We propose an alternative to the prevailing framework for modelling tear-film breakup, which posits a layered structure with a mucus layer next to the cornea and an aqueous layer on top. Experimental evidence shows continuous variation of mucin concentration throughout the tear film, with no distinct boundary between the two layers. Thus, we consider a continuous-viscosity model that replaces the mucus and aqueous layers by a single liquid layer with continuous profiles of mucin concentration and viscosity, which are governed by advection–diffusion of mucin. The lipids coating the tear film are treated as insoluble surfactants as previously, and slip is allowed on the ocular surface. Using the thin-film approximation, we carry out linear stability analysis and nonlinear numerical simulations of tear-film breakup driven by van der Waals attraction. Results show that for the same average viscosity, having more viscous material near the ocular surface stabilizes the film and prolongs the breakup time. Compared with the layered models, the continuous-viscosity model predicts film breakup times that are in better agreement with experimental data. Finally, we also suggest a hydrodynamic explanation for how pathological loss of membrane-associated mucins may lead to faster breakup.