Breakfast with Neil Jordan
En route to the Toronto International Film Festival in September, director Neil Jordan stopped in Minneapolis to discuss Breakfast on Pluto, his fanciful adaptation of the Patrick McCabe novel about a cross-dressing Candide in '70s Ireland.
City Pages: You've said there are similarities between the '70s Ireland in Breakfast on Pluto and the Ireland of today. Which are the most striking?
Neil Jordan: I grew up in Ireland in the '60s and '70s when all that violence began. It was a political violence grounded in religion. And at that time it seemed so absurd to me--and frightening. The sort of terrorism that threatens Europe today is grounded in that same sort of irrationality. So that's a similarity. The difference, I think, is that what you get now from the Islamic fundamentalists is much more intense.
CP: Some U.S. pundits say that Europeans are better prepared psychologically for the sort of terrorism that has just recently become a reality for Americans.
Jordan: I have to say that the British were quite wonderful at maintaining their patterns of everyday life while the IRA was devastating their cities. That's one of the reasons I decided to do the film--although I was a bit nervous about people drawing comparisons to today. When those bombs went off in the [London] tube station [in July], it was shocking. It was so similar to what happened in the '70s, but at a level of intensity that suggests a sort of critical mass that didn't exist then.
CP: Do you think it would be possible to construct a character like Patrick in a modern-day setting?
Jordan: No. I don't think he would have the same sort of innocence. For me, Patrick is someone who lives in a backward, religiously oppressive environment; he creates a character to deal with that reality. What I liked about the story and particularly the character is that in a way his innocence is a stronger force than anything around him--even stronger than the violence of a bomb erupting in the district where he lives. So I think the way he maintains his innocence is sort of triumphant.
CP: He's also tough, wouldn't you say?
Jordan: Yes. I think he's intellectually tough. He has an uncompromising relationship to his own experience and emotions that most people don't have. Everyone else is disguising emotions or channeling them through the IRA or the church or their Irishness--whereas he has a direct relationship with himself.
CP: Is Patrick's sexuality incidental?
Jordan: It's not incidental--it's just that he's a cross-dressing, androgynous character before the word gay has become current. I mean, during that period, you ran into guys like him in a disco--like Freddie Mercury in a jumpsuit--and didn't give them a second glance. You accepted it as part of the cultural landscape. There's playfulness and a sense of daring [in Breakfast on Pluto], but there are no definitions to it. It's not a gay movie.
CP: Would you be surprised if it was read as a "gay movie" by audiences and critics?
Jordan: No, I wouldn't. But I hope people don't see it that way. I hope they see it as a story about the maintenance of innocence. I hope that people will leave the film with a sense of possibility in a world that gets more awful and brutal every day--that people's eyes will be opened to alternative realities. At least that's why I wanted to make the movie.
CP: Is it harder for artists today to express that sort of individuality?
Jordan: It's very hard to express individuality these days. In fact, it's hard to find yourself at all these days. But I'm older now. I'm 55. And I don't fully understand the world I live in anymore.
Also in this issue: Up, Up, and Away: 'Pluto' elevates Neil Jordan's buoyant sensibility to a new level by Jessica Winter
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