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Thoughts on: A24’s ‘Men’

Thoughts on: A24’s ‘Men’

The film Men is about Harper, who retreats alone to the beautiful English countryside, in the hope of finding a place to heal after a personal tragedy. However, someone or some”thing” from the surrounding woods appears to be stalking her. What once was a growing dread soon turns into a fully formed nightmare, inhabited by her darkest memories and fears.

Released on 1 June 2022, it is directed by Alex Garland, notably known for his films such as Annihilation and Ex-Machina. ‘Men’ is under a genre of folk horror.

DISCLAIMER: This blog may contain spoilers. So I suggest you watch the movie first before reading it. (But if you don’t mind, then go ahead.)

I first heard of this film from a friend. He posted about it on his Instagram stories and captioned something like: “Don’t watch this if you don’t want to be traumatised.” Of course, as soon as anyone says “don’t ______,” our first instinct is to do it.

I was intrigued, but not enough to start watching it straight away. Although I did add it to my ‘to be watched’ list.

A few days after hearing of the film, I came across a video on TikTok talking about it, and this caught my attention as they added an excerpt from the film and touched on a topic (very briefly) about the ‘Green Man’ and Paganism. This prompted me to pull out my laptop, sit back and watch it.

I was slightly aware of what the film was about. The title was self-explanatory, and the summary helped a little. It was easy to put the pieces together, but I still watched it with an open mind.

Immediately, I noticed that ‘Men’ isn’t your typical horror movie with your typical jump scares. It’s the type of movie that gets you thinking. It includes a lot of religious themes and other little bits that only you’d be able to pick up and would make a lot of sense by your third or fifth rewatch.

I watched the film with my Mum (kinda). She was in and out of it, going on her phone and journalling at most times, and would butt in if anything was interesting that caught her attention. Midway through the film, I explained a particular scene to her, and then she went: “I believe that these men that she encounters are a representation of different aspects of her abusive ex-husband.” To which I wholeheartedly agreed. I couldn’t see it in any other way.

I was filled with anticipation during the first two acts, and it continued to grow and grow dreadful. By the third act, I was at the edge of my seat and holding onto a pillow as protection, just in case another grotesque and gory scene appeared again.

As the film came to an end and the credits started rolling, I was filled with confusion. I was processing the film and tried to make sense of it. Who is this ‘Green Man,’ and why did he rebirth these awful men she had encountered, leading to the rebirth of her abusive ex-husband?

‘Green Man’ from the film Men. It symbolises rebirth, representing the cycle of new growth that occurs every spring.

After a while, I realised that maybe this is one of those ‘up to your own interpretation’ films. As mentioned earlier, I saw the men as the different aspects of her ex-husband. However, after seeing the rebirth scene, I’ve come down to different types of exposition.

Extending this interpretation, each of the men that tormented Harper were the various aspects of her ex-husband, meaning multiple forms of abuse such as sexual, emotional, physical etc. During the birthing scene, we see these traits peeled back to reveal her ex-husband. It highlights the cycle of abuse he put her through, which was seen through these men.

On the other hand, the whole of the third act (not just the birthing scene), I’ve interpreted it in the way of James coming back to haunt her. Harper’s initial response is confusion. This shows how the victims are usually in shock in most abusive relationships. She then retaliates and fights off the men, stabbing them in the same places where James was injured in his death. This represents how she ‘killed’ James (as he would argue), but it also shows how she combats her trauma and fends off the haunting images of James and the men in her mind.

When James was reborn, in his purest form and no longer hiding behind the faces of these men, Harper can see him for what he really is: a product of a misogynistic and patriarchal society and a pathetic boy-like ‘victim’ begging for love. Harper could’ve fought them off like her best friend, Riley, says. But she realises it’s not worth her time, as fighting against the truth only prolongs the nightmare. Unfazed, Harper accepts James’ answer.

As Riley comes to the house, we see the damage being done to the house, and Harper may likely have imagined these events. The destroyed home can represent how mentally and emotionally destroyed she is, but Riley sees her suffering and validates her. She was also shown to be visibly pregnant, but it instead felt comforting to see, especially after the disturbing sequence of pregnant men, graphically giving birth.

This could symbolise that Riley’s presence is a pleasant reminder that although the patriarchy births men, raised by other men, passing on the same misogynistic mindset and values, they are not doomed to be this way because of women. The female influence can reform society like Riley longs to heal Harper.

Men Review: Alex Garland Puts a Surreal New Spin on Toxic Masculinity |  IndieWire

This leads us to the following interpretation that the events that happened were actually Harper mentally battling the traumatic events that she went through and that Riley is actually her therapist. Many (almost) mythical elements, such as the Green Man and the dandelions, make it feel like everything is a fever dream. That makes it feel like an illusion.

Touching on the birthing scene again, I have also interpreted it as the endless birth (or rebirth) of misogynistic ideologies. No matter how much progress we have made now, and hopefully continuing into the future, there will always be a tiny percentage of people that will continue to birth or carry on with these values.

Lastly, I wanted to briefly touch on the religious themes explored in this film. I have only spotted a few… (By a few, meaning only two. LOL.) To be fair, I’ve only seen this film once, so I think I have to watch it again to catch other signs or meanings that could be explained.

As mentioned throughout the whole blog (which is explainable since he’s one of the main focuses in this film), the Green Man is a symbol of rebirth. Based on my research, the Green Man first appeared in Paganism, then translated into Christian Catholicism. In fact, you can see many Green Man carvings in churches, especially below the seats (if I’m not mistaken.)

Another religious theme I caught on was this indication of the Adam and Eve story, which can be seen at the film’s beginning when Harper bites into an apple. For those unfamiliar with the story, God created Adam and Eve, and they were put into the Garden of Eden. There stood the Tree of Knowledge, from which God forbids them to consume the fruit (aka the forbidden fruit.) To cut the story short, a serpent tempted Eve to eat the ‘forbidden fruit’ (which, funnily enough, Geoffrey, one of the men in the film, commented about the ‘forbidden fruit’ as well) and convinced Adam to eat it as well. In this context, it highlights how men manipulate, gaslight and abuse women for their advantage, such as taking control, just to feel secure about themselves.

In conclusion, I believe that this film’s purpose is to comment on the patriarchal society, the misogynistic tendencies and ideals, and the sexism. If you have seen this film, let me know what your thoughts are in the comments below! If you haven’t seen it yet and are planning to: then I hope you enjoy it! Warning though, it does become quite graphically grotesque in the third act. So be mindful, I guess.

That’s all for today’s blog, and see you next Tuesday!

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