John and Emma have a very good daily routine. Emma gets up early, makes breakfast, does laundry, and the rest of the daily chores. John gets up at 8:15, eats breakfast, and then goes to work. At night, he’ll prepare things for the morning, and the next day they repeat this. The only thing different from a normal couple is that they’re actually the same person. John and Emma are different personalities of one man (Cillian Murphy), and while they can’t speak to each other, somehow they’ve managed to come up with this system.
One day, everything changes. A train derails and crashes into John’s yard, while Emma is doing the laundry, and it knocks her right out. We’re still in a time and place where people hung their laundry to dry, so she was folding it into a basket in the yard. It hits her, or comes scarily close, and suddenly the townspeople are aware of her presence. They don’t think it’s John in a wig and a higher than usual voice; they think it’s his wife, someone they’ve never previously met. She runs back inside, John emerges minutes later, and the day goes by somewhat normally.
But the train attracted attention, which is something that Emma liked. Now, she doesn’t want to let John out, and starts to take over his life completely. Much of the film puts Murphy in the wig, makeup and funny voice, as Emma becomes the central character. She starts making all the important decisions, learns about what John was hiding from her, and impacting other people’s lives — for better or worse.
There’s something off about each personality that makes it fascinating to watch them. John is a timid person, wishing to always stay to himself and always afraid of letting Emma take over for too long. He just wants everything back to the way it was and should be. Emma, on the other hand, is more outgoing. She’s generous and appears to be incredibly nurturing, but I always had to question why John was so afraid. Did he not want to lose control of his life, or was there something dangerous about his other side?
There’s also the question of John’s deceased mother, who presumably made him the way he is now before she passed away approximately one year ago. The opening scene depicts almost torture-like noises and dialogue, but what does it all mean? If you watch Peacock, you’ll get the answer to most of these things, but the answer isn’t necessarily as clear-cut as you would initially think. There is more depth to this film than initially meets the eye, and there are more thing to think about than you’d assume from the get-go. I was left reflecting on the film and its characters for a while after it concluded.
However, there’s a lot of tedium in the middle. A lot of the film felt like filler to me, included just so that we could have a 90 minute runtime. It’s interesting filler, I suppose, and it could easily be a lot worse, but I would have preferred if everything mattered in one way or another. I mean, we could have skipped some of this filler and included some flashbacks regarding that torture-esque scene in the beginning. Explain it a little more before the ending reveal? I dunno. It might have helped.
The characters — or character, if you prefer — are what makes this film worthwhile. Seeing John and Emma’s struggle for dominance is quite enjoyable, and watching them interact with those around them, especially after the other one previously said something completely contrary, is fun. And with something always brewing beneath the surface, you always feel like Peacock is building toward something bigger. It isn’t exactly the most enjoyable film, but it’s always intriguing, and you always want to see what will happen next.
In order to appreciate Peacock, you’ll have to do something: Believe that a town of 800 people won’t be able to recognize that Cillian Murphy doesn’t look all that different even with a wig and makeup. Murphy creates two distinct personalities, but he has a rather recognizable face, and when people are familiar with John, somehow they don’t even suspect for a second that Emma isn’t sharing the same body; they immediately suspect that she’s his wife and that they’re not related whatsoever.
Someone should have found out, I think, or at least suspected. That would have made it more believable, even though cross-dressing was not at all common in the 1950s. Stepping past that, the script hastily introduces a whole host of characters — played by some famous names like Ellen Page, Susan Sarandon, Bill Pullman and Josh Lucas — and then doesn’t do all that much with them. Those are the two major problems that Peacock has, along with the aforementioned meandering.
So, is Peacock worth watching? Sure. It contains a fine performance by Cillian Murphy, enough depth to keep you guessing, and it’s intriguing enough to continue to make you wanting to see what will happen next. The supporting cast doesn’t get enough time to make an impact, the plot meanders a lot, using filler so that the film will play for 90 minutes, and it’s a bit tough to believe that nobody would question why John and his “wife” look so similar. But it’s an interesting movie that will be worth your time, for the most part, that is.