Alex Garland has written a number of great screenplays, including “28 Days Later…”, “Sunshine”, and “Dredd.” It’s only been relatively recently that he’s begun directing some of his own screenplays. The first, 2014’s “Ex Machina” remains his most accessible. In 2018 he directed his second feature, “Annihilation.” Like its predecessor, it benefited from multiple viewings, but “Annihilation” was far more metaphorical, inspiring numerous discussions on what it was really about. His latest film, “Men” may have the bluntest title, but the narrative is the most symbolic.
Through a series of short flashbacks, we learn that Harper’s (Jessie Buckley) husband James (Paapa Essiedu) has recently died. It happened shortly after she had told him she wanted a divorce. To help heal, Harper decides to take a solo trip to a small English village and rent a home in the countryside. The landlord Geoffrey (Rory Kinnear) seems kind enough, but there is an air of condescension in the way he addresses Harper. But, he’s gone soon enough and Harper can finally relax. She decides to take a walk through the adjacent forest, and although this is the slowest part of the movie, this is where it begins to reveal what this apologue is about.
Garland tells this story at a rather slow pace, punctuating serenity with painful flashbacks, and an increasing mountain of microaggressions that eventually build into a horrific climax. Without spoiling anything specific, we can discuss some of the themes that are presented. This movie challenges the Judeo-Christian narrative of Adam and Eve, with Eve being blamed for the one who brought sin into the world and essentially ruined Man’s life. It also addresses some of the psychological theories on male hostility towards women based on the fact that they cannot reproduce. Men can’t create life, so instead mar nature with their own garish (phallic) creations. There are allusions to Gia, the visage of The Green Man, and what they represent. In the finale, it clumps all toxic male behavior into a single entity that represents fragile men, supposedly “damaged” by women, giving birth to one generation after another of men who blame all their own shortcomings on women.
While this may be the least accessible of Garland’s films, it may contain the most allegories. Everything in it feels so intentional, everything exists for a reason. It’s not an easy watch, but it hasn’t left my mind since seeing it. For fans of his other movies and the other brilliant A24 feminist horror films, this is a must-watch.