‘This is Benjamin. He’s a little worried about his future.’ With these words – which were tagged onto the poster of The Graduate in 1967 – Mike Nichols ushered in an avalanche of films targeted towards alienated teenagers.
The nervily suggestive Out of Here, directed by Donal Foreman, continues that strain. Telling the story (or should I say, non-story) of Ciaran (Fionn Walton), a young man who’s just spent a year in Asia after deciding university wasn’t for him, it has him strolling around Dublin, wandering in and out of pubs and parties as he awkwardly tries to re-connect with old friends, and an ex-girlfriend, Jess (Annabell Rickerby) for whom he still carries a torch.
The film doesn’t really go anywhere, nor is it meant to. It’s at its best when it has our navel-gazing anti-hero responding numbly to the shallow overtures of old acquaintances with stutters and half-smiles.
If I had a criticism to make of it, it would be that it tries a little too hard to look as if it’s not trying. This gives it a certain pretension towards self-importance that the (essentially flimsy) material and (not wildly interesting) central character fails to justify.
Ernest Hemingway used to talk about the difference between ‘gaps’ and ‘holes’ in literary works. Gaps were where the writer deliberately left ellipses to signify deeper things that were left unsaid, like an iceberg hiding six-sevenths of itself beneath the surface. Holes, on the contrary, were more like bald incompletions.
I’m not quite sure if the pregnant pauses of Out of Here are gaps or holes. Suffice to say that in its delineation of a disaffected psyche it has moments of great naturalism, at times verging on the level of documentary.
The cinematography is also excellent, taking us on an unguided tour of Dublin’s seascapes and nightspots where moods and colours act as the objective correlative of Ciaran’s muddled head.
We keep waiting for the moment when he’ll tell us exactly what happened on his mysterious year away. When he does, in perhaps the best scene in the movie, his staccato speech is addressed – significantly – to a bunch of strangers whose jocose camaraderie contrasts effectively with the more studied platitudes of his family and friends.
The ambience of the film isn’t exactly original – in fact, one might say its laconic edge has been the keynote of most independent works produced in the modern era.
But as a thumbnail sketch of a recession-hit Ireland with its rudderless drop-outs searching vaguely for a form of self-definition outside the old structures, it manages to exert a strong pull, right up to the moment when it ends – like a train that’s just pulled up at the wrong stop, leaving a slightly bewildered audience to shuffle out of the cinema wondering: “Now what exactly was that all about?”