Is the Movie Men Unhinged or Perfectly Sane? That is a non-rhetorical question. One that I tried to solve by going twice to the movie theater in order to crack this particular nut (pardon the pun). But alas… I’m still running the rock tumbler in my attempt to make sense of this one.
Men, if you don’t know, is the latest movie by Alex Garland. If you don’t know the name Alex Garland, I’ve got nothing for you – and I would actually prefer it if you would exit the blog in that direction —–> thank you. (Pssst: he’s the chap that did the amazing movie Ex Machina, oh, and 28 Days Later, oh, and Annihilation, etc.)
Patriarchal Gaslighting. Patriarchal Violence. Patriarchal Blame Shifting. This is ball I want to keep your eye on as we go through this movie. This isn’t the crib sheet to the test, just merely the study guide. So with that in mind, shall we away?
Great… so the movie starts mid-argument between Harper and her husband of about a year. They’ve been separated. James is working really hard, with a whole lot of nothing, in order to get the two of them back together again. But you quickly get the idea that his emphasis is all about appearances, and convincing his wife to do what he wants her to do – and he’s certainly not interested in becoming a better husband, or truly reconciling. There’s no – “let’s try counseling” or, “I know I can curb my drinking… sleeping around…” or what have you. In fact, James is so serious about breaking Harper to his own will that he’s decided he’ll commit suicide if she doesn’t take him back. Worse? It’ll be her fault if he kills himself. She’ll be morally saddled with his death in perpetuity. Talk about psychic abuse on the most epic of scales! Wow.
Well, then he punches her in the face and Harper throws him out of her apartment. Wherein James heads up a flight and tries to climb down into her apartment?? Or maybe he just jumps? Harper doesn’t know. And James falls – impales himself in several horrifying ways to a very pointy, very sharp, sort of ornamental gate. If this were a play, this would be act 1… and we get most of this in various flashbacks and haunting reminders. Why? Because Harper has Airbnb’d a family estate for herself in order to retreat, and recover from the trauma of it all.
But none of that goes to plan because the moment she arrives at the manor, she is met with the owner of the house – named Geoffrey (played hauntingly by Rory Kinnear). Upon arriving at the house, Harper picks an apple, and takes a bite. I literally scribbled in my notepad upon my first viewing there in the movie theater, “GARDEN OF EDEN” the allusion was so obvious. Trust me, we’ll come back to this later. But Geoffrey has a problem in that in this small English countryside town, he is everyone. Or everyone bears his face anyway. Uh, eh? Trust me, we’ll get to that later. After showing Harper around the house, he takes off. And soon, anther Geoffrey faced man… but this one is naked, has taken to stalking Harper by watching Harper through the windows as she talks with her friend about the stunning location she’s “lucky” enough to happen upon. Eventually, Harper sees our naked interlocutor and runs for her life. Eventually she brings the police in, (who are all men with Geoffrey’s faces as well – huh, this must be important?) and they quickly lock him up and haul him in to the station to be charged.
Fast forward a bit she goes to the pub, meets more Geoffrey faced guys, eventually meets a Vicar that basically hits on her, etc., etc. Harper is needing to decide what she is going to do. Should she leave? Should she hole up in the house? Eventually she decides she’s not going to let these men win. And to solve this problem, Harper’s friend, Riley is going to come up and join her in a big F’you to the men of the town who will not win. Soon after, there is a loud bang, and a bird has crashed through the window. Geoffrey is there, and he helps kill the bird. And immediately following this scare, Harper watches as all the different iterations of Geoffrey… you know, the cop, the naked man, the various men from the bar, the vicar… as they all begin chasing after her. What do they want? Your guess is as good as mine… and yet, we can imagine what they want.
Now, as she fights them off, she begins injuring each of them in ways that are oddly similar to James’ injuries after being impaled on the fence. An arm split in two at the elbow. Upon fleeing, and being chased back into the manor’s front yard, we watch as the naked man develops a massive belly, and gives birth to another iteration of himself over and over again. And as they are born and hit the ground, they all begin crawling in Harper’s direction. But it’s difficult to conduct a chase when you are constantly giving birth after giving birth after giving birth. And as they are spawned, each one has these injuries that James was given upon his death. Broken ankles, split arms, etc., etc. And as the final birth is completed, it’s James that is born in a fiendishly evil incarnation. But Harper is undergoing a transformation as the masses of humanity – of men – are born one after the other. And as she encounters James again, she doesn’t seem to be afraid anymore… but rather put out. Eventually, she asks, “James, what do you want?” and his response? “Your love.” … “Yeah.” (About that.) Cut to black. MEN! But exit black! and we see Harper staring at a leaf as Riley arriving at the estate. She’s pregnant, and we watch as Harper is staring at a leaf and she smiles as she sees Riley.
The Purely Selfishness Theory
My first theory to attempt to try and explain this movie is that men are just infantile and selfish. Can I get an amen women? Right. Tell me something I didn’t already know. And you know what? James just wants what he wants. As do all men. It’s just like a baby and his mother… it wants to eat, it wants the breast, and it wants it now. And it is from this vantage that we can see that all the men in this movie are attempting to force Harper into this Mothering relationship. (It’d be the simplest of arguments to explain extramarital affairs, pornography, all of it, in these same terms… a desperate desire to reconnect with one’s mother. But I’ll actually work for your acclaim, and so I won’t stay here on such elementary theories.)
