Content Note: domestic violence, (questionable) suicide, (critical treatment of) misogyny
Harper (Jessie Buckley) has had a bad time with her husband James (Paapa Essiedu), and that’s putting it mildly. As they are no longer together, Harper decides that a break is in order. She rents a landhouse, a small estate in a tiny village, from jovial Geoffrey (Rory Kinnear) and hopes to just have a calm two weeks away from everything. But it doesn’t work out that way.
Men is quite a film. I found it utterly engaging and deeply weird in the most interesting of ways. It is definitely the kind of film you will want to spend some time discussing with many people.
To get the easy things out of the way first: the film is beautifully shot, perfectly acted by both Buckley and Kinnear – who plays every male character in the film except James, deeply atmospheric with a very interesting, albeit sometimes a little exhausting soundtrack. In short, it’s a film that is perfectly made and that cements Garland’s place as a filmmaker for me.
What isn’t easy at all is the interpretation of the film, and I guess much will hinge on the fact whether you can find a reading of it that speaks to you. What I saw in the film was how very well it shows the many different shapes misogyny can take. Every single role Kinnear takes gives us a different aspect of misogyny: there is the naked, almost wild stalker who seems to stand for our stereotypical assumptions of what misogyny looks like: an unkempt man who follows a woman home to wave his dick in her face. There’s the priest who lays all responsibility at the woman’s feet while refusing to give her any kind of power. There is the little boy who just won’t accept a no because he just wants to play after all. There is the seemingly jovial groundskeeper trapped in is failure to live up to toxic masculinity, but ultimately doing everything he can to be a part of it, and even if that’s just standing by. There is the policeman who disregards Harper entirely. Ultimately, the film shows us, these are all the same guy, just in different incarnations. This guy creates himself in his various forms (with a healthy dose of religion, both Christian and Pagan), women are just his projection space.
This all made perfect sense to me, although the film is so symbolic that it can be read differently, too, for sure. The only thing I struggled with is James: James who was obviously abusive to Harper, who may have committed suicide (maybe he fell accidentally), who may have had mental health issues. James, the only Black person in the film and the only man not to be portrayed by Rory Kinnear. I think I would have liked it better had Kinnear also played James (taking yet another shape of misogyny). Ultimately, James does make another appearance, seemingly having lurked behind all the Kinnear characters.
I quite liked that final dialogue (apart from him spelling out his injuries which seemed like a superfluous note shoehorned in by somebody who didn’t trust the audience to figure out the probably most obvious part of the film), the tired way in which Harper acknowledges James’ desire to just be loved. Her simple yeah contains all the ways he made it impossible for her to do just that. But it feels like a weird choice that all of this comes back to a Black man, when toxic masculinity and misogyny are deeply intertwined with whiteness as well.
Whether you agree with my interpretations or have a completely different take on the film, I daresay that Men takes you on quite a ride and is one of the more interesting films to come out in recent times.
Summarizing: definitely worth it.