Horizon at Sandy Point

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Metamorphoses, not Ovid's

Does Cillian Murphy become more sexy as he metamorphoses into Kitten Braden? What happens to  Patrick Braden as he becomes more feminine? Is the soul of a female person different from that of a male? Does it matter? If Zeus could transform into a shower of gold or a swan, why not a boy into a girl, an actor into anything he chooses. What if, in truth, the body does not have a soul; but the soul chooses a body, much like a suit of clothes.

Cillian Murphy as Kitten
Breakfast on Pluto (2005), directed by Neil Jordan, is a film about the "coming of age" of an orphan abandoned by his mother in a tiny Irish town. Patrick Braden grows with dreams of being female. He wears his sister's dresses unashamedly. He also longs for the love of a real mother. Writing tales of erotica for school essays, wanting to be called Kitten, and the not-so-secret wish for a sex change deposited in the suggestion box, he is the adolescent that challenges his teachers. He is scorned by his foster mother and eventually thrown out.

And so begins the journey that takes Patrick-Paddy-Patricia St Kitten to her true identity. Cillian Murphy says that he prepared for the role by going out with transvestites, but that may be like saying you learned to swim by looking at fish. He also shared that it was a part which he first read in 2001 (when he was 25 and relatively unknown) imploring Neil Jordan to make it before he got too old. The novel Breakfast on Pluto (1998) was a useful source, even though there are some significant departures from the original text by Patrick McCabe who collaborated with Jordan for the film script. In the end, Murphy's Kitten is the fairy tale with the happy ending, against the saga of dark disappointment that was Jordan's The Crying Game (1992).

It is a role that could slide into the sensational and sordid. And it's a miracle - or less than plausible - that Kitten escapes the debauchery and destitution of many who choose persistently other than the gender role that life has dealt them. But there's a real quest - to find the mother that she never knew. Why are you in London, the magician asks her under hypnosis. I'm looking for the Phantom Lady; the city seems to have swallowed her up. And, under hypnosis, she spins around the room embracing strangers, a speaker box, anything.

Set in the Irish 1970s - aggressive IRA activity, Carnaby Street chic and a soundtrack of sentimental songs - the film's few allusions to unsavoury sexual encounters leave Kitten unscathed. She is also in search of a father figure. She enters and escapes relationships with older males - the raunchy Billy Hatchett and his performing group the Mohawks; the bikers on the astral highway; the magician (played by Stephen Rea); and drive by johns. When she's arrested as a suspect in an IRA bombing, Kitten begs the policemen to keep her in jail. Instead, she is released to the Peep Show where the girls give her a room and a role.  It is here that the priest  - in a confessional reversal - tells her where she might find her mother.

In the end, it is in friendship rather than sexual intimacy that Kitten finds the home of her heart. She meets the mother and family but does not reveal herself. Instead she returns to the village. Here she finds her best friend from school Charlie being sheltered by Father Liam (Liam Neeson) - whom she believes is her real father.

What keeps this typical tale of trans-genderism from descending into trite voyeurism is Cillian Murphy's performance. Much has already been made of his expressive blue eyes - even without make up - natural bee-stung lips and slender sylph-like deportment. His looks serve the film in its role of transformation from the male actor to the female character;  and from the androgynous playful teenager to the desirable and desired mature feminine. Kitten survives with steely wit and optimism intact, and transcends that life with its over-riding potential to be nasty, brutish and short.

So many transformations take place every day. The art of film is itself an art of magic. It is a wonder that we do not allow more magic into our daily lives. Indeed, so often we cannot, or refuse, to see the souls for the clothes.

See the trailer for Breakfast on Pluto here:

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