Men (2022)

MAY 19, 2022


I am a (straight) white man. I'm sure that's obvious to anyone who's read my nonsense for a while now, but just to be sure it's clear, since "guys like me" are the target of Men, which takes the idea of how we're "all the same" to its absolute extreme by (spoiler for anyone who hasn't seen the trailer, or just suffers from face blindness) writer/director Alex Garland's idea to have all but one man in the film be played by the same actor. It's a fascinating concept, and I could spend the entire review praising the performances of both Rory Kinnear as (well, the title character!) and Jessie Buckley as Harper, the woman who is terrorized, gaslit, menaced, etc by them all after the death of her husband.

Unfortunately, I can't do that. Yes, they are terrific and make the movie worth seeing; Kinnear is so adept at making different characters I suspect someone who hadn't seen the trailer (which makes it clear with a rapid cut montage of all his characters back to back) might not even realize they're all him until the one scene where split screen technology is employed to let a few of them interact, where it seems even a child should be able to pick up on it. One of them is a "m'lady" type with horrid teeth, one's an aggro cop, another is a child (I got real Clifford vibes from that one), one's a soft spoken vicar... they couldn't look/act more different, which is of course part of the point when, as it turns out, they are ultimately all the same. And Buckley (who I am unfamiliar with) has to walk a fine line; we're never sure if she doesn't realize the men are all the same, or simply doesn't care, and that particularly ambiguity is one of the movie's strengths. Similarly, she is playing a tough role of a woman who lost her husband to suicide (so she's grieving!) but said husband was an abusive jerk she was leaving (so she's... glad he's gone? Maybe?). Through Facetime calls with her bestie (or sister? I couldn't tell) we get a bit of her inner turmoil, but otherwise she plays most of the movie just reacting to the increasingly unsettling events around her while maintaining her composure, as if she allowed herself one outburst she might never stop. There's a scene where she does finally let go and it's downright gutwrenching, with Buckley totally selling the idea that this may in fact be the first time she fully broke down since the husband died.

But their performances are kind of all it ultimately has going for it, because it feels oddly stunted, as if they shot a first draft of the script. I wasn't annoyed that I was being targeted, I was annoyed I wasn't made to feel guiltier about my own actions over the years. Let us have it! Instead it's just... well, what I've already said. Men are all the same! Yes, and? It almost feels like Garland could have popped up in the corner like the "Toasties!" guy in Mortal Kombat every ten minutes or so to shout "You're all the same!" without digging deeper or doing much else with the idea. The lone surprise that the trailer didn't reveal is a bravura, rather disgusting trip into body horror territory that highlights most of the film's final ten minutes or so, but it feels like that should have been the midpoint, or at the very least the end of the second act, prompting further developments. Instead it just kind of ends a few minutes later without fanfare; granted the theatrical experience has been curtailed over the past two years, but not since The Turning have I felt an audience genuinely confused that a film ended when it did.

In fact, it prompted me to do something I never do for a movie I planned to review myself: I read other takes, assuming I missed something. Like, imagine how the ending of something like Inception would play if you missed the earlier explanation of the top spinning, or something to that effect. I specifically looked for women's takes on the film, figuring their experiences with us idiots over the years would allow for insight that would go over my head (and I consider myself to be fairly attuned to this sort of thing; I can think of a few male acquaintances who will watch the entire movie, particularly the Vicar scene, without realizing how much of a jerk the guys are) and "unlock" the movie for me. But amusingly, the female takes I read were, on average, less enthused than the males' own responses. So alas, it didn't help much, everyone seems to agree that it was a movie where the ideas were solid but the execution not so much. Even the most positive reviews note that the film is more of an experience than a narrative.

And that's fine! But I prefer the latter, so I couldn't help but feel disappointed, both as a fan of Garland's previous films (Ex Machina and Annihilation) and as a man who wanted the movie to really rake my gender over the coals. I mean really, I can go on Twitter and say something mildly misogynist (as a joke/experiment to be clear!), and get dressed down more effectively in half the time. Instead, I walked out thinking I just saw the first hour of what was a pretty great little old school Hammer-esque "the town is *off*" kind of film, and then an effective makeup FX reel (there's an arm injury that might top the one in Green Room for "THINGS I ABSOLUTELY NEVER WANT TO SEE AGAIN!"), without enough cohesion between the two to come out fully satisfied. In that regard, the film is perfectly successful as a metaphor for men: we have our strong points, but the whole package leaves you feeling underwhelmed and possibly even angry. Your mileage will of course vary, and I hope whatever gender you are, you are able to take more from it than I did.

What say you?


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