Inspired by a desire to redress the predominate depiction of adolescent boys as the products of toxic masculinity, lacking empathy and eager to wreak havoc on all who cross their paths, Armor (Rustning) from Norwegian Writer/Director Marius Myrmel provides an intimate and vulnerable portrait of three teenage boys who must decide what they’re willing to sacrifice in order to gain validation from their peers. Joining us today for the online premiere of Armor, Myrmel explains why he felt compelled to tackle the topic of male teen culture and how taking the decision to approach the story from multiple character perspectives enabled him to explore different facets of masculinity.
The idea came to me as I had seen a lot of takes on teenage culture and masculinity. Rarely did I see something I felt was a reflection of my own experience. They were often either portraits of “toxic masculinity” and “locker room talk” that sometimes demonized teenage boy culture and could be seen as big warnings in a way or stories glorifying the hero’s journey where a teenage boy would acquire a certain skillset in a macho culture and win the day. I thought to myself, what is it with teenagers that makes us love films like that, and I think it is that we want to conceive ourselves as those characters. It’s much more comfortable to look at a glorified version of being a teenager than it is to actually look in the mirror. At the same time, it is not helping any conversation to make demonizing and alienating caricatures of them. So I wanted to explore the dynamics of a group of teenagers much like my own when I grew up. I wanted to explore our struggles, our wants and our bonds – but without waiving a condescending finger or moralizing.
I had seen a lot of takes on teenage culture and masculinity. Rarely did I see something I felt was a reflection of my own experience.
It took about two years from the first words on the page until the screenplay was nearly finished. We actually wrote it both in rehearsal and on set. The thing was that I was coming at this story from a one character point of view – you know you are always told that in shorts you’ve got to stick to one protagonist and have as few side characters as possible. As I was writing this group of guys I just found there was so much about masculinity I didn’t get to explore.
I switched the protagonists up several times and I just grew so fond of each of them I couldn’t let their perspectives go. Now, the film doesn’t fully tell any of their stories, but we get glimpses and in the light of those glimpses, we view their social dynamics differently. It was important for me to not just write three separate stories – but to have them convey a bigger story – an unspoken one of sorts that would emerge from the juxtaposition of these perspectives. Here I really have to give a big shout out to our Producer Elisa Pirir of Mer Film. She was always discussing and not freaking out over the constant changes and really wanted to challenge the short film format by juggling these three characters. A lot of people were thinking it would be way too much for a short and that it would fall “short” in conveying something of importance for each of the characters. But Elisa recognized it wasn’t necessarily the full story of each character but the sum of their perspectives in a way that was the story.
The story wasn’t complete even when we cast or rehearsed. We did an open casting; all we knew to look for was a certain dynamic between the guys. Once we got them we went out to find Martine. From there we worked on the friendship, tried to figure out what the “hierarchy” would be and what strategies they had to obtain acceptance and recognition from each other. By sharing their thoughts about what could make a character behave the way that was depicted in the story, I was able to write something that felt grounded in each of the boys and they got something very real to work with. An actor’s main tool is empathy, and by having the screenplay fairly open and working with improvisations and experiences, thoughts and realizations they had, we found the characters’ core together in a way that they could understand and feel.
Shot by Audun G. Magnæs on an ARRI Alexa Mini with ARRI master anamorphics and a Phantom Flex high speed camera with ultra primes, filming went on for 8 days. I like to spend a lot of time on one scene to fully explore each scene and get time to mold the performance from each actor. It’s often a shame I feel when too much is crammed into a day. I feel like directing isn’t just about setting the direction and going there, it’s to explore and to experience. I really love to have time so you can watch the images and the performance grow and find its truth.
The editing took about a month. I usually have a post production depression. A lot of times you are stuck with the thoughts of all the things you feel you didn’t get quite right, and not all the great moments. So I waited quite sometime before I joined my Editor Mathias Hamre Askeland fully in the editing room. But once we got the scenes down and I was able to look somewhat objectively on what was actually in the timeline we had a great time. The actors gave really stellar performances so it was a hard time of killing darlings, several scenes involving the growing affection between Martine and Jonathan was some of what we sacrificed at the altar of the keep it short God.
I feel like directing isn’t just about setting the direction and going there, it’s to explore and to experience.
The music and sound design were done by Svein-Ketil Bjøntegård. We actually had a lot of great musicians try for the opening but I felt that we often tried to comment or say something with the music rather than trying to get inside the teenagers’ point of view. The opening was the first impression, the outer layer of masculinity – which the film later peels off – so it felt unearned to open with songs that were commenting on the intimacy of their bodies from the first frame. Svein and I ended up sitting late into the night making beats and trying to find the right sound.
In a time where there is a lot of focus placed on the “toxic elements” of masculinity and boy culture, I’d like for male teen viewers to see their perspective reflected on screen. I think there is a dangerous and alienating conversation being had about boys and their behavior but rarely do we see the side of the young boys. It can sometimes feel construed that boys want to do harm for the sake of their own pleasure. And while this might be the case in some instances – I do think that there are few boys that actually want to hurt or harm their fellow teenagers. There are real problems that need to be addressed and I think the way to do that is by seeing each other and not by construing one group as inherently toxic. I don’t think many actually do that – but it can definitely be interpreted that way and I hope this film shows the damages of the culture; while not condemning the characters as inherently bad.
I am currently finishing a short film about the “incel” movement – but in a Norwegian setting while I am in development of my feature film. So hopefully those will be out and about sometime soon!