Cillian Murphy looks good in a dress. He has the body to pull it off – all sinew and bone, with a waist that makes you wonder how he manages to eat a Reese’s Peanut Butter cup without causing ridges in his belly. He’s what they call passable, and I think that’s the word I would use to describe Neil Jordan’s new film, Breakfast on Pluto, where Cillian spends the whole film dressed like a woman, playing Patrick “Kitten” Braden.
He’s a cross-dresser, you see. The film follows him from his youngest years, when he already knew that he wanted to look fabulous, through numerous – perhaps even innumerable – trials and tribulations as he tries to find his way through the world of Ireland and the UK in the 1970s. Along the way he meets hookers and terrorists, and isn’t that really a metaphor for all our lives?
Here’s the thing that kept getting to me as I watched Breakfast on Pluto – what’s with Neil Jordan, the IRA and transvestites? It’s such a specific topic and he’s come back to it again here. It doesn’t take a fervent believer in the auteur theory to sit forward in his seat and say, “Neil, is there something you’re trying to tell us?”
If there is, I wish he would do it quicker. Breakfast on Pluto is the kind of movie that critics describe as “episodic” when they really mean you can go out and get popcorn and come back and a whole storyline will have come and gone and you’ll be able to keep up anyway. I often like episodic films, and love when the smaller parts cohere into one big story. But episodic films can also feel incredibly long, since you’re having mini-narratives being told and concluded again and again. Breakfast on Pluto is that sort of episodic movie, where you feel unmoored at a certain point and have no idea if the movie is almost over or if you’re at the halfway point. The fact that I was even noticing that was a very bad sign.
Which, funnily enough, isn’t to say that Breakfast on Pluto is a bad movie. I didn’t like it all that much, but it’s not awful. It’s indulgent, and more than once it’s patently unbelievable, but Jordan knows how to make a movie, and it’s often lovely to look at. There’s also a wash of wonderful pop music throughout. But in the end I couldn’t identify with Cillian’s character.
It wasn’t because of his sexual or aesthetic proclivities. It was because of his attitude. Over the course of the film he just barrels along in his own reality – he wasn’t born as a girl but that doesn’t stop him from being one. Any number of horrible situations don’t stop him from being sunny and bright, because that’s what he wants to be. But at a certain point in the film his ragged determination to live life on his own terms becomes nothing short of a psychotic issue.
There’s an IRA bombing at a disco, one that Kitten happens to be dancing at. Somehow Kitten becomes the main suspect in the bombing, and rather than tell the police interrogators anything, he just refuses to acknowledge that there is a reality at all. This leads to beatings and prolonged imprisonment, which in the way of the film turns into a very charming thing after all, but the whole time I was wondering why the fuck this guy doesn’t just answer one simple question.
There’s something to be said about not letting your problems get you down, but this cross dressing Candide isn’t even willing to admit that they exist. After a while I saw the transvestitism not as a proclamation of the Kitten inside Patrick but Patrick hiding from the world, burying himself deep under layers of women’s underwear and make-up. At the end of the film there’s a perfunctory happy ending, but I never felt like I knew who Kitten was. And after spending what felt like three and a half hours with her, I thought I should know more.