Starred Up // Caged Kin

Directed by David Mackenzie
Starring Jack O'Connell and Ben Mendelsohn

Family forms a kind of a prison and the sentence is for life. Our kin determines two things that make up who we are: genetics and upbringing. Even if we distance ourselves or become separated from our families, their presence will always be there, whether its from memories or from the likeness that we see when we look at a mirror. Starred Up takes the prison drama and elevates it by focusing its attention towards the relationship between a father and a son. It is a relationship that is simultaneously destructive and loving, the bonds of which cannot be unshackled. 

Eric (Jack O'Connell) has been reunited with his father, Neville (Ben Mendelsohn) after being 'starred up' and brought into adult prison where his father is also incarcerated. Throughout the film, the camera captures these two in parallel. The film achieves this spatially, as seen in a heartbreaking scene where the two are violently dragged by the police and placed in isolation rooms, opposite one another. Unable to see each other, the father screams for his son hoping for a response to let him know that he is okay. 

It is through these moments that we begin to realise why the son is in prison with his father. It really is like father like son. They cannot escape each other. 

Neville has to protect his son, this place is unforgivable and of course, prison drama conventions ensue. Blood is spilt, there are betrayals, there are people that need to be taken care of. What fascinated me most, however, was the way in which Neville tries to take away part of himself out of his son for his own good. He has passed on his aggressiveness and his anger onto Eric and this is why he's here with him. 

He puts him on group sessions with Oliver (Rupert Friend) and surprisingly, this provides the film's most comedic scenes. It's like watching an angry man and his facsimile. They are almost the same person, except for age. Again, the camera sees these two in constant parallel. They face each other in the circle and that usually doesn't last long. They are drawn together and repelled by each other.

These sessions also put Eric head to head with his other inmates who are around the same age. They almost become like surrogate brothers, they fight, they make up and they test each other. The dialogue is crude but it is authentic and at times very funny. Your mum jokes are taken seriously here.

It's as if a family is formed inside the walls of the prison. A family that is violent and destructive but also intimate and affectionate. 

But what family isn't.

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