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We are still making terrible mistakes in how we bring up our boys

The two friends respond differently: one tries to fit in, taking refuge in a violent sport and the larger, male group. The other tries to rekindle the old spark, and when that fails, he begins hanging out with the girls. Cycling home from school together, which once was about joy, becomes about competition. We, the audience, see them roiling in unexpressed emotions they do not have the words to articulate.


The movie is about how the process of socialising these boys, labelling and categorising them, crushes their real, complex emotional lives. And how ill-equipped with language they and their peers are to say what they’re going through.

There are many more socially acceptable labels, or identities, for boys these days than the one or two I was confronted with four decades ago. There are many tribes to join, from various shades of gender identity to the “incel” subculture and adherence to the noxious doctrines of influencer Andrew Tate. But those labels are worn at least as belligerently, their boundaries patrolled by their defenders. And someone is available at all hours on social media to throw fruit at you. The modern process of finding your place seems at least as brutal as I experienced it.

I am the father of a young man who has navigated, sometimes uncertainly, around various dark rabbit holes. He’s tried out various stances but has avoided being inculcated with any of the more extreme points of view our culture aims at young men. Our family talked, argued and contested, but always kept the conversation going. In Close, the boys simply don’t have the language. They are surrounded by benign family members, but the silence grows increasingly oppressive until the words explode in anguish in the film’s final frames.

The consequences of getting this wrong are devastating: rates of depression, anxiety and self-harm are too high and growing. Three-quarters of all suicides are among men. Then there is the dividend of misogyny, sexual abuse and violence that comes with getting boys’ socialisation wrong.

We need to start with words. Talk to boys, listen to them. And if their words are awkward, inarticulate, or even ugly, we, the adults in their lives, cannot punish them or shut them down. We must hear them and guide them or cajole them towards understanding, always telling them they are loved. Modern adolescence is more confusing than ever and failing to help them navigate it is doing damage to us all.

If you or anyone you know needs support call Lifeline 131 114, or Beyond Blue 1300 224 636.

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