“They say the summer when you finish school is the best time of your life, because it’s your final summer of freedom and you become a man.”
Directed by Eoin Macken, Here Are the Young Men follows Matthew (Dean-Charles Chapman), Kearney (Finn Cole) and Rez (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo), three best friends and devoted troublemakers. Having just graduated high school, they’re taking their newfound liberty and lack of authority very seriously – by drinking, partying, using drugs, vandalizing property and not giving a single shit. That very same afternoon, they witness a little girl getting hit by a car and in the blink of an eye, their world slips off balance and they’re left dangling on its edge.
Banishing the event into the backs of their minds, the boys attempt to look ahead, deciding what they want their futures to look like. For Kearney, it means going to America to see his brother and live the ultimate ‘masculine dream’: partaking in sex, aggression and more revels, all without consequence. For Matthew, it’s taking a job at a local business and finally revealing his feelings for Jen (Anya Taylor-Joy), another of his schoolmates. And for Rez, it means descending further into the world of recreational drugs as he struggles to come to terms with the tragedy.
When the trio come back together later in the summer, it becomes clear that neither of them has been able to properly cope with the trauma they witnessed, and they’ve all been haunted by it to a frightening degree. As secrets and violence rise to the surface, shrouded in a haze of booze, lust and denial, Matthew learns that Kearney and Rez are – and that he himself is – damaged in a way he was unwilling to see. The fallout between lifelong best friends is often ugly, and it is fast approaching, and this one might be too ugly to fix.
Based on the novel of the same name by Rob Doyle, Here Are the Young Men is an Irish coming of age drama that illustrates teenage debauchery at its heaviest. Through a series of choices made by each character, a new side of the male psyche is revealed, and what we find is differing shades of darkness that often go unacknowledged.
The film’s setting is stylistically grungy, the lighting is low, and the music is chaotic and deep; each facet comes together to pluck at the tangible instability that pulses beneath every moment of unsupervised freedom.
Chapman’s performance is stripped back and raw. Matthew is the most openly sensitive of his friends and though he’s as morally grey as they are, he questions what’s going on around him. He has potential to be good but doesn’t quite get it right. Somehow, either by his own insecurities or the belligerent style of peer pressure that he constantly exposes himself to, Matthew continues to let each slight, each injustice slide, and it eats away at him to a dangerous degree. Chapman does a remarkable job at embodying someone so young, yet so instantly tortured.
Additionally, Taylor-Joy’s character of Jen, the film’s sole female protagonist, grounds the film in decency, acting as a direct foil to the three boys yet her character tips into the realm of being one dimensional. Jen’s personal ambitions are mentioned but only once and then abandoned, and her relationship with Matthew remains her central purpose. Despite being underutilized, Taylor-Joy’s talent is still apparent, especially through her adopted Irish accent which in truth is quite good.
The heart of the film is defined by moral greyness and such a force blooms to a startlingly realistic degree and taints every subsequent interaction, every impulse that follows the story’s central calamity. The film’s commentary on mental health, and of young men in particular, is as relevant and as necessary as ever. This conversation in particular is not often seen on screen, whilst its counterpart, aka ‘unhinged women’ burdened with sorrow, trauma and scars like those characters featured in Sharp Objects, The Girl on the Train, The Invisible Man, even Disney’s WandaVision, are being brought to the forefront of Hollywood, albeit slowly. Mental health is a subject of which many still shy from, just as the characters do in Macken’s film. But films, stories, are a universal language and if we don’t begin to use these massive platforms to advocate as much as we do entertain, we are no better than those who simply stand by and watch.
It’s not enough to know what’s right and wrong. Doing nothing is a choice too. “Be careful with your choice,” otherwise you might just lead a terribly haunted life.
by Kacy Hogg
Kacy is an English Lit student living in the Great White North (no not Winterfell unfortunately), Canada. Her favorite films include the Harry Potter series, Cinderella, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, The Hangover, and Lady Bird. She’s also an avid binge-watcher of Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead. You can follow her on Twitter here: @KacHogg95