Touted widely as the finest Irish film of the year so far, What Richard Did follows Richard Karlsen, the golden-boy of a privileged set of Dublin teens, whose world unravels one summer night.
Speaking to TheJournal.ie’s Christina Finn, director Lenny Abrahamson explains why he moved from the world of Adam and Paul to the wealthy suburbs of south Dublin:
BOTH ADAM AND Paul and Garage deal with marginal characters rather than prosperity, but I do not think of myself as a social commentator in that regard. I was very drawn to those characters that have gone through experiences and who have found themselves on their own. While Richard is much more integrated as a character, he does end up in that place and in quite icy territory. Everyone can end in that place.
We tend to look at the middle classes as if they are not people that get into any major trouble. And you are allowed be almost cruel about them. Some will say fair enough – I am a fan of Ross O’Carroll Kelly, and all these things do stem from reality in some way or another.
Society is rich and fascinating and they are all interesting to look at. But this movie really is my own home turf. The starting point was Kevin Power’s book on Blackrock, but I think people will see in this movie we moved it very far from that. I deliberately didn’t take from any particular incident, I didn’t make something that was true to life.
There is a major difference between the working class and the upper-middle classes in this country. There is an idea out there that South Dublin boys are invincible, and what we discovered from making this film is that we are much closer to the American system, where the class system operates in a different way. The upper middle classes are much more similar to our American counterparts, the schools are cliquey - it’s about who is cool and who is not. American culture really is a lot more dominant here than we think.
That idea that you get in some of the more established institutions is that the boys are invincible. And this is so ridiculous. It instils a sort of innate superiority in them. Of course it depends on the school, the teachers and the students – but it is down to the students being taught to expect very high things from themselves. And that is a lot for a teenager to deal with, because if you fail you don’t necessarily have the equipment to deal with that. That is really what happened to Richard in the film.
It is the small failures that happen to Richard along the way that create this huge incident. He doesn’t know how to not think very highly of himself – which many of us had no problem with as we were growing up, most of us have no lack of experience in failing. But if you are the star of your school and you are still a child really, you may still be a teen but you are still a kid. That intense expectation is not very healthy for children.
Unless you are talking about monsters or psychopaths, of which there are few, most people are still human even when they do something terrible. And when you show that on screen, it is not difficult to empathise. I am not saying I want to make people care about the character of Richard, because I have no business deciding whether people should care about him or not. The only thing I can do is to try and show him with as much humanity as I can and then present that to the audience.
That is a really important point, I am not doing a a rehabilitation job on him or trying to minimise what he has done in the movie. But I wanted to show things truthfully and when you do that, you start to realise that everything is grey and nothing is black and white.
Lenny Abrahamson is an Irish director who has made such films as Adam and Paul and Garage. What Richard Did is in Irish cinemas on October 5 2012. Lenny Abrahamson’s next film, Frank, will star Michael Fassbender and Domhnall Gleeson. For more information on What Richard Did visit the Facebook and Twitter pages.