Bohemian Rhapsody, director Bryan Singer’s biopic of Queen’s lead singer Freddie Mercury’s life, tracks the group’s formation and showcases an array of the band’s classics — the hauntingly foreboding song from which the movie gets its title, the anthem to fellow artists, “We Are the Champions,” and the thump, thump, thump of “Another One Bites the Dust.” The universal consensus is that the film is a must-see for Rami Malek’s (the Emmy-winning lead actor of Mr. Robot) masterful embodiment of Mercury. And while that may be true, the film also offers profound takeaways about how to manifest your best — and most authentic — self through its depiction of Mercury’s life journey. Here’s what we can learn:
Accept the way you don’t fit in, because it may be your greatest strength:
In the film (which is a dramatization and departs from actual events) when Mercury meets the men who would become his two future bandmates and chosen family, they rib him for his gloriously gargantuan overbite. The duo have just been ditched by their frontman, so Mercury suggests himself as a replacement. Brian May, the lead guitarist, jokes: “Not with those teeth, mate!” At another point in the movie, Mercury gives a hot-tongued interview to a group of reporters, where one asks why he hasn’t fixed his teeth given his vast fortune. He crisply replies: “Why don’t you have your manners fixed?” Mercury, born with four incisors in the back of his mouth that jetted his front teeth forward, attributed his vocal range to his unconventional chompers. Although a former assistant claims the singer was embarrassed by his toothiness, he placed the gifts he believed they bestowed on him above superficiality — and never got them “fixed.”
Become who you want to be:
Malek, who immediately recognized the centrality of Mercury’s distinct set of teeth and got a mold made a year before filming, told Vanity Fair: “He was a defiant human being who refused to be segregated and marginalized in any way,” he said, “You couldn’t put a label on him…what he wanted to do is live his most authentic self,” and wanted his audience to be “exactly who they were meant to be.”
Sometimes accepting who you truly are means shedding the identity you were assigned at birth to arise anew. For Mercury, that meant abandoning his family name and all the constraints it imposed on him to emerge the flamboyantly liberated and liberating artist he became. Studies indicate that being oneself — even when it sets us apart from the herd — relates positively to well-being and life satisfaction.
Take creative risks and trust your vision:
“Bohemian Rhapsody,” Queen’s five minute and 55 second 1975 masterpiece, is recognized as incomparably original in the world of music — a mixture of opera and rock — the likes of which we’ve never heard again. Although many naysayers turned their thumbs down when they initially heard it, Mercury and his co-creators didn’t surrender to even the slightest bit of uncertainty.
In fact, when Queen’s record producer in the film, Ray Foster, played by Mike Myers, insists that the sprawling number can’t be the single from the album Night at the Opera because no radio station would play it, the group dumped him.
Mercury himself admitted in an interview in 1977 that the boundary-pushing tune could have been a colossal fail, but he paid no mind to the doubters: “Obviously, we came across certain barriers like it being six minutes long. There were numerous rows. [The recording company wanted to] edit it. And we just thought, there’s no point. You either hear it in its entirety or pick another song. We either thought it was going to be an enormous flop or a huge success.”
Even Elton John, a contemporary of Mercury’s, who’s the subject of a forthcoming biopic, contemptuously asked their mutual manager who played it for him: “Are you f*cking mad?” declaring it too lengthy and outlandish for radio.
Today, it is widely considered one of the greatest rock songs of all time — Rolling Stone readers called Mercury’s vocals on the epic the best in rock history — and the promotional video that accompanied the song’s release provided the template for MTV seven years later. In 2004, “Bo Rhap,” as fans call it, was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.
Follow Mercury’s dad’s edict, but in your own way:
Filmmaker Bryan Singer presents Mercury’s father as having been disappointed with his son’s penchant for nightlife and theatricality, urging him over and over again to get serious about his life and follow his refrain: “Good thought, good word, good deed.” Mercury ends up living by his dad’s words, but in his own way. In one scene, the frontman tells a potential manager that Queen is the champion of the oddball: “[We’re] misfits who don’t belong together playing for the other misfits. The outcasts. The ones right at the back of the room. Who are pretty sure they don’t belong either. We belong to them.” His good thought, word and deed, in other words, is for them — the stigmatized, marginalized and misunderstood.
Mercury’s father finally seems to recognize that his son has lived up to his expectations in their last interaction on screen. Mercury goes home to introduce his family to his boyfriend, Jim Hutton, who remained his partner until the singer’s untimely death from AIDS-related complications at 45, and tell them about his plans to attend a charity concert (Live Aid) to raise money for famine relief in Africa. “Good thought, good word, good deed. Just like you taught me, Papa,” he says to his father as he’s preparing to leave. In the most moving scene in the film, his father replies by walking over to him and clutching him in a deep, emotional embrace, saying it without saying it — that he finally sees him and acknowledges all he’s accomplished as a man and an artist.
Queen went on to steal the show at Live Aid on July 13, 1985 at Wembley Stadium in London, starting their set with their impossible hit, whose lyrics have taken on new and eerie meaning now that we know how the singer’s days would end:
Too late, my time has come
Sends shivers down my spine, body’s aching all the time
Goodbye, everybody, I’ve got to go
Gotta leave you all behind and face the truth
The day before he died on November 24, 1991, in a final act of kindness, Mercury helped spread awareness about the virus that took his life by publicly declaring his status. While most of us won’t become legendary rockstars, Mercury’s life offers a bold blueprint for how we can move in the direction of our dreams with greater originality, confidence, and authenticity.