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Don't expect Alex Garland to explain what's happening in 'Men.' But here are a few hints

Josh Rottenberg, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Entertainment News

Like the previous films he’s directed — 2014’s “Ex Machina” and 2018’s “Annihilation” — Alex Garland’s new folk-horror film “Men” has a lot going on underneath the surface: themes of gender and toxic masculinity, ancient signs and symbols, literary references to everything from the Bible to Yeats.

But don’t expect Garland to unpack it all for you. The last thing he wants to do is mansplain “Men.”

“I’m sure there will be a range of opinions and a range of responses to the film,” the British writer-director said recently over Zoom. “I see a group of people who make a film as, in some small way, being participants in a conversation. The film is just a space to turn things over in one’s head. What is front and center is not what you’re thinking about but what you’re feeling.”

On that score, “Men,” which arrived in theaters Friday on a wave of generally strong reviews, is certain to spark plenty of strong feelings.

Jessie Buckley stars in the A24 release as a woman named Harper who retreats to a picturesque English cottage following the death (whether by accident or suicide is unclear) of her estranged husband (Paapa Essiedu). Seeking solace in the tranquil, bucolic countryside, Harper finds herself terrorized and gaslit by a series of men, including a naked stalker, a creepy vicar and a local policeman — all of them played by actor Rory Kinnear.

Influences: Less MeToo than Green Man

 

A gender-inflected psychological thriller with echoes of such classics as “Repulsion” and “Rosemary’s Baby,” “Men” seems tailor-made for the MeToo era, its very title a kind of blunt provocation amid the fiery debates over sexual harassment, misogyny and rape culture. But Garland says the film actually predates the MeToo movement, continuing a preoccupation with dynamics of power and sexuality between men and women that has run through all of his work — if not all of human history.

“I’ve been working on a version of the script for about 15 years,” said Garland, 51. “Those concepts way predate MeToo. MeToo was like a sudden intense focusing of attention on something. But it wasn’t a new thing. It was an old thing, like centuries or millennia old.”

For Garland, the starting point for “Men” was an ancient piece of pagan iconography found across Europe known as the Green Man. “In medieval churches, you’ll see this male face with leaves pushing out of the mouth or intertwining with beard,” he said. “You’ll see it on Victorian buildings. There’s pubs called the Green Man Pub. It’s so commonplace but people don’t ever notice it particularly. And that always interested me.”

Inspired by the Green Man and by similarly mysterious pagan carvings of women displaying their genitalia known as sheela na gigs, Garland sought to craft a folk-horror tale that tapped into primal fears and misperceptions that have animated gender relations all the way back to the story of Adam and Eve — another creative touchstone for the film.

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