For all its breezy city chases, primal vandalism and pill popping wickedness in church, Here are the Young Men is a dark book that’s been translated for screen through a lense of vibrance under Irish Actor and Writer, Eoin Macken‘s (Resident Evil, Merlin) cinematic eye. He gives us a real taste of his storytelling style stepping behind the camera to direct his first major movie length feature. While he’s no stranger to directing with documentaries, shorts and series under his belt, what transpires on screen are much of his creative liberties in the screenplay adaption written with guidance from the original novelist. Here are the Young Men is now available to buy and rent in Australia on Google Play and I-Tunes.
It was great to get insight first hand from the man himself over a cool lockdown zoom chat this week helping answer the questions many who saw the film this week.
“It’s an Irish film… I wanted it to feel Irish” says Macken, who is currently in Melbourne shooting NBC Television’s upcoming September drama series, La Brea. “…but the themes are universal to everyone, no matter where in the world you are watching this from.”. The articulation in his writing carries through on our video call, and I wasn’t going to pass up on the chance to get inside the head of the man who delved into the psyche of three of the film’s most complex characters in this coming of age story that breaks from the typical formula of puppy love and petty spring break rivalries. It was all about “showing more without telling the audience how to think”.
For Macken, Here are the Young Men is like a love letter to his native Ireland. Set in Dublin where he grew up, the locations of pivotal scenes shot included his very own high school and a local beach he frequented in his adolescence.
The film is a snapshot in time that marks the promise of a bright future during one of the most prosperous periods in Ireland’s economic and political history. Yet this 2003 era of the “Celtic Tiger” seems to elude the country’s seemingly broken sons born of generations of poverty. It’s a paradox-pocked landscape in which Matthew (Dean-Charles Champman), Kearney (Finn Cole) and Rez manifest the national psyche of the time which Macken describes as one with an “identity crisis, where consumer culture and materialism defined what it was to be happy” and like Kearney believed, going to “America was a pretty big deal” and a measure of success, if not status.”
The opening scene depicts a funeral in which we are left to ponder throughout the film who it is that has died. Despite that, the film throttles into high gear loaded with a soundtrack of Joy Division and The Chemical Brothers as we revisit the preceding summer of debauchered escapades and interpersonal turmoil of three best friends breaking out of school. After witnessing the hit and run of a young girl, cracks in the group dynamic emerge which begins to unravel the promise of life ahead.
By the sixteenth minute we realise it’s not the carefree story of rebelliousness and coming of age we’re expecting but rather, a captivating expression of poetic irony. Macken maintains an invigorating narrative using a cinematic lense that simultaneously contrasts and complements the dark onscreen personnas that emerge throughout the film. He manipulates emotion through color psychology while blurring boundaries of fantasy and reality.
“Death is necessary. You can’t have life without death.
It was exhillarating. My head has never been so clear” – Kearney
Death is a power motivation for the group, a universal rite in the human condition, which each struggles to accept in the form it manifests for each of them. Reflection, exhillaration and numbness refracting them into tangents slowly pulling the group apart.
“Makes you appreciate being alive” – Matthew
Is the grief or shock that’s had ripple effects a problem to be solved or resolved? Or is it tended to and endured in whatever form it takes? For each of them, long-lasting emotional, cognitive and behavioural effects are indicative of somekind of post-trauma reaction tainting their course into manhood.
“Are you sure you really care or is it not that it excites you.. … [Death and suicide makes you] excited about all the drama, glamour, the emotion… …make you more interesting” – Rez
The Big Show TV Presenter was a character Eoin Macken created specifically for the screenplay. As Fimmel embodied the character, Macken explains the fictional ciper he crafted was symbolic of the crazy politics of the time, the influence of video games and media on young people and of course the overarching premise the film builds forts around, being “toxic masculinity”.
“The book is much darker” explains Macken, “Travis brough a whole new level to this character. When you cast people into roles, your script grows with them”. It was Fimmel’s shaping of the game show TV Presenter as the voice of temptation, which Macken describes “evolved more into the devil”.
“In the book Kearney actually does go to America, and obviously due to budget constraints we explored more efficient ways to incorporate that drawing from Requiem for a Dream and Natural Born Killers.”
The game show sequences hence become an open canvas of sublimity and solemnity rendered by the unspoken consciousness of the protagonists, a sounding board of inner thoughts which at first glance might appear to be non-sensical montaging, when in actual fact we are being forced to question the purpose of life along with Matthew, Kearney and Rez even though some ideas and tropes are uncanny in their familiarity.
What it means to being female in Ireland has evolved dramatically in five decades, where women internationally are emancipated from the misogyny of outdated archetypes and personal freedoms once denied.
She’s been described as the voice of reason and sounding board in the realities of Matthew, Kearney and Rez. We see this almost immediately as she enters the screen at the beginning of the summer asking the boys what their life plan is.
“Jen is not as big a character in the book, and there was some pretty dark stuff I chose not to explore. She has an empowered voice, she doesn’t need to be looked after. The idea that young men feel the need to protect their women doesn’t need to impact her, she casts her own judgement” explains Macken.
He balances Fimmel’s fictional constructs to unlock the inner motivations of the group through Jen (Anya Taylor-Joy), a beneficiary of those expressions and complexities in women’s liberation who in modern times far outperform boys.
Eoin is clever to tone down the masochistic and sadistic yearnings in Kearney’s character, playing on Finn Cole’s delivery as a fierce friend plagued with terrifying desires of disturbance. In effect Macken allows us to “connect with the evolution of a sociopath”. The torment Kearney inflicts is mostly implied rather than shown, cinematically rendering flourishes of virtuousity and visiion while leaving much room for interpretation. For this reason, the audience will divide on who the real villain was in this piece.
For the audience Matthew and Kearney are opposing views, yet at the hospital, we might have missed the first clue as to how the ending that came to be eventuated. Could Rez see something we couldn’t? In his mind, Matthew and Kearney were the same – two sides of the same coin.
How are these lads best friends and almost at the same time their worst enemies?
“You get to the age of 14 to 17 having grown up with people from form school and ask this very question” explains Macken, “there’s almost a sense of obligation”. He describes the nightclub scene intervening on Matthew’s behalf as an example, of Kearney being the firece protector who looks out for his friends. Rez and Matthew have kept Kearney around for years in that sense. These bonding experiences mask denials keeping them together without having to face the incompatibilities in their dynamic.
Things have come full circle in a sense by the climatic procession of drug induced intoxication reframing our inexorable notions in contrasts between Kearney and Matthew.
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