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Opinion: Why are so many Irish men in crisis? 'Flicker' film director explores Irish masculinity

‘Flicker’ opens at the Virgin Media Dublin International Film Festival (DIFF) this month.

Nathan Fagan

THE FIRST PUNCH struck me just above my right eye. I remember experiencing a bright white flash. Seeing stars, as it’s colloquially known. 

After one or two more blows, I fell back onto the rain-sodden grass. I covered my head with my arms while he directed kicks to my ribs and stomach. And then, just as quickly as it began, it ended. The entire ordeal lasted no more than one or two minutes.

I’d turned thirteen that year.

What had led up to this? The usual adolescent bravado, I recall. I’d squared up to one of the local lads and he’d challenged me to a scrap.

And why is this memory so significant for me? Surprisingly, it’s not the fight itself. It’s the immediate aftermath that stands out most firmly in my mind.

After the fight ended, I climbed to my feet. I began walking with my friends back across the water-logged football pitch, away from the crowd. All of a sudden, however, a rush of emotion came over me. I began to sob loudly and uncontrollably. 

How does a boy ‘man up’?

The circle of boys who’d just watched the fight were surprised. After a moment or two, the surprise turned to laughter. I remember looking across at my own friends, trudging along beside me, and seeing the deep embarrassment on their faces. They could barely look at me. 

I felt this incredibly profound sense of shame. 

Of course, what my friends were trying to tell me that day – with those awkward, disapproving glances -  was that I needed to man up. I needed to swallow down that intense torrent of emotion. Losing a fight, after all, wasn’t a problem. But crying over a ‘few little digs’ was a serious transgression. 

As boys, and then as young men, many of us are taught that expressing our emotions is a sign of weakness. Being a man requires us to be in full control of our feelings. In the face of fear or grief or trauma, we’re expected to stay strong. To remain stoic and unaffected as we encounter challenging events and situations.

Is it any wonder then that so many adult men find it difficult to express their feelings?

Can we really be that surprised that many of us find it difficult to ask for help, in times of emotional or personal crisis?

That’s not to say things aren’t changing. There’s no denying it. Irish culture and society have evolved massively over the last few decades.

The past 40 years have seen an undeniable revolution in social attitudes. We’ve witnessed Ireland transform from a relatively conservative, Catholic community into a much more open-minded, liberal nation. Societal attitudes towards gender, femininity and masculinity have also evolved with it. 

And yet, despite how much more progressive Ireland has become – even in comparison to the Ireland I grew up in the early 2000s – this issue persists. We, as a society, continue to police masculinity in surprisingly damaging ways.

Many young and adult men still struggle to open up about their battles with depression, anxiety and trauma. Many men still choose to suffer in silence.

Flicker, our movie

Against this ongoing conversation about Irish men and mental health, our short film ‘Flicker’ was born. My co-director Luke Daly and I set out to explore the impact of this particular conception of masculinity on a young Irish man.

In other words, we set out to explore the damage done by that innocuous little phrase: ‘man up’. 

‘Flicker’ tells the story of Danny, a typical twenty-something Dubliner, who becomes the victim of an unprovoked assault in a downtown nightclub. Our short drama explores how Danny and his circle of friends react to this extremely common but psychologically traumatic event. 


Source: Bold Puppy/Vimeo

In a visceral and cinematic way, we wanted to dramatise the ways in which Danny’s own internalised idea of manhood prevents him from acknowledging the full extent of his injuries. 

We also wanted to create a realistic cinematic portrait of twenty-something Dublin: the way young people live, the way they speak, the way they support and relate to each other.

Realism and naturalism were essential to us. We wanted young Irish twenty-somethings to watch our film and see themselves reflected back in it. 

To achieve this, we assembled a seriously talented cast of up-and-coming young actors: Peter Newington, Seán Doyle, Tony Doyle, Caoimhe Coburn Gray, Megan Bea-Tiernan and Robbie Dunne. 

They committed wholeheartedly to their roles and to the honesty with which we try to tell Danny’s story.

Masculinity policed

The statistics surrounding men and their mental health are sobering.

In 2018, a Eurostat health study reported that one in eight Irish people have experienced chronic depression. 10.8% of Irish men report having experienced chronic depression; 13.4% of women report the same. In fact, depression rates in Ireland outweigh the European average for both men and women. 

According to reports, men are considerably more likely to engage in risky and health-damaging behaviours. Irish men, for example, binge drink at a much higher frequency than Irish women. The frequency of alcohol consumption, in general, is much higher in Irish men than it is in women. 

More broadly,  a 2018 OECD report found that 18.5 per cent of Irish citizens were recorded as having a mental health disorder. In Ireland, men account for eight out of every 10 suicides

We wanted to unpack this and humanise it with Danny. Although our film is set in Ireland, we believe Danny’s story is universal. We sincerely hope our short film resonates with audiences, from many different backgrounds and walks of life.

The Dublin International Film Festival takes place at the end of this month. 

Nathan Fagan is an Irish filmmaker. He directs as part of director duo, Luna, alongside Luke Daly.

If you need to talk, contact:

  • Samaritans 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.org
  • National Suicide Helpline 1800 247 247 – (suicide prevention, self-harm, bereavement)
  • Aware 1800 80 48 48 (depression, anxiety)
  • Pieta House 01 601 0000 or email mary@pieta.ie – (suicide, self-harm)
  • Teen-Line Ireland 1800 833 634 (for ages 13 to 19)
  • Childline 1800 66 66 66 (for under 18s)

 

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Nathan Fagan

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