WARNING: POSSIBLE MAJOR SPOILERS
I have read some of the negative user reviews around here for this film and I am just not getting where these people are coming from. I'd also just love to know what in holy hell happened with the distribution in the US? I've watched this film 3 or 4 times and I cannot believe how criminally dismissed and ignored it's been.
PEACOCK is the story of John Skillpa, a bank clerk who is habitually reclusive, easily agitated in the company of others. Living in such a small town usually means everyone knowing all of your business, and your secrets, and John has a huge secret that he has managed to keep. His mother has passed away a year ago, and he now has a companion, Emma, who fills the ideal wifely role...making him breakfast, keeping house, and generally taking care of him. It seems Emma came into his life when he needed her most, because without his mother, he is lost. This is in spite of the facts you will learn about his mother. The staggering complexities that come with abuse and codependency are deftly explored and presented without prejudice.
One day, while Emma is out getting laundry off the line, a train uncouples and crashes into the yard, nearly killing her. It is here that the sheltered and securely ordered lives of John and Emma are completely knocked off kilter. Nobody knew John had a wife, or whatever she is, and when they meet her, they are taken with her gentle personality, so unlike her twitchy husband that will barely let anyone shake hands with him. The train incident puts John and Emma in the spotlight. Neither of them are comfortable with that, but Emma slowly warms to Fanny, the mayor's wife (Susan Sarandon), who is trying to raise money for a womens' shelter in town. Emma also gets to know a woman named Maggie (Ellen Page) whose history with John is probably some of the most disturbing stuff I've ever encountered in film, and there are no visuals. Page describes the horror verbally, without gory details, and still, the impact is like a nightstick into your stomach.
Meanwhile, John is overwhelmed with panic and anger at the loss of privacy with a caboose in his yard. He sees the influence Fanny is having on Emma and doesn't like it. He'd like things back the way they were. His paranoia increases with each passing day as he realizes Emma is getting involved in the lives of Maggie and the son that he fathered.
This is all I'll say about the plot. The cast is one reason I am appalled at the way this film was treated: Susan Sarandon, Ellen Page, Josh Lucas (as a kind-hearted cop, one ancillary character who seems to know a little more about John than the other townfolks), Keith Carradine, Bill Pullman, and above all, Cillian Murphy. Yes, I admit to being a rabid fan of Murphy's talent and a shameless admirer of his exquisite physical beauty, but with this film, that beauty was hidden away, and without any distractions (those enormous sapphire eyes are nowhere to be seen), I was forced to pay attention to nothing but the acting in the actor. Through the use of make-up and costume, John and Emma are two characters, John with his haggard, fragile, gaunt face and ill-fitting suits, Emma with her porcelain complexion and long, dark hair. But it doesn't stop there. Murphy uses body language, voices and especially his facial muscles to construct two separate people. While he is effectively feminine as Emma, he is completely UNRECOGNIZABLE as John, and the last time I saw an actor pull of such a transformation was Billy Bob Thornton manipulating his face to create Carl Childers in SLING BLADE.
Some reviewers seem confused about the ending. Let me say this again: Without Mom, John was lost, no matter how evil she was. She raised him to depend on her totally. In Emma came a replacement for Mom, along with the same danger that Mom was all about, and John realizes it the moment he learns of his son's existence. There is the original ending and an alternate ending and you can choose which one you prefer. Who ended up the dominant personality? Who prevailed? Can the surviving person choose to stop the cycle of violence and abuse?
Atmospheric, stylish, intense, with superb acting and nothing less than excellence in filmmaking overall, including a sublime musical score, PEACOCK is a masterpiece which was atrociously overlooked.