Friday, July 20, 2007

Breakfast on Pluto, Life on Mars

Like a lusciously-scented, gloriously-petalled rose in a field of rubble and shrapnel, Cillian Murphy brings beauty and loneliness to Neil Jordan's Breakfast on Pluto. Abandoned as a baby on a priest's doorstep in 1960s Ireland, Patrick Braden (Murphy) grows up as the font of all glamour and disobedience in his small hometown - as Kitten, the coquettish local transvestite, he stands out, and strikes out when he goes to London to search for his mother.

Despite the all-out knowingness of his get-up, Kitten is an innocent abroad, already once screwed over by his first lover, the leader of an Irish band who stashed Kitten, along with Republican weaponry, in a desolate caravan by a lake. All Kitten wants is someone to take care of him - his mother, or in her stead a lover; one of these lovers is a magician (Stephen Rea) who uses Kitten in his act, part of which has Kitten hypnotised and asking members of the audience if they're his mother. The willingness with which Kitten wants to please his lover, set against his lover's failure to see how tragically ironic this act is, makes it devastating.

It's by no means all gloom. It's hilarious when Kitten becomes a Womble impersonator - desperate times - and his buoyancy is infectious, tackling everything with a wry eye.

The film works well as it contrasts and finally melds small-town Ireland and hip, happening London, bringing them together in an IRA bomb in a London club for which Kitten is blamed and brutalised by the police. The IRA is present throughout, having earlier blown up one of Kitten's childhood friends, and its corrosive effect is shown in the relationship between Kitten's best friends, one of whom is an ardent Republican.

Cillian Murphy is superb as the vulnerable, spunky Kitten, always hiding his true feelings under a Blanche du Bois-like nervous femininity. He endures through optimism and believing in the smile he's painted on, but his heartbreak is terribly visible, especially as he desperately clings to his men, however unsuitable. Murphy, who carries the whole film with his wonderful, pitiable charisma and amazingly blue eyes, never lets you see him cry, but you can read the unfathomable sadness at his core, another brave soldier in a host of other people's wars.

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