Alex Garland’s Take on Survivors Guilt
Men is the latest film by writer and director Alex Garland. Best known Ex Machina and Annihilation, Men follows a recently widowed woman named Harper (Jessie Buckley) staying at an inn in rural England to recharge herself. During her stay, however, a man starts to follow Harper and what ensues is a nightmare she was not preparing for.
Anyone going into Men expecting a straightforward narrative will be disappointed. Garland’s movies are often allegories for wider societal issues with an avant-garde presentation. The topic Garland explores in Men is grief and the trauma associated with it. He does his best with presenting the trauma that destroyed Harper, but the main focus of Men is around the people she meets during her vacation that, ironically enough, add to her trauma. While this does provide some terrifying scenes, it puts an unnecessary burden on Harper, which takes away from her grieving process.
Buckley gives the best performance in the film. She makes Harper a cunning and resourceful person who is able to do their best while also reliving a personal tragedy. Her co-star Rory Kinnear also does a fantastic job of playing the innkeeper Geoffrey, along with several men Harper meets in the village.
Another aspect of Men done well was the makeup and hairstyles of Kinnear to play his various characters. The looks fit seamlessly with the film’s setting and it seems like a character of its own. The musical team of Geoff Barrow and Ben Salisbury did a fine job having a score match the film’s chaotic energy.
The most interesting part about Men comes with the exploration of toxic masculinity. Throughout the film, several men Harper encounters either dismiss her trauma or abuse her; oftentimes both events occur simultaneously. Harper’s trauma is also linked to toxic masculinity displayed by her previous partner through various flashbacks of his actions.
As mentioned earlier, Gardner has a particular style of filmmaking that at best is creative and at worst can be inaccessible. Men seems to be Garland’s most accessible film for viewers not familiar with art house cinema. The weirdness and ambiguity only starts around the second-half of the movie compared to the brilliant but puzzling Annihilation which encapsulates Garland’s out there approach to filmmaking.
Where Garland’s style becomes questionable in Men is towards the climax of the film. There is a metamorphic change that happens with several of the male characters and while the intent was clear, the execution felt puzzling. Buckley does her best to work with the material, but even she is bewildered by the conclusion of the scene as displayed by Harper’s facial reaction.
Viewing Men is like viewing an M.C Escher painting, you have a general idea of what you’re supposed to see, but never a full view unless looked closely. Even then, Men is a movie meant to be broken down and discussed over time. Unlike his previous films however, there seemed to be a lack of urge to instantly re-watch Men.
Men (2022) Official Trailer