Over the years, the best minds in philosophy have developed several theories and frameworks to explain what influences adolescents in their development journey into adulthood. However, one of the most vivid attempts at explaining young people’s struggles comes from Frank Berry’s film, Michael Inside. Michael Inside is a sad story of incarceration and its effects on the young and naïve. The movie takes a hard look at how young people from disadvantaged communities can get entangled in a crime cycle that they have no desire to be a part of. The story follows 18-year-old Michael, living with a well-meaning grandfather in a tough neighborhood in Dublin. Michael left school in his fourth year because a teacher bullied him and started working odd jobs. Currently, he is unemployed, and he just started attending Youth Reach a year ago. The story sees Michael naively agree to hold a bag of cocaine for a friend’s older brother, a street thug involved in Dublin’s criminal underworld. This error in judgment proves costly once guards show up with a search warrant and find the drugs leading to the teenager’s arrest for possession. Being on probation for riding in a stolen car, Michael is sentenced to three months in prison, proving to have lasting consequences for Michael’s life. It has ripple effects on his family and the criminal gang who gave him the drugs. However, he desires to follow the right path and an interest in furthering his education on a social care course.
Various factors in Michael’s life have played a significant role in leading to his current predicament. As his lawyer mentions, his impulsiveness, naivety, and inability to think through his actions can be attributed to the lack of parental influence in his life. He lost his mother to a drug overdose while he was young, and his hardened father is in prison. Also, Michael had to leave school early, partly because a teacher bullied him. Once inside, Michael is forced to grow up quickly and harden as he is repeatedly told he must fight back. Inevitably this pushes Michael to develop a fondness for fighting back. He is also drawn to the periphery of crime in much the same way he was while outside.
There exists an implicit critique of the class system that influences the events that unfold in the movie. Michael, the protagonist, has to negotiate a troubling cycle in prison whereby you only have two options; be a target of violence or be a culprit. Once he gets out, he finds his options as limited as in prison. Also, after Michael is sent down for holding a bag of cocaine for a friend’s big brother, his grandfather faces repeated harassment by thugs looking to recuperate the cost of their loss. One can argue that these events would not have happened to a family that could afford better legal representation. The reality is that many adolescents from impoverished neighborhoods face a similar predicament to Michael. According to the Irish Penal Reform Trust(2021), most Irish prisoners have never sat a State exam and more than half dropped out of school before the age of fifteen. The Irish Education Report credits the availability of low-paid jobs as the main contributing factor for the high dropout rate among the poor portion of the population (Cheney, 2005). This shows that young adolescents facing the risk of poverty are more likely to drop out of school and are at a higher risk of ending up in prison when compared to adolescents from well-off families who can provide them better options for a better life.
Furthermore, the circumstances and the environment one grow in is a significant factor in how adolescents develop in their journey to adulthood. Many young people in disadvantaged communities are highly vulnerable. Like Michael, who dropped out in his fourth year, some of these kids who drop out of school at an early age witness many activities happening around them, making it easy for them to get trapped. To make their situation worse, most of them lack legal representation, which means they end up in prison, even for the pettiest of wrongdoing. For Michael, the consequences of his original crime still reverberate, and he is perpetually imprisoned to the socio-economic realities of his home life. Similarly, many young men from low-income communities fall victim to the ruthless predetermination of growing up with very few opportunities of escaping their social reality.
In Michael Inside, Berry shows his clear intent to prove to the audience that for young men like Michael, falling into the traps of violence isn’t always a choice but rather a necessity forced on them after they have been pressed into a corner. Berry doesn’t just condone the less morally sound decisions the protagonist makes. Instead, these decisions are always put into context, justifying why Michael would make them and, perhaps more frighteningly, why we believe we would result in making a similar decision if we were to be in his shoes. For example, he is told he has to stand up for himself or keep getting beat by other inmates. He is forced to attack another inmate and left with no option once his grandfather’s wellbeing is threatened. With this film, Berry shows that young people are not just criminalized, but if you take a keen look at their lives, you notice that many have actually been victimized.
The movie goes to great lengths to expose the dangers of adolescents’ not making a decision. Still, in reality, they are actually making a decision, in most case cases, a poorly-judged decision. For instance, when one is involved with a group of young people and some activities are happening, they tag along. They are already making a conscious decision that has a potentially enormous outcome (Ferguson, 2014). In the movie, Michael simply follows the wrong crowd, which inevitably lands him in prison. He derails his life simply because of a series of naïve mistakes resulting from both his youth and his environment. He first got himself on the wrong side of the law by being caught as a passenger in a stolen car. Also, he hangs out with drug dealers even though he isn’t one. While he doesn’t involve himself in the criminal acts, he agrees to hold drugs which subsequently lands him in trouble with the law.
Further, to show his loyalty to his thug cronies, he turns down a deal to rat out on the dealer in exchange for his freedom and an early release for his father. In the end, it is his string of naïve decisions that set him on his journey as a jailbird. The reality is that many adolescents are victims of a similar cycle of hanging with the wrong crowd, and despite being innocent, find themselves paying for other people’s crimes in the name of loyalty.
In this movie, Frank Berry shows the struggles the youth face to establish a stable identity for themselves and the harsh realities that follow them. According to Erikson’s theory of conceptualized identity development, creating a stable identity is a central developmental challenge faced by a majority of young people on their journey to adulthood (Kerpelman & Pittman, 2018). There are multiple identity domains such as sexual, religious, political, ideological, and occupational identity. The search for identity can result in many adolescents’ impressionable nature, which ends up landing them in trouble. The inner struggle of needing to fit in and wanting to survive is well demonstrated in Michael Inside. Michael is shown as a mouse caught up in a bottomless pit of getting in and out of unsolicited trouble. This type of entrapment can be directly related to many teenagers who are fresh out of school and who failed to get into college and have no idea what to do with their lives. Berry manages to show this very well in the world he creates in this film. The film depicts how most of Ireland is in the current state of affairs, with rampant unemployment, which drives the young to seek a new means of paying the bills. It achieves this without glorifying the crime that results from these struggles. Instead, it expresses the harsh realities and consequences for young people who get entangled with criminal elements as they try to survive.
To conclude, Michael Inside demands a questioning approach from the viewer to clasp the depth of the story. It takes us to the inside of 18-year-old Michael and the circumstances he faces in modern Dublin. The educational system is divided by class and wealth from which further circumstantial predicaments present themselves. The film witnesses a story conveying a small component of struggle among the youth, which is significant in its message and insightful approach. Finally, the film shows how the social-economic environment shapes young people in their development journey into adulthood.