Academic journal article Gender Forum

Drawing the Border, Queering the Nation: Nation Trouble in Breakfast on Pluto and the Crying Game

Academic journal article Gender Forum

Drawing the Border, Queering the Nation: Nation Trouble in Breakfast on Pluto and the Crying Game

Article excerpt

Do you think we are stupid enough to perjure ourselves

again and again with the fiction of nationhood? How

dare you talk to us of duty when we stand waist deep

in the toxin of your past...

~Toni Morrison, 1993 Nobel Lecture in Literature

Part I | Drawing the Border

1This article examines films set in Ireland by writer and director Neil Jordan. Thus far, Jordan has made eight Irish films. Here, I focus on two of those: the picaresque piece adapted from Patrick McCabe's novel Breakfast on Pluto (2005), and the controversial blockbuster that put him and (actor and Field Day co-founder) Stephen Rea on the map, The Crying Game (1992). The title of the latter film is a pun referring to both the heartbreak involved in romantic relationships and the state of occupied Northern Ireland. This split film offers juxtaposed crying games-a historico-political conflict as against an invented romance-gender conflict-so that viewers recognize the issues as linked. Perhaps needing no introduction, it gives us main character Fergus (Stephen Rea), a Volunteer in the Provisional IRA. [1] He befriends Jody (Forest Whitaker), a Black-British policeman of West Indian descent on patrol during Operation Banner. [2] Fergus participates in abducting Jody, is charged with overseeing him, and later ordered to assassinate the prisoner. But he does not follow this direction, and Jody is hit and killed by a British lorry instead of by the bullet Fergus was ordered to hit him with. Now, Jordan's protagonist "cross[es] the water, lose[s] [him]self for awhile," traveling to London in a symbolic cattle boat. Fergus is reborn, alighting in the colonial mainland as a second self, a Scottish immigrant named Jimmy. On the lam and newly employed in construction, he is not just hiding from the paramilitaries; Fergus is there to fulfill the romantic mission which comes to trump his political involvements. It is the errand requested by his new, now dead friend to deliver a message to Dil (Jaye Davidson), a second order he fails to complete. Instead, Fergus finds and falls in love with Dil, a development that comprises this film's second and concluding segment.

2From the time of his first film Angel (1982), through to The Crying Game and then Breakfast on Pluto in 2005, it is the queer radical represented by orphan, adoptee, and gay transvestite, Irish(wo)man Patrick "Kitten" Braden (Cillian Murphy) that Jordan has always sought to represent visually. [3] Breakfast on Pluto is a bizarre tale, in his words, "part fantasy, part fable, part almost burlesque" (DVD voiceover). As a perfectly circular narrative [4], it "avoids any orientation toward a culmination point" (Deleuze and Guattari 21 - 22). The protagonist crosses multiple borders multiple times and is continually embroiled in misadventures, as her queer subjectivity abuts Irish orthodoxy and conservatism. She does not make the simple, singular leave-taking of a Fergus Hennessey or a Stephen Daedalus [5]; Kitten leaves then returns then leaves again, her two-hour film in thirty-six episodes charting the piecemeal movement toward piecemeal, accumulating freedoms. Lines of story beget lines of flight in a web of incidents of leave-taking and crisis involving five exiles and three bordered water-crossings. Breakfast on Pluto and The Crying Game are set in the "border country" (Hughes 2) of the partitioned North, a territory "not so much enclosed by its borders as defined by them" (Hughes 3). And Jordan's chief interest, in these narratives, is that location. Both films come together as stories of the Troubles sharing the tripartite themes of partition, gender and nation. Both represent how political strife invades the lives of ordinary citizens, causing them to make choices they would not otherwise, as well as how gender functions as an arm of presumably distinct political processes. The films employ bifurcated narrative structures and general partition aesthetics: each concerns the conflict that raged in the North between 1968 and '94 and the struggle for independence of those counties; each one offers a nuanced look at the North that is tied to, interrupted and intersected by distinct gender troubles. …

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