SIFF Review: Young Plato

Year: 2022

Runtime: 102 minutes

Directors: Neasa Ni Chianain, Declan McGrath

By Joan Amenn

“There must be peace and understanding sometime”

-Elvis Presley, If I Can Dream

For all those who enjoyed Kenneth Branagh’s “Belfast” (2021) or for anyone who wants to learn more about the ‘The Troubles” of Northern Ireland, “Young Plato” (2022) is a touching look at the children who are growing up in the shadow of their country’s continued strife. The viewer watches as a small group of educators devote themselves to teaching these kids to think for themselves and perhaps, free their futures from the violence of their collective past.

This is a pretty tall order considering that the neighborhood of Ardoyne in Belfast is particularly known for violence, drugs and suicide among its young people. At the Holy Cross Boys Primary School, Headmaster Kevin McArevey leads his students in an exploration of philosophy and self-discovery. By applying the teachings of Socrates, Seneca, and other classical thinkers to their own lives, he shows them that self-discipline, respect and empathy can be as important as reading, writing and arithmetic.

Directors Neasa Ni Chianain and Declan McGrath wisely let their cameras focus on the boys and let them tell their own stories through their school experiences. They are all adorable, even when they are squabbling but the level of dedication that the teachers and staff of Holy Cross show their students is just remarkable. Each boy has his own little burden, be it the death of a beloved grandparent, divorced parents, or a physical disability like diabetes. Each of them are affirmed in their feelings and supported with kindness and understanding. School staff member Jan Marie Reel is amazing in her never flagging patience and gentleness with students who come to her in various states of distress. Mr. McArevey is obviously adored by his students but is firm in his sense of discipline and his vision of intellect as a tool to overcome destructive emotions. He even instructs parents in how to talk to their children and vice versa in his hope to lift the next generation out of the chains of the harmful patterns of behavior that has torn Belfast apart.

The only minor quibble that can be noted in “Young Plato” is that we never learn what caused McArevey to embrace philosophy personally and as a teaching method. The film tells us very little about him besides a few admissions that he had a dark time where he drank and was angry but now is married with a daughter. We do not see his family or learn anything else about him besides that he is an obsessive fan of Elvis Presley.

The King of Rock and Roll was hardly a philosopher but the combination of American music and Greek Stoicism seems to work just fine for the curriculum of Holy Cross.

The King of Rock and Roll was hardly a philosopher but the combination of American music and Greek Stoicism seems to work just fine for the curriculum of Holy Cross. “Young Plato” is a lovely story of how much a child can be impacted by someone in their lives who guides them with kindness and reason. It does not shy away from the violence in the lives of these young philosophers but gives us cause to hope they will grow to make their home a better, safer place.

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