Monday, May 03, 2010

Peacock: Grade C

Peacock (2010)
Cillian Murphy, Ellen Page, Susan Sarandon. Co-writer & Director Michael Lander

This hard-to-find indie is worth a look because of some good acting. Murphy plays a slightly retarded man in a small Norman Rockwell town of about 1960, who suffers from multiple personality disorder, what is properly called Dissociative Identity Disorder, or DID. His two personalities are John, the bank clerk, and Emma, wife of John. The personalities communicate through handwritten notes (all of them Emma to John) and other artifacts, such as groceries, clothing, etc. around the house. So the two personalities are aware of each other, yet at the same time estranged.

DID is extremely rare in real life, so much so that many psychiatrists dispute its legitimacy as a diagnosis. Among documented cases, it is even more rare for the personalities to be aware of each other. So while vaguely tracking the main features of the disorder, the movie takes considerable artistic license, as it should. It could be that John is simply a transvestite and not psychotic at all. But the movie tries hard to make us believe it is a case of DID.

The DID theme is an excellent device for interesting stories, such as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. It gives a character the chance to do all sorts of things he would like to but wouldn't dare. But in this case, since the personalities know each other and “live together” like husband and wife, the idea is much less interesting. The backstory, that somehow John was traumatized by his mother as a child, is supposed to explain his condition, but it doesn’t, so we just have to accept it as a weird condition.

Acting by Murphy is quite good. That would have to be a challenging role for any actor, to play both genders. But the script is weak and the dialog clunky so he does not have much room to maneuver in the two characters. The different costumes, male and female, cue us into the differences between the personalities, except that Emma, even with her wig, still looks like a guy in drag. One must suspend incredulity that the townspeople are not hip to the deception and cannot see past a little eye makeup to realize it is the same guy. But oh, well.

Ellen Page does an outstanding job as a poor single mother. She really shows her acting talent and range here, as this is not just another smart-mouthed Juno-like character, but one with some real depth. Sarandon is always convincing but her role is extremely limited and she can’t do much with it.

Overall the story doesn’t make much sense, is not very interesting, and there are all kinds of flaws in its logic, and it is psychologically not believable. The pace is way too slow. After a couple of costume changes, we get the point of the DID, but there is still another hour to go. Snoozaroo! If you see the DVD around, rent it to see Page’s performance, and the rest of it is not terrible.

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