Loretta Goff joins Dublin teenagers Matthew, Rez, and the deranged Kearney on their summer of freedom.
Here Are the Young Men, adapted from Rob Doyle’s novel of the same name by writer-director Eoin Macken, explores the different paths of three friends as they become “men” during their “summer of freedom” following their final year in school. The thoughtful Matthew (Dean-Charles Chapman), nihilistic Rez (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo), and aggressive Kearney (Finn Cole) start their summer off as they mean to go on, with plenty of drinking and drugs. After witnessing the tragic death of a young girl, however, their once seemingly carefree actions take darker and more drastic turns as they each struggle to come to terms with the incident and their own identities.
Set in the midst of the Celtic Tiger during the summer of 2003 in Dublin, the media (particularly television) and America are recurring points of reference, and critique, throughout the film. The boys feel the influence of both, but are also somewhat jaded by them, with Rez noting that seeing things so much on TV takes away from the real thing, dulling it. Indeed, all three boys express a sense of pervading boredom as they search for a thrill in order to feel something. However, they are unable to escape their own “image” as Macken cleverly captures their framed reflections in mirrors throughout the film. Sometimes they stare directly at themselves, searching for meaning, but often this framing is for the benefit of the audience, who are left to consider these pared back reflections in the midst of walls covered with posters, American flags, and rooms with TVs playing American talk shows, video games, and sometimes, even the boys themselves in video that Kearney has recorded – a jumble of influences and different “realities”.
Through Kearney, the idea of the mediated self, and the expression of toxic masculinity, comes to the forefront of the film. Escaping a father who belittles him, Kearney imagines himself as a participant in an American talk show The Big Show where the host (Travis Fimmel) exploits fears and encourages reckless behaviour. This show acts as a device to cover Kearney’s time spent in America, but it is also here, in this distorted reality, that Kearney is able to express his desire to be a “real man”, a desire bound up with power, control, and aggression, symbolised by military-style clothing, and enacted through violent, forceful behaviour, often aimed at women. When Kearney brings his barely contained rage and this destructive behaviour to the real world, however, his actions increasingly endanger others and are ultimately met with significant consequences.
Kearney is not the only one to struggle with his identity in the film, as all three young men battle with feeling lost and unsure of their futures, and struggle to express, or explore, their emotions. After witnessing the tragedy at the start of the film, the trio barely discuss their emotional response to it, cutting each other and themselves off before it can get too deep, and they instead seem to drift apart. With largely absentee parents, all three face their uncertain futures largely alone, with a fear they cannot express. An ominous tone is set from the start of the film with Matthew arriving at an unknown person’s funeral. Equally, the implication of choices, and making the right ones, hangs over the entire film despite its scenes of youthful energy and partying.
A beacon of hope in all of this comes from Matthew’s girlfriend Jen (Anya Taylor-Joy), who offers a sense of direction. She is confident, in touch with her emotions, has plans for her future, and she attempts to help Matthew find his own sense of direction and assuredness. Similarly, Rez’s sometime-partner Julie (Lola Petticrew), who we see only briefly, acts as a counterpoint to his character. She is bubbly and carefree while he solemnly contemplates the meaninglessness of life. As suggested by the title of the film, however, these young women are not its focus, and it leaves many of their complexities unexplored.
The premise of the film is a familiar one, young men coming of age amidst drugs, alcohol, and excess, and struggling to come to terms with masculinity. The film feels a bit over-stylised at times with the use of filters, slow-motion, fish-eyes, and so on – though this is perhaps a nod to the Celtic Tiger and its various excesses. However, the performances are very strong across the board, making for engaging viewing, and Macken’s often careful composition skilfully reinforces the themes explored throughout the film, allowing time for contemplation, but also sweeping the viewer up in the turbulent journey of these teens on the precipice of an adulthood they are not prepared for.
Here Are The Young Men is available on digital platforms from 30th April.