Breakfast on Pluto

Frivolous, frivolous, frivolous
★★
☆☆☆☆
Released: 
2005
Director: 
Neil Jordan
Starring: 
Cillian Murphy, Liam Neeson, Stephen Rea, Ruth Negga, Laurence Kinlan
The Setup: 
The life, times, and psychology of an Irish drag queen seeking his long-lost mother.
Discussion: 

There is a quote from Oscar Wilde toward the end of this movie: “I love talking about nothing. It’s the only subject I know anything about.” This is obviously meant as a statement from this film’s director as well, as he has just delivered us something that is very frivolous and aimless. As for me, I don’t mind talking about nothing, but I don’t want to spend over two hours doing it and pay $10.75 for the privilege.

This movie follows the life of Patrick Braden, an Irish lad abandoned on the doorstep of Liam Neeson, a priest. Liam, smart cookie that he is, realizes that no one is up yet and promptly leaves the infant at someone else’s door! At this time we are hearing 60s pop songs and seeing remainder-bin CGI robins gossiping, which is subtitled for the audience. This lets you know what you’re in for, though you wouldn’t necessarily suspect that the entire movie is going to be pretty much like this.

Soon enough the main character, Patrick, who likes to be called Patricia, and really likes to be called Kitten, grows up to be Cillian Murphy in perpetual drag. He has trouble in school, then runs away with a mystical rock band [headed by real rock musician Gavin Friday], is installed in a trailer where I.R.A. guns are hidden under the floorboards, disposes of the guns while doing “Spring cleaning,” gets kicked out, becomes a Disney-like costumed creature, etc., etc., etc., all the while seeking the mother who abandoned him.

I was interested in the psychology of this character. My interest, however, was only obliquely repaid, as he remains annoyingly distant. During the first hour, we are shown scene after scene of his absolute refusal to take anything seriously, and his refusal to acknowledge that his feminized appearance and actions elicit responses that he is on some way in control of. While this is going on, I could interpret his utter blitheness as nothing but an absolute, all-consuming rage at how he feels he has been treated by the world. This passive-aggression on steroids also serves as a way to keep himself an irresponsible and helpless child, a state I believe he wishes to remain in as a forceful rebuke to the idea that he may never find his mother. For if he were to allow himself to take control over his life and the way he comes off to others and carries himself, it would be a tacit acknowledgement that he is no longer a child, and therefore does not necessarily need this mythical mother.

Reading comments about this movie on the IMDb, I am struck by how many interpret his behavior as a true and clear sense of “who he really is.” This, to me, sounds like the influence of political correctness, in this case the idea that all drag queens know who they really are and are just being true to themselves. Okay, but I think in this case it is readily demonstrable that Kitten’s persona is a case of radically distorted identity as a psychological buffer against the tremendous pain and loss he feels in life. And though he makes it through a great many horrible situations unscathed, it could be argued that if he were really psychologically stable and acting out of a firm sense of self, he would be able to extricate himself from these situations and take a great deal more control over his life. So, to me, what we have here is an extremely damaged individual steadfastly refusing to deal with reality, not a well-formed psychology who behaves the way he does out of choice or his firm sense of self.

There are a few moments of oblique depth. At one point Kitten explains that if he ever stopped dreaming that the “phantom lady” [his mother] would someday show up, he would never stop crying. But even that is delivered in his little sing-song voice, and is one of the tiny bits of seriousness sprinkled throughout the movie. For the most part Kitten stays absolutely the same person from birth until 10 minutes before the end of the movie. There have been numerous deep and interesting portraits of superficiality [Bright Young Things comes to mind], but this one, for me, stayed too much on the surface and what we’re left with is a borderline psychotic main character who cannot even snap into seriousness when a gun is pressed to his head. This grows irritating. I spent the first hour of this movie having several fantasies of clubbing Kitten with a 2X4… so I guess it can’t be said that the character didn’t move me.

There are amusing parts, like when Kitten has a fantasy that he is dispatching terrorists with his “terrorist repellent spray,” and parts interesting for what’s happening above the plot level, like how sexually an interrogator is acting toward Kitten as he is roughing her up, a good cameo by Bryan Ferry… lots of good parts, but none of them ever gelled into a compelling whole for me, and Kitten is so blithe and—to my mind—rage-filled, that I could never get into his character or get behind his pursuits.

Should you watch it: 

Other people like it. Me and my friend were seriously underwhelmed.