At first glance everything seems clear: Alex Garlands MEN – WHAT SEEKS YOU WILL FIND YOU is a sweeping blow against masculinity. But is that really him? We reveal why this oppressive genre gem can do a little more than just clumsily accuse.
OT: Men (UK 2022)
After a traumatic experience, Harper (Jessie Buckley) travels alone to the idyllic English countryside to find peace and relaxation. In the remote village she meets a strange group of men who welcome her hospitably, but with strange undertones. But someone seems to be stalking Harper, ambushing her from the surrounding woods. Harper’s discomfort turns into a grim nightmare, fueled by her memories and her darkest fears…
In the past few months we have often written here about the fact that the massively increased sensitivity to the equality of men and women in public perception due to #MeToo is, so to speak, a creative driving force for people in pop culture. Ridley Scott’s contribution “The Last Duel” dealt with the topic of sexism and the oppression of women in a medieval setting, “Baby Driver” director Edgar Wright ripped the romanticized memories of the “Swinging Sixties” like a carpet from his audience in “Last Night in Soho”. underfoot and at the same time told this bitter, timeless topic from a contemporary perspective. “The Assistant” sent Julia Garner through the hell of a media company run by patriarchal structures, whose connections to the “Harvey Weinstein case” quickly became an open secret. And for Emerald Fennell, Carey Mulligan embarked on a slightly different kind of vendetta to draw attention to the issue of everyday sexism. “Promising Young Woman” even won an Oscar for it. Alex Garland (“extinction”) is now joining this illustrious group of filmmakers and is resorting to even more offensive (some might call it “crude”) means. Even the title – “Men” – anticipates the premise. However, this does not fail to convey its urgency; on the contrary.
Harper (Jessie Buckley) snacks on the “forbidden fruit” – some motifs in “Men” turn out to be very obvious.
The men in “Men” are all played by the same actor. Rory Kinnear, known, among other things, for the brilliant “Black Mirror” episode “The National Anthem,” in which he is a political celebrity confronted with a thoroughly immoral “task,” takes the completely opposite side for “Men.” of morals. From the slightly too polite landlord of his holiday home to a verbally abusive vicar to the apparently mentally confused stalker, Kinnear uses his entire acting repertoire. This ensures that he is sometimes almost unrecognizable, for example when his face is rejuvenated so much on the computer that he looks like a teenager in “particularly creepy”. It is obvious that this apparently artificial alienation is intentional; After all, Alex Garland’s sci-fi drama “Ex_Machina” was in his class the Surprise winner in the Oscar category “Best Special Effects” and impressed here with class rather than – as is often the case in this category – mass. Garland is unlikely to allow an unintentionally inferior effect in his new film. What’s more, this “Uncanny Valley” feeling when seeing the rejuvenated Rory Kinnear further increases the audience’s discomfort and at the same time subliminally raises doubts about the perception of the female protagonist Harper.
“Kinnear uses his entire acting repertoire from the slightly too polite landlord of his holiday home to a verbally abusive vicar to the apparently mentally confused stalker.”
The atmosphere in “Men” is poisonous from the start. Alex Garland and his regular cameraman Rob Hardy are there (“extinction”) Every effort is made to make her main character’s vacation home as idyllic as possible. The mansion, surrounded by lush, unnaturally green meadows, quiet forests and, last but not least, a cozy house interior with a garden, would be an ideal retreat for Harper, who is disturbed by the events of the past (Jessie Buckley finds the perfect balance of the reserved, so to speak seething victim, who strives to take his fate into his own hands) in search of peace – if it weren’t for Rory Kinnear’s multiple presence, the cutting score by Geoff Barrow and Ben Salisbury (also working with Alex Garland for the third time) that sets the scene surrounded by an oppressive carpet of sound. Small peaks of tension in the form of surrealistic moments – an important one of which takes place in a long tunnel – deliberately increase the pulse for seconds and never end in a clumsy jump scare; The tension is now maintained so that Harper’s swelling paranoia is transmitted to the audience. Only at the very end does the tension break out ecstatically, which amounts to a release for both Harper and the audience, which is in stark contrast to the images shown. Just this much: even David Cronenberg would be proud of this type of body horror.
The vicar (Rory Kinnear) has dubious intentions.
As subtly and reservedly as Alex Garland scatters the “breadcrumbs of fear” in the first half of the film, he formulates his concerns clearly in the second half: All men are equal, structural sexism has lasted for centuries in many forms, reproduces itself and has always existed rooted in motifs from ancient religions and legends (a more detailed examination of individual motifs, such as the “Green Man”, a figure from British mythology, is recommended after the film). In combination with Harper’s past, this results in an angry indictment of incorrigible masculinity – which, however, can be reversed, so to speak, and allows for a completely different reading from a different perspective. Alex Garland himself stated that the obvious interpretation of the man who morally always appears with the same intentions, just in different guises, is just one of many. But the idea of Harper’s narrative perspective, from which the men all look the same, but perhaps aren’t, creates a coherent, if contentious, and precisely why it is so interesting overall picture when the #MeToo and the a short time later #NotAllMen rallying cry established as a kind of counter-proposal complement each other. Garland weaves what at first glance looks like the incompatibility of moral principles into a horror drama that can be interpreted in many ways, but ultimately not all of the symbolism is as clear as it initially seems.
“Alex Garland himself stated that the obvious interpretation of the man who morally appears with the same intentions, just in different guises, is just one of many.”
The genre classification “horror drama” should be viewed with caution. Using examples like “The Witch” or “It comes at Night” is particularly relevant here. These two films were also once advertised as (particularly scary) horror films, but they derived their shock value primarily from the mood and less from classic genre mechanisms. This is no different with “Men”. Only when the film uses drastic body horror motifs in the finale may it fulfill the promise of a “horror film” for some people. However, since these are never purely an end in themselves, but are primarily intended to radically further rethink the symbolism that has previously been used here, there is no impression that these images are simply intended to shock. The horror in “Men” remains diffuse until the end.
Conclusion: “Men” is equal parts a #MeToo and a #NotAllMen film, making it as contentious as it is radical. The motifs, which seem clumsy at first glance, continually provoke new food for thought over the course of the film, while the film is audio-visually oppressive and transmits the paranoia of its female protagonist directly to the audience. “Men” is extremely unpleasant, at times beautifully illustrated and at least as demanding as Alex Garland’s previous work.
“Men – What is looking for you will find you” can be seen in USA cinemas from July 21st.