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Film Review: The Toxic Masculinity Pictured in 'Men' Provides a Crucial Insight into the Everyday Traumas Women Face - It’s Just Hard to Find

'Men' is harrowing suspense that has a message. On the edge of your seat for sure but the message part that Alex Garland is trying to convey is much more elusive.
Jessie Buckley as Harper in Men. Photo credit: Kevin Baker/A24.

Jessie Buckley as Harper in Men. Photo credit: Kevin Baker/A24.

Men is harrowing suspense that has a message. On the edge of your seat for sure but the message part that Alex Garland is trying to convey is much more elusive. The evidence of this uncertainty can be found when three words are entered into google: “Men Movie Explained.” The hits keep coming and the wonderful suspense ultimately gets sunk in favor of a misogynist tale that is somewhat indecipherable.

That is until a laptop is within reach.

Not the way it’s supposed to work; the setup and progression is definitely first class. The first scene has Harper innocently staring out a window, and out of nowhere, a man falls to his death. Looking her right in the eye, the moment is absolutely chilling and you so want to know more.

Up first, we learn the man was her ex-husband James (Paapa Essiedu), and he appears to have made good on his threat to kill himself if the divorce goes forward. Unbelievably traumatic, Harper (Jessie Buckley) takes flight herself and rents an isolated home in the English countryside. Resetting her life on the agenda, the panoramic shots of the green expanse and secluded quiet looks like a good place to start.

[L-R] Rory Kinnear as Geoffrey and Jessie Buckley as Harper in Men. Photo credit: Kevin Baker/A24.

[L-R] Rory Kinnear as Geoffrey and Jessie Buckley as Harper in Men. Photo credit: Kevin Baker/A24.

In the immediate way is the owner of the home. Geoffrey (Rory Kinnear) must obviously show Harper around the house and clarify the amenities. A certain country charm to the man, he's definitely a bit out of step with modern society.

Unfortunately for Harper, the strangeness he exhibits can fall on the wrong side of the line. His little comments or attempts at humor amount to a passive-aggressive form of sexism. In this, a sense of frustration comes across the lonely middle-aged man, and even though Geoffrey probably knows his judgement isn’t fair, he still blames women for his lot. Thus, the competing internal narratives makes him seem even odder. Nonetheless, she’s quickly able to dismiss the afront, and once he’s out the door, the healing can begin.

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Finding the exit herself, the backwood trails and the trees that line them are in full bloom and rebirth seems only a matter of letting her senses do the work. So who cares that the myriad of pathways that Rob Hardy sets up with his animated cinematography seem like a maze? No mistaking, a sense of The Shining comes to mind, and when a naked man suddenly appears, so does a serious chill. We also understand Garland - like Kubrick - is going to lay out the pieces of a puzzle.

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A key fragment is left out, though, because there’s a good chance that you won’t know what it is until getting home. Kinnear is also the naked man, and as it turns out, all the harassing men to come. A fact that doesn’t even become clear to Harper until the very end. So if she could miss it, so could you.

Either way, she does manage to evade the naked indigent on her jaunt. But when the frightening figure is soon leering in her window, the fear goes into high gear and doesn’t let up. Among the ongoing occurrences of bizarre events and characters, the foreboding, unyielding presentation that Garland has utilized in Ex Machina and Annihilation also shines here. So while the pace of the deepening crisis is methodical, the beat of your heart isn’t.

Jessie Buckley wears the elevated EKG levels well, and the reactions of the 2022 Oscar nominee always leaves her character in doubt of where the next threat is coming from. As for why, Geoffrey’s fumbling does subtly move us in the direction of the perils of toxic masculinity. But does a naked man wandering the countryside further the cause? Sheer lunacy is a pretty good explanation too.

Very odd, the police whisk him off, and through the magic of computer enhancement, Kinnear next appears as a younger, shorter version of himself at the nearby Church. Wearing a mask of Marilyn Monroe, the boy startles Harper and more so when he asks if she’d like to play hide and seek.

Men. Photo credit: Kevin Baker/A24

Men. Photo credit: Kevin Baker/A24

Harper obviously declines, and he doesn’t take it kindly. “You bitch,” Kinnear now fumes with toxicity.

Is that the core of the problem, though? He’s wearing a Marilyn Monroe mask, wants to play hide and seek, and haunts a church that borders on spooky. It’s like Jack Nicholson just saw two dead twins wandering the halls.

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The next two characters are the Church Vicar and the local police officer who arrested the naked man. In stride with his long career as a character actor, Kinnear seamlessly switches gears. The police officer gives us the unearned entitlement that can only come with authority, and the Vicar’s omnipotent arrogance conveys almost as much creep as the crazy young boy.

Together, the duo's rationale in response to Harper’s situation is insensitively over the top. As such, their reaction aligns more on the odd side than real-life contemporary sexism.

So again is sexism the tie? Or as the suspense hits us from all sides, will we finally become privy to how all these out-of-place men bare relation to Harper and James? Of course, the stitch would have been a lot easier to trace if Kinnear had come across more clearly as the same person.

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That doesn’t stop Garland from trying to be Kubrick and forced to sit through quite an unsettling ending, the lack of clarity is pretty exasperating.

On the other hand, the online explanations do help connect the dots of persistent harassment and the potential harm that women face on a daily basis. In tandem, James' final words do tie the knot and really expresses the matter-of-fact way that toxic men believe that they are the victims. So maybe the best way to watch this movie is to read up beforehand, and seeing the details play out with comprehension will more profoundly bring home Garland’s vision.

Men is now in Theaters.


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