Monday, December 31, 2012

Soldier's Girl

By s. Monday, December 31, 2012 , , , , , , , ,
I weep for humanity. Occasionally I get to see films that remind me of the fact that we live in cruel world filled with monsters. Monsters who don't recognize the miracle of love - who are too blind and stupid to realize that this miracle doesn't just happen between people of two different genders. If I were to make a list of things that make cry and scream in anger at the same time, homophobia would be at the very top of the list.

Soldier's Girl made me us heartbroken as Ang Lee's masterful Brokeback Mountain. While Lee's beautiful film showed the fictional story that without a single doubt mirrored the feelings and events that happened in reality, Soldier's Girl is based on real events. On July 6, 1999 private Barry Winchell was murdered by another soldier - Calvin Glover. Few hours before the crime Glover engaged Winchell in a fight by calling him a "faggot" and by pushing him. Winchell didn't want to fight but he stroke back, defeating Glover. Glover, taunted by Winchell's roommate and another soldier - Justin Fisher - took a baseball bat and bashed Winchell's head with it, repeatedly. Winchell died in the hospital few hours after that.

The reason for the horrible "faggot" remark and eventually a crime was that Winchell was dating transgender night club performer - Calpernia Addams. The rumors - spread by Fisher - about the couple reached Winchell's unit. That's when the remarks and the harassment began. Despite the "Don't ask, don't tell" policy, one of Winchell's superior officers was asking questions about the club where Winchell met Addams, causing the atmosphere to become even more aggravated.

Soldier's Girl is Showtime TV movie, nominated for 3 Golden Globes. It also appeared on AFI's top 10 TV programs in 2003. It's certainly worthy of all the accolades - it's a brave, moving film that is destined to move and horrify you. The thing I liked the most about it was how much depth was given to the characters - none of the people we see here is one dimensional, they are people battling with something, people with deep issues that are desperate to find some help and happiness.

That's true for the villains of the story as well - Fisher was a man with clear issues. At one point Calpernia suggests that he is attracted to Berry. Fisher was acting like a friend at one point, only to spread rumors about Berry in another. The film shows that he didn't meant for Glover to kill Barry and then it shows that he clearly refuses to take any responsibility for what happened, though  it's clear it was his fault too - without his remarks, rumors and actions it would not have happened. As for Glover, he was a young guy with tremendous anger problems. The fact that both of them were drunk only fueled their anger and led to the unimaginable crime.

Because military law was used to prosecute the two, the sentence wasn't as harsh as if it would be for civilians. For the murder of Winchell Glover was sentenced for life of prison - with the possibility of parole after 15 years! And as for Fisher - as I type these words he is already a free man. Fisher has been released from prison after serving seven years of an original 12 ½ year sentence. When I read about the real life events, trial and those sentences I felt physically sick.

The love story between Barry and Calpernia is at the very core of the movie and it's beautifully shown. They meet in the club where Berry is dared by Fisher to find out whether Calpernia is a woman or not. Barry doesn't seem to care about that and he treats Calpernia like he would treat a lady. He asks her for her phone number and soon the two begin to date. Though at times it is clear Barry is very confused and he doesn't really know what he is doing and why - it is always clear that she makes him happy. What's interesting is that in Calpernia's former life, when she was called Scottie, she was actually in the navy. She's knows military life and she is able to relate to Berry and help him. Troy Garity who portrays Barry did an amazing job - he truly makes you feel for his character and hope for happiness for him. Happiness he never had a chance of getting, at least not for long.

It always blows my mind that this was Lee Pace's first role. No wonder it was his breakthrough performance. We are not talking about him simply playing a man who dresses as a woman - he was playing a woman trapped in a man's body. He delivered such a beautiful, understanding and compassionate performance - you can clearly see Calpernia's desire to finish her transformation into someone she feels she is. Pace's physical transformation is incredible but it never overshadows all the little things he does that make you see the joy and fragility that woman has. The scene where she finds out about Barry's murder is just heartbreaking to watch. I'm constantly mesmerized by Pace's ability to transform himself into all those different characters - just few days ago I saw him as one of the murderers Truman Capote wrote about in Infamous.

What really destroyed me was the scene of the murder. It is very graphic and genuinely painful to witness. The fact that Barry didn't die right away makes it all even worse. The scene plays out as Calpernia is competing in a pageant at the club where she is lip syncing the song - the score to the movie is incredible and tragically ironic at many times. It's one of the most shocking and emotionally affecting murder scenes I've seen in a while. In the aftermath we watch reenactments of real testimonies. When Barry's commanding officer, the one who was determined to find out whether he was gay or not, says Barry's death is like "death in the family" I felt nauseous.

This film is often compared to Boys Don't Cry and for good reasons too -  both films deal with the subject of heinous hate crime that happened in reality and they show two people who found each other and found happiness together, in spite of everything that stood in their way. But unfortunately, in both of those stories the four most dangerous things hiding in human beings - stupidity, ignorance, jealousy and cruelty - won in the end.

