Inescapable Sex

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The focal question of this essay can be stated as follows ; what are the implications of the gender performances behaved by the characters? And to what extent can these performances help in their efforts to construct their own identities?

Crushproof (1998) and Breakfast on Pluto (2005) offer us opposing representations of characters who both strive to overcome the efforts by patriarchal society to impede them, they do so by means of; hypermasculinity, and hyperfeminity through drag. The psychological dimensions of power which may be rooted in and conditioned by the patriarchal nature of society (Michalski, 2005) remain an obstacle for the non-masculine, non-heterosexual male characters in both films. Nuala and Kitten become binary opposites in their efforts to pursue power and construct their own identities. While Kitten embraces elements of the stereotypical feminine, Nuala overtly rejects them and resorts to hypermasculinity.

From the opening scenes of both Crushproof (directed by Paul Tickell) and Breakfast on Pluto (directed by Neil Jordan) there is an immediate presence of patriarchal society. The former is set in suburban Dublin and exhibits the chaos of the 'pony club' subculture of the city’s Northside where drugs, aggression and violence are all part of daily life. There is an ongoing power struggle between the last standing male-led gang and the garda authority, with gender-based violence taking on extremes. Unsurprisingly, amongst this masculine jungle we see the protagonist, Neal (Darren Healy) and his loyal companion conclude that a female is just “a hole for your knob”. Nuala (Viviana Verveen) enters the chaos early on, with ambitions of escaping misogyny by means of hypermasculinity. Her performances steer towards disaster and she subsequently becomes constructed as the object of sexual desire and becomes contained within the patriarchal discourse. In Breakfast on Pluto, we are introduced to the patriarchal nature of a Catholic nationalist Irish society in the 1970s. In this conflicted and politically heated setting, the characters are surrounded by and are regularly confronted with violence. In the middle of this social unrest we become acquainted with gender blender Patrick “Kitten” Braden (Cillian Murphy) from birth up and follow him into early adulthood on his quest is to find his biological mother who abandoned him. Kitten manages to supersede the identity formations of surrounding patriarchal discourses and succeeds in establishing his own, by embodying the image of the “perfect feminine” through drag and assuming hyperfemininty when appropriate.

Characters use appearance as an apparatus to promptly exhibit the gender performance of their choice which has enduring connotations. Kitten crafts the “ideal womanhood” through the glamorization of drag, while incorporating elements of movie persona Mitzi Gaynor into her image, adding mystery and allure to her femininity. He achieves the perhaps, unachievable appearance of the "perfect feminine" for a woman of 1970s Ireland: "Startlingly pretty in blonde curls, lip-gloss and fur". Kitten identifies with a set of norms which are and are not realizable (Butler, 2003). His image of womanhood is credible though, enough to manage attracting wolf-whistles from construction workers and compliments from other characters throughout the film. The ambivalence and fluidity of drag allows Kitten to seek submission without suffering from misogyny. When working as a prostitute Kitten is attacked by a client, he uses Chanel perfume as a weapon and sprays it in his attacker’s eyes, saving himself. This can be observed as a metaphor for Kitten using his gender performance as a weapon. This contrasts with the other forms of weapons that heterosexual male characters are using for the purposes of violence and harm. When we are first introduced to Nuala her rejection of the "perfect feminine" on the basis of appearance is overt. Storming into the stables,...
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