A word of caution: the story of “Men” has important plot points revealed in this article. If you haven’t seen the movie yet, you might want to read this review or this article about how it was made, and then come back here.
If you have just completed viewing “Men,” the new folk-horror film directed by Alex Garland, you might need some time to digest what you have seen. At the very least, Garland expects that to be the case.
The British writer and filmmaker think that most people watch a movie and then “just kind of shrug” before doing something else, such as sending an email, getting a beer, or doing something else. However, if somebody gets provoked by this movie, hopefully, they will be able to question what exactly prompted them.
On the surface, the plot of “Men” appears to be as straightforward as the film’s title: After the death of her long-deceased husband, an unnamed widow named Harper, played by Jessie Buckley, takes refuge in the bucolic English countryside (Paapa Essiedu). There, she discovers that a number of guys, including a naked stalker, a gaslighting vicar, and a scary local policeman — all of whom have an uncanny similarity to one another (they are all played by actor Rory Kinnear), are terrorizing and manipulating her.
Buckley argues that the movie has “a fable aspect to it,” and I agree. “It’s almost like a story straight out of a fairy tale.”
However, much like Alex Garland’s previous movies, “Ex Machina” from 2014 and “Annihilation” from 2018, “Men” has a lot to say on a variety of topics, including misogyny and toxic masculinity, pagan symbols, and literary allusions. The movie is chock full of allusions to various works of literature and historical figures, including but not limited to Ulysses, the Bible, Yeats, Agamemnon, the Green Man, and Sheela a gig, which are both mysterious ancient sculptures that can be found on churches all throughout Europe. Garland claims that “anybody who wanted to start dissecting it would find that there were some interesting possibilities” to explore.
In the climactic scene of “Men,” Harper faces up against the monstrosity that has been haunting her throughout the movie, just as she does in a number of other horror movies, from “Halloween” to “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.” The audience would have their preconceived notions of the genre completely shattered by the strange and hallucinogenic nature of the final showdown, which may have been one of the reasons they were so excited to see it.
After Harper’s attempt to flee the cottage is thwarted in the final sequence of the movie, she finds herself being menaced (or menaced) by the various figures who have followed and gaslit her throughout the movie. Each figure is birthed out of another in a graphic and stomach-churning orgy of body horror in the vein of David Cronenberg’s work.
Harper’s spouse is ultimately born after a series of hideous births, each of which has the same gruesome shredded arm that Harper’s husband had after he fell (or jumped) to his death. These births occur in sequence, and each successive incarnation bears this arm. He takes a seat next to her on a couch and lays a final, manipulative guilt trip on her by telling her that all he’s ever really wanted is for her to love him. He says this as he manipulates her into believing that he loves her.
Garland asserts that “the monster’s huge final moment has a lot of patheticness built into it,” which is an accurate description of the situation. “If a guy is violent, he can have a strange mix of something threatening and pitiful about him at the same time. But there is also the possibility that there is something heartfelt and straightforwardly spoken in that very instant as well.
Although Harper has been tormented by grief and guilt over the loss of her husband — and is viciously blamed for it by the vicar — the movie makes a conscious decision not to address the question of whether or not he died as a result of an accident or by taking his own life. In point of fact, Garland maintains that there is no genuine response.
According to Garland, “It was extremely crucial that Jessie’s character did not truly know what happened to him.” (It was quite critical that Jessie does not know what happened to him.) “Therefore, since the character in question does not possess a conclusive response to that question, I never did either.”
Garland was both drawing upon the ancient fertility iconography of Sheela na gigs, which are centuries-old carvings showing women displaying oversized genitalia, and exploring people’s discomfort with the process of childbirth itself when she employed twisted imagery of birth. She did this by using imagery of birth and then twisting it.
According to Garland, “a lot of the imagery people respond to in that sequence actually should be extremely unfrightening.” [Citation needed] “A lot of the imagery people respond to in that sequence” There is not a single individual on the face of the earth who did not make their entrance into the world via either a vaginal delivery or a cesarean birth. But a portion of what scares people [about that episode] has nothing to do with a particular scene in a horror movie. Instead, it has to do with an image that is both totally essential and basic. And that’s very strange.”
Kinnear found filming the final segment to be an extremely trying experience. According to the actor, “it was like a week and a half of night shootings, and you’re cold and covered in goo, so you realized you might as well commit to it totally.” “It was like a week and a half of night shoots,” “I wanted to make sure that whenever a new character arose, they had a fresh attitude and had a need for something from Harper. I also wanted to make sure that they had a need for something from Harper. Every single character was subtly communicating this fundamental requirement.
Harper, much like the audience, finds herself curiously enthralled by the succession of births. Rather of running away screaming or attempting to murder her tormentor, Harper chooses to watch the births. “Seeing a body transform like that, sort of into a hybrid of human and monster — it’s like, what the heck is going on?” Buckley says. “It’s incredibly interesting in a lot of ways. You have the need to walk away, but you’re worried that if you do, you’ll end up missing something important. At that point, the fact that she is not in a state of horror is something that I find to be sort of interesting.
In the final scene of the movie, we see Harper sitting by herself outside the cottage the day after the incident, and her friend Riley, whose pregnancy is eventually disclosed to the audience, comes to check on her to make sure she is okay. After having made it through the terrifying incident, Harper sends her close buddy a subtle smile of understanding, as if to ask, “Men, what are you going to do?”
“The most essential things in the concluding scene, from my point of view, have nothing to do with what Harper is reacting to; rather, the most important things have to do with the manner that she reacts,” says Garland. “The way that she reacts is the most important thing.” It was not the birth, the question, the responsibility, or anything else that was asked by her spouse; it was Jessie’s performance as Harper. It has less to do with the original shocking value and more to do with how the protagonist is behaving at this point in the story. We spent a lot of time discussing her level of terror as well as the internal conflict that she was experiencing. The fact that Harper and Riley smile at each other at the very end is, at least in my opinion, where most of the intrigue rests.
As a kind of ominous punch line, director Garland intended for the film’s title to finally come onscreen in the closing moments of the movie, just before the credits roll.
According to Garland, “it’s possible that anything can be hilarious and serious at the same time.” [Citation needed] “I think the way the title is used at the end of the movie is a blend of something that is dark and extremely serious but also something that is kind of foolish, ridiculous, and disrespectful. It seemed as though everything could be summed up in just that one word.
Is the implication of the movie therefore that all males, deep down, have the capacity to behave in a horrible way toward women? Or is it simply exploring those worries as a type of provocation in the vein of the #MeToo movement?
Garland argues that in the end, it is up to the audience to determine depending on their own experiences and the assumptions they bring to the table.
“I’ve heard interpretations of this film from different people who are quite intellectual and sensible, and they are drastically different by 180 degrees,” he says. “I’ve heard interpretations of this film from people who are completely brilliant and reasonable.” “And that is not really a commentary on the movie,” she continued. It is a manifestation of who they are.”
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