Soldier's Girl (2003, 112 min)
Plot: Barry is a private with the 101st Airborne Division of the United States Army, stationed at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. Calpernia works as a showgirl at a transgender revue in Nashville, Tennessee when the two met in 1999. Barry's roommate Justin Fisher (Shawn Hatosy) brings Barry to the club where she performs. When Barry and Calpernia begin seeing each other regularly, Fisher begins spreading rumors on base about their relationship, which appeared to be a violation of the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy about discussing the sexual orientation of military personnel.
Director: Frank Pierson
Writer: Ron Nyswaner
Stars: Troy Garity, Lee Pace and Andre Braugher



  1. I'm glad I watched it before I read this review, it kind of gives me an oversight and a better understanding. I agree with everything you say, I feel as if this is an issue that shouldn't be an issue. As Calpernia's friend said, nowadays nobody is 100% something and I agree, but yet, there are people who are 100% mean and evil against those.
    The only criticism of mine would be the casting of Barry. Not that Garity doesn't do a great job, he is brilliant but when I also read about the true life event and saw that he was actually just 21 I felt a bit disconnected. What I mean is that, this movie could have had even a bigger emotional effect if they had cast a "baby face". Garity was older and he also seemed to have a more of an aged look to him, so in terms of reality reflected in Soldier's Girl, its emotional impacts would've been bigger for me if I'd seen an even younger guy in that lead.

    1. Exactly this is an issue and it shouldn't be one. It pisses me off so much that people are bother by what others do in bed and who they love. It's nobody's business but the 2 people involved.

      I can see your point, i think you're right. I loved Garity's performance, but yeah the movie would be even more emotionally draining if the cast someone with more innocent look.

    2. Yeah, I guess it wasn't as shocking or I don't know. To have guys who actually look like 21 and 17 would've maybe gotten that effect of "reality check, this is happening" on a bigger level. Pace's casting was spot on.. though I wonder why the LGBT community commented on Soldier's Girl not portraying the transgendered right or something...

    3. Really? I didn't know that. That's quite odd, especially since Calpernia Addams was actually involved in making of the movie so I'm sure they did the best possible job with that portrayal.

    4. "A subsequent New York Times article, "An Inconvenient Woman", documented the marginalization and misrepresentation of transgender sexuality even by gay rights activists." But who knows.

  2. Though homosexuality is being progressively accepted at a steady rhythm, I think that transgenderism is still a weird, unknown situation. It doesn't confuse me at all, but no one really talks about it... and I find that weird. We allow people to medically switch genders, but not legally. I'm talking about the situation in Portugal, of course.

    But no matter the country, I find being against homosexuality and transgenders so stupid... why can't people just love who they love and be who they want to be? Why limit a positive thing like affection, or prevent someone from feeling confortable with who they are, if no one is getting hurt?

    And their arguments are always so silly and non-sensical... you'd think we live in modern times.

    1. Yeah, it's still a very confusing situation. I really wish that the people who struggle with that issue were in better situation.

      I never understood such people - those who are so interested in others' sexual orientation. It doesn't affect them in the slightest. And the arguments against the marriage...I swear these people behave as if if the gays and transgender people could marry it would somehow devalue the importance of their own marriages. Such stupidity, such madness.

      Sometimes it's like fucking witch hunt.

    2. You know, stepping into your conversation, I think the "other people's problem" is actually related to their own issues. I know it's a cliché thing to say, but I do think that those who are the meanest, are no 100% straight themselves but raised as such. So they are mentally aggressive due to their upbringing against themselves. And then there are those who are just too stupid to know better.
      I had a person say to me "gay is against the Bible" and I got so mad, because he has broken every possible commandment and he is quoting the Bible to me - ignorance, that's what it is!

    3. That's a good point - I thought they actually did a great job here with that with the portrayal of Fisher - he had so many issues and it might have come from him not figuring out who he was. His actions were so contradictory there just had to be a deeper reason for that.

      The people who use Bible in that argument are the worst. What the hell does the Bible have to do with anything. It's not the ultimate law and I was under the impression that religion was about "love". i fail to see love in hating people who love.

  3. I can't even begin to fathom why people are bigoted over sexual orientation, let alone where such murderous hatred comes from. I've lived all my life in the so-called "Bible Belt" of the U.S., and I've heard every dumbass argument in defense of homophobia and bigotry toward transgendered people that there is. :-(

    We made a point of talking to our kids about these issues since they were very small so they'd just think LGBT lifestyles are perfectly normal and not a big deal. Because it is normal and not a big deal. I think more people are rearing their children this way, and the world will inevitably change. I just wish it were happening faster.

    I am tempted to watch this movie just for Lee Pace's performance. But considering how miserable I was after watching Boys Don't Cry and Brokeback Mountain, I'm not sure.

    Great post, Margaret.

    1. Exactly - it's not a big deal. It just frustrates me how much energy is wasted in fighting against people of different sexual orientation. I think it will change too, but the fact it is taking so much time is very sad :(

      The crime in this movie is even more horrifying than the one in these two movies because of the way it is portrayed...I think I cried more during Brokeback overall but Soldier's Girl shook me much more than Boys Don't Cry.

      Thank you!

  4. Great review! This looks like a tough watch. I'm not sure if I could get through it, knowing how it ends. The tragedy of what happens and the prejudice that leads to it are sickening, to say the least. :(

    1. Thank you! It was really hard to watch in the last 25 minutes or so :/ It just blows my mind that such things still happen, though I guess things are a bit better now than they were when the events shown in the film took place.