Writer and director Alex Garland’s new film, Men (2022), continues his tradition of writing cerebral stories centered around women, with stunning visuals to accompany them. His movies are never easy, and they leave the audience pondering the many implications of the things they just witnessed. When this film ended, I was not entirely sure how I felt about it. Discussing it at length with my friend on our hour drive home only made me certain that I wasn’t sure how I felt about it. There is so much going on – but I’m not sure I fully understood just what I was supposed to take away from it. Yet, it’s the pondering and deciphering of all the things in the film that made me feel like I was attempting to solve a Rubix cube. Every time I got close to having all the colors on one side…I’d realize the other sides were still jumbled, and would then spend several minutes focusing on one of them.
Harper (Jesse Buckley) is taking a needed vacation to the English countryside after a personal tragedy. The property’s caretaker, Geoffrey (Rory Kinnear), gives her the tour, and suggests a few sites around the village for her to see. As Harper ventures out, she finds there are some unsettling things that initially start as an uneasy feeling, and then eventually transform into a full-blown nightmare.
Not surprising at all to those familiar with her filmography, but Jesse Buckley is outstanding in this. She’d already proven her ability to lead a surreal film with Charlie Kaufman’s I’m Thinking of Ending Things (2020), but this movie goes even darker. Buckley brings so much with the slightest bit of expression. There is a moment when she is walking in the adjacent woods and it starts to rain. The sheer wonder and joy in her eyes at that moment is incredible. It is such a nuanced change in her expression, yet you see the potential for joy that her character has at that moment, which will soon be wiped away with fear, paranoia, and all-encompassing loss. It is hard to imagine anyone else being able to do what she does in this performance.
There aren’t too many actors in this film, but Kinnear truly deserves a ton of praise as well. He is playing a variety of roles in this film that only help build on Garland’s horrific allegory. Those who watched the trailer may think that allegory is a bit strong, as some of the elements of it are pretty on the nose. Fear not – there will likely be tons of things to confuse you, and make you wonder what the intent of Garland’s story is – but Kinnear’s varied performance only helps add to the puzzle box. Not to take away from anything that Paapa Essiedu or Gayle Rankin are doing, as both do their part in this narrative. However, at the end of the day, it’s Buckley and Kinnear who are asked to do the heavy lifting, and they clearly were not even close to their max.
This is definitely going to be a film that is quite polarizing. It’s stunning, it’s creepy, but it’s probably a few too many layers of content for your average member of the audience. There is also somebody horror that will likely turn some people running for their blue Fiestas as fast as they can. This is one of those films where I don’t really think I want to sit through it again, but I also feel the absolute need to watch it once more. Men left an impression on me, and I’ll probably be fiddling with its message that is either not entirely developed by Garland, or just out of the reach of my comprehension level. Either way, Men earns the Not Quite Golden, Ponyboy rating.