After years of being at the top of the societal food chain, there’s no shortage of history on men abusing their power. Especially towards women, who possess a lot of what men desire but have their own agency to think for themselves. Alex Garland’s Men shows two things: 1) female agency frustrates the hell out of men in a patriarchal society, and 2) that society will put all sorts of pressure on women to force them to succumb to male advances, or else suffer the scary consequences.
After a harrowing, violent, and messy breakup with her ex husband James (Paapa Essiedu), the shaken Harper (Jessie Buckley) decides to take a mental health vacation in a small town in the English countryside. She rents a little house owned by Geoffrey (Rory Kinnear), and hopes to just reset. However, the many men in this town put Harper in a ready state of alert because of her past experiences with her ex husband.
Men has 2 competing, sometimes contradictory things going on: Harper is trying to cope with the unfair cruel divorce she had to endure, and she also has to deal with her vacation town’s patriarchally designed prison she has found herself in. Harper simultaneously has to survive and understand her male pursuers, which can sit uncomfortably scene to scene. However, with Alex Garland at the helm, its hard to deny the horrifying results. Harper and James’s fight is draped in red, making it extremely clear how damaging/life-altering this experience was for Harper. On vacay, Garland taps Rory Kinnear to play all the men in this town, giving us a full glimpse into the ever constant suffocation Harper feels under the society she currently lives in. Garland smartly chooses the various Kinnear’s to show how intrusive the patriarchy can be: religion, law enforcement, children, hell even the dawn of civilization: remember Eve was chastised for eating the fruit of knowledge first. Other than her sister Riley (Gayle Rankin), Harper has no solace; society pushes her toward James, Geoffrey, and anyone else stripping any agency from her. And even if she fights back, she’s not just facing a single man: she’s fighting all of society, who will use every weapon/technique at their disposal to put her back in line.
And yet, Harper, a legend of a female hero, persists. She knows what she wants, and doesn’t suffer fools or foolish society. Jessie Buckley, the rising star and consummate pro, takes in all the crazy and acquits herself ably: a steadying force around the men. She transforms male instruments of conformity, like kitchenware, into weapons for her protection, and uses her thoughts to pierce right through all the veiled misogynistic conversation she finds herself in. And through all of this, Buckley’s performance makes it clear she’s also using these experiences to help herself recover from her past trauma with James. Plus, we’ve got another Alex Garland 3rd Act for Buckley to guide us through. Like Annihilation, Men has a very ambiguous, artistic ending, purposefully opaque to be open for lots of interpretation. If you’re not a fan of body horror, you will cringe early and often at what Garland puts on the screen. But you’ll be totally enraptured because of Garland’s direction and Buckley’s acting, driving home the themes and horrors of Men.
Any man who thinks they’re “under attack” in 2022 should watch Men. “Under attack” really means their long owned societal power is being distributed more equally. And more importantly, if a woman says no, that isn’t some code language to sick society on her to punish her; its just your chance to find someone else who likes you instead. Bascially, don’t be a Rory Kinnear, be a Jessie Buckley!