The Melody of Misogyny
Misogyny as horror. Male need begets male selfish need begets male selfish need of various archetypes and disorders. Each man sings a variation on the same horrific tune. Each man sublimates to the same need and desire. They all arrive at the same demand from Harper. Misogyny is routine and every day. Horror is regular and expected in every single event that women face every day. From a vicar with his hand on your knee, all the way to the naked interlocutor on your lawn. Misogyny is determined to find her even when she is intent on being absolutely alone. Aka, women are unsafe at every moment, in every way, all the time. (Did you notice that the melodic echoes Harper crafted in the tunnel were also littered throughout the films horrifying score? Yeah, the melody of misogyny is everywhere, and it’s horrifying.)
The Natural Order is Decay
It would seem that Harper finds repose and rest from the constant terror of men by escaping to nature. But this is an allusion. It’s a fiction. Even in nature she is hunted and found. Even among nature is the seed of sin. Even from the trees come the fruit of the original sin. And worse? All throughout these woods, throughout these supposed places of repose, she encounters death. A deer corpse. A rotting animal. An injured bird with a broken leg like her husband. Nature isn’t safe. Nature is where death comes from, nature is what brought the original condemnation.
Which brings us to the wild infinity birthing scene. Out of nature comes the men, with desires and needs, birthing more desires and needs and wants. The sins of the father beget the sins of the son beget the sins of the grandson, beget the sins of the great-grandson (to twist a verse from Exodus and Deuteronomy).
A Biblical Vantage of the Movie Men
We know that from Genesis that all of nature changed with the original sin. Death was introduced, and instead of a global garden of Eden, Adam and Eve were given over to work the soil, and fight against the earth, to tame it. Likewise, disease, stillborn children, plagues, covid viruses, etc., etc. were unleashed upon the earth. Similarly… we inherited the predilection to sin from our sinful parents. We directly inherited this flaw from them.
But notice something about Genesis Three. In verses 1 through 6, we generally focus on the conversation between Eve and the snake. The give and take goes back, and forth, and back and forth, between the two of them. Satan then tells her, that God knows that when they eat of the fruit he forbade them from eating, they will become like God Himself. And in verse six, she’s convinced. She saw that the fruit was good for eating. Right? So what does she do? She has a bite… and then she turns to her husband, and gives him a bite as well. Did you catch that? Adam was standing right there all along. Maybe he was a dullard. Maybe he was just there constantly nodding with his wife and the snake? We don’t know. But the church, Christians, and the world have all assumed that it was Eve, by herself, that fell to temptation. That isn’t what happened. This duo fell together. Then – moments later – when God is looking for them for His walk with them in the cool of the morning… what does Adam say? “The woman – you put here with me – SHE gave me some fruit from the tree…. (and I ate it).” Did you see that? Adam just chucked his wife, full tilt, under that bus. They were there together. He heard the snake’s logic. He was taken in by the sales pitch just as much as she was. And this sort of blame shifting has been happening ever since.
James (interesting Biblical name choice) blames Harper for their marriage’s failings – and he hoists the moral saddle onto his wife’s back instead of recognizing his own part in this failed marriage. The men in this movie are attracted to Harper in a sort of spiritual hope, a spiritual lessening of their moral flaws. (Did you notice that James was basically crucified on the fence when he died? Please tell me I’m not the only one that caught that.)
My Own Personal Takeaways From Men
Let him who is without sin cast the first stone. Look, I have no great insight here as to what Alex might be trying to say. But it’s pretty obvious that he is levering Men and their propensity of evil hefted upon women as the seedling for a horror movie. He’s numerated and weaponized standard interactions between men and women, and sharpened the talons of normality in the intent of telling us a morality tale. And what does this morality tale saying to us? Well, it is saying something to the effect that since the dawn of our spiritual formation, we have subjugated society’s women and pushed them to carry the moral debt on behalf of our entire civilization… and it would probably be great if we could collectively cut it out. Sure, maybe you have zero desire to rape a woman. Maybe you don’t want to punch a woman in the face. Maybe you aren’t into chasing women in the woods and threatening them physically while naked. Okay. But have you cut a woman’s career path down, or refused to pay her her just dues for her work? Have you mansplained something simple to a woman next to you? What horrors have you hefted on the women in your life? Maybe we ought to concentrate on collectively cutting it out.
Personally, I grew up in a classically misogynistic world view. It was all the more misogynistic for thinking it wasn’t misogynistic. And that sort of thinking just glued to my own personal DNA. So I am very very leery about thinking I have this figured out… I definitely do not. And so I see myself on a continuum – the same continuum all men are on. Said continuum goes from rapist female serial killers to possibly being insensitive on a bad day. Would I attempt to keep my wife married to me by threatening to kill myself… oh, lord, I hope not. But who knows what other female insensitive things I might do today. Reminds me of the Malcom Gladwell story in his book Blink about an African American taking an IAT test rating his racist propensities (the test measures the speed at which one responds, not specifically the answer one gives). He was constantly being rated as a more racist than not towards African Americans… until one day he didn’t. What changed he wondered… oh, well, last night he watched the Olympics. You get the drift here. Am I a misogynist? I don’t know… maybe on any given day? And my hope is to just be cognizant of how I respond to women in my life. Did I love the movie? No. For sure not. But did I learn from it? Did it challenge? Yes… yes, it did. Did it challenge you? Or did you just assume that this movie was attacking you to relentlessly? Hrmmm.
Edited by: CY
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