his work persona only. He was in fact notoriously private – he suffered greatly from publicity – and, as we all have heard by now, he only told the public about having AIDS the day before he passed. He didn’t want a part of his personal life to be his legacy but devoted his very last days to making as much music as he had the time and possibility to make.
What would a posthumous movie about Freddie’s life that remains loyal to dear Freddie, then, be like? Exactly like Bohemian Rhapsody – the it-movie of 2018, which raised a new generation and a fresh wave of Queen fandom and made the headlines for numerous reasons. First of all, it was not liked by the critics of the world, who criticized it for leaving out Freddie’s off-stage persona and letting the rest of the band take the back seat, to name a few reasons (Guardian). Second of all, Queen fans went slightly mad, enjoying the movie so much that despite the critics’ negative consensus it soon claimed its place as the “all-time top music biopic” (Deadline). Third of all, the plot wasn’t entirely reliant on actual facts about Freddie’s life or the history of the band, for the purposes of making the story line work as an individual work of art, a fact which in any case was found deeply controversial.
Why Bohemian Rhapsody, despite the liberties it took and the backslash from the critics, can still be claimed a good biopic is due to entirely Freddie-related reasons. The movie handles the man, the myth, the genius with utmost respect and focuses on his work, his talent, his successes and his losses over the course of his career. Freddie’s personal life is a secondary theme as it should be; even if the film was made posthumously, it still managed to listen to Mercury’s wishes and respect them. This is definitely a worthy enough cause to take on in today’s world of oversharing.
Another important reason the movie works well is the liberties it took, in all its paradox. The movie is entertaining and it has a traditional plot line, and the peak of the plot is almost explosive in its waves of emotions and its superstar of a climax. The biopic is also an ode to the music of Queen, as it should be – true fans cannot stay quiet or still in the movie theater for the two hours of rock-n’-roll fireworks. The plot doesn’t forget about the more somber part of Freddie’s life or the end of it either, which rescues the artistic liberty of the rest of the story line from sinking to mere dishonesty.
Some critics have complained about Bohemian Rhapsody being a one-man show with no room left for the other, undoubtedly very important members of the band. However, the biopic is openly about Freddie, not the whole of the band Queen, which is why it isn’t worth the trouble to criticize the somewhat hollow characters of the other Queen members. If one two-hour movie tried to open up every character of a four-member band, they would all end up shallow and uninteresting shells; isn’t the other option, id est, putting the focus on one member, a lot more reasonable? One movie surely can’t tell it all – Queen’s legacy as well as Freddie Mercury’s life are too big to fit on the screen.
So are the shoes the star of Bohemian Rhapsody had to fill. The courageous Rami Malek’s portrayal of Freddie Mercury, however, won him an Oscar (to mention one prize) and even managed to turn some critics on his side. His elegance and sensibility really come through in this demanding role, and he manages to gracefully capture the essence of the master composer, the outrageously charismatic and engaging performer, and the shy, young Indian boy who struggled with his appearance, his identity, and his sexuality. Malek’s blue-eyed interpretation of Freddie may at times be a little clumsy, mostly due to excessive effort on the prosthetics department, but in spite of minor imperfections he manages to celebrate Freddie and his life in a way that doesn’t put too much emphasis on all things off-stage, that reaches the spectator’s sympathy, and still shows the myth in his true colors, too.
Bohemian Rhapsody can be seen as a beautiful ode to Freddie Mercury’s unbeatable talent, hard work and devotion to music. We could all learn from his attitude of enjoying life while it lasts and devoting every last ounce of energy to the passions of our lives. The love of Freddie’s life was music, and his music is what he should be remembered for. As he wisely said himself, he didn’t care about the moment of his passing and wanted his accomplishments to have the lead in his remembrance, instead of the way or the reason he went; thus, we should concentrate on the groundbreaking musical talent we can still enjoy by listening to his songs. One good way to do that is to watch Bohemian Rhapsody.
Long live the legacy of Freddie!
Re-viewed is a series of reviews on movies, plays, musicals, music and other cultural products by the eager rewatcher, relistener and rereader, BTSB Editor Elina Virva.