There comes a moment when boys become men or, rather, are expected to become men. But what does it mean to be a man? The answers varie based on the individual and culture around them. When seeking that answer is hard amid such troublesome people and the haze of drugs, it can be a confusing time. Here Are The Young Men treads through this swamp of adolsences searching for some meaning and validation that will define them as adults.
Three teenage boys in Dublin are heading down a path of nihilism. After graduating from school, they celebrate by trashing their classroom and later the car of one of their teachers. The teacher, upon catching the boys in the act, stares with weary disappointment and says he had more hopes for such youth. The trio of Matthew (Dean-Charles Chapman), Rez (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo), and Kearney (Finn Cole) think nothing of such words, caring little about what the future may hold when it’s less appealing than the next party and the next drug. But then an incident slightly shakes them. A little girl rushes past them and straight into traffic. She is killed by a car and the boys watch in stunned silence at what just happened. For Matthew, he is haunted the most by this death as the girl’s spirit lingers on his mind.
Matthew’s world is treated with blunt exaggeration, making no mystery about how this film is holding our eyeballs right up to the toxic influence in the mindless mash of capitalist fervor. Where this is most pronounced is with Kearney who takes off for America and his adventure is portrayed as an over-the-top game show, where Kearney needs to prove his worth. He talks openly about sex and violence in a manner that gets the host hot and the audience applauding. Matthew constantly hears from Kearney over the phone that America is the best place in the world for all the women that’ll sleep with him and the freedom to get away with murder.
While Rez merely descends deeper into a drug-fueled road to nothingness, Matthew tries to find some hope when forming a romance with Jen (Anya Taylor-Joy). Their relationship seems to take off but it can only go so far when Matthew seems to not so much embrace the bad elements of his friends but more for how he puts up with them. There’s a moment when their relationship reaches a crucial moment when Matthew, high on drugs and sulking, stumbles through a party and watches Kearney making out with a passed-out Jen. Jen thankfully shoves off Kearney but Matthew does nothing, figuring she was asking for what Kearney wanted. This is not a mere misunderstanding. This is what Matthew has come to understand from a world that stresses a certain will of what makes a man.
If it weren’t obvious yet, this is a film about toxic masculinity but perhaps tries to portray it from the perspective of those influenced by the appeal. There are some teeth to the film in how the men subjected to such harmful choices in life are encouraged. In the dreamlike gameshow that Kearney occupies, he is angry when his brashness is not as socially acceptable. He bites back, saying that it’s not his fault the way he turned out. This is what society wanted, right? This was how he was told to be a man. Was he lied to? If it was a lie, then what is the point in having many morals, if rape and murder merely become lost in that ascertain of seeking worth?
Unfortunately, this film becomes almost too lost in its wild and trippy nature that the satire and condemnation lose some of its messaging. For a film that makes all television unambiguous in its media satire, that’s troubling when the core theme of the picture doesn’t feel as vocal. The direction is glossy, loud, stylish, and moody, where most of the revelations and dangerous actions go down at vibrant parties. The toxic elements are present, sure, but with such a wickedly neon bent that builds with so much visual flair it almost makes such a lifestyle more compelling for raging against the machine than recognizing individual problems that permeate in culture.
Here Are The Young Men has its moments of intriguing commentary on young machismo gone awry but you really have to peer through its surreal surface. Based on the novel by Rob Doyle, director Eoin Macken tries to find some extracerebral meaning in this cautionary tale of flailing and failing youth, an issue too dense with compounding issues too numerous to pin on one problem. It’s shot immaculately and the acting all around is rather strong, though I’m sure this comes as no surprise from the immensely talented Anna-Taylor Joy. But there’s just something so bitter about a film that feels almost as lost as its characters.