When it comes to exploring the meanings and possible subtexts of Alex Garland’s new surrealist horror film, Men, the director is remarkably circumspect. As a narrator who always seems to be as erudite as the films he’s created, including 28 Days Later , Ex Machina, and Annihilation , Garland once again discusses the project thoughtfully before release. But he does it ambiguously.
For the most part, Male Gender is a work of art that defies any interpretation or explanation of why things happen the way they do. However, there are plenty of contextual clues in the film, right down to the Green Man sculptures, which Garland often jumps to to explain the elemental horror in relationships between men and women.
WHY ALL MEN LOOK THE SAME
At some point, Harper realizes that all the men in her life, except for her dead husband, look the same: they are all Rory Kinnear. He plays the first man Harper meets while on holiday in the countryside. In these scenes, he is all smiling and chatting pleasantly, but even then defiantly begins his relationship with Harper, chiding her for eating an apple from the garden, like Eve in the Bible.
He finds himself alone in a sea of indistinguishable faces as Kinnear also plays a lewd priest who more harshly criticizes Harper for not letting her late husband James “apologize” for hitting her; he is also both a local cop and a criminal, with the latter attempting to break into the heroine’s home while completely naked.
Kinnear’s face even overlaps with the little boy, who calls Harper a “bitch” a minute later.
The obvious reading the film offers is that all men are the same: the first of them is a staring pervert trying to torment and possess any woman within reach. With that said, Garland suggested this “breadcrumb” during an interview:
One question perhaps: Does Harper think all men are the same? Because neither Harper nor the movie ever mentions it. Only the viewer is left to notice this. So is it that Harper sees all men the same when in fact they are different, or are all men the same and she doesn’t see it? These are two questions that sound very similar but have very different conclusions.
It probably doesn’t matter that they all look the same; the fact is that they all affect Harper in the same way, creating a primal sense of threat and oppression.
Their threat level fluctuates until they form a single patriarchal monster at the film’s climax. At first, a naked stalker is far more unsettling than a little boy in a Halloween mask. But combined, they create the same suffocating cage that Harper has been trapped in all her life. Perhaps for this reason, besides the aforementioned stalker, the most dangerous initially is the vicar, who supposedly comes to console Harper after he hears her cries of anguish in his church.
Sitting next to her, he can present a modern mask of kindness, as priests in society remain benevolent. It is implied that Harper is not a religious person and has never confessed to God. Yet she reveals her deepest secrets: that she kicked her husband out the day he first hit her, and that she met his gaze as he fell.
And it is this ancient right of “recognition” (in the general sense, if not the Catholic one) that allows the vicar to abuse his paternal authority and try her for alleged guilt in James’s death. And he more than judges; he becomes the one who will later directly state the lustful thoughts that so many men had about her.
“I saw you with your mouth open,” the vicar says at the climax. “With your legs spread… That’s the power you have over me.”
Whether all men are the same or not, they are all supported – some to a much greater extent than others – by a system that gives them a terrifyingly unbalanced power over Harper. And they are all able to hold her “responsible” for their own sins.
Primal horror is something women have dealt with since time immemorial, and that’s what the finale of “The Human Race” actually comes to.
WHY RORY KINNER BECOMES THE GREEN MAN
This goes back to the most basic and primordial image that haunts Harper’s subconscious as much as her husband’s ghost: the Green Man. His impenetrable but intense gaze pervades the film as much as the lesser-known Sheela na gig, a similar female carving from medieval architecture that graphically depicts a woman spreading her womb.
Both images are presented in the tape as buildings decorating the cathedral. They then linger in Harper’s mind until Kinnear’s malevolent presence transforms into the Green Man: a god-like being that appears to infect Harper with spores from its mouth.
According to Garland, the idea for the film grew out of his fascination with the Green Men carvings found throughout Europe and beyond, with the earliest known versions dating to at least the second century AD. Their primeval strength lies in their inexplicability, and why in the Middle Ages they were subsequently adopted by the Christian churches.
There really isn’t much information about them. Sometimes people, academics, Wikipedia or whatever offer some explanation for them, but there really isn’t a clear, really good explanation because they predate written language in [these cultures].
Indeed, a popular but academically unsound theory comes from Julia Somerset, also known as Lady Raglan, who coined the term “Green Man” in a 1939 article she wrote about the figure and British folklore. In the same article, she argued that “the fact is that unofficial paganism existed side by side with official religion, and this explains the presence of the Green Man in the church window with the Virgin beside him and below him in the sun.”
While Male Gender doesn’t get too hung up on the relationship between Green Man’s pagan imagery and Christian imagery, the stubborn and unwavering misogyny they both represent haunts Garland’s script and Harper’s nightmares.
Like Lady Raglan, the film sees the Green Man as a relic of a past that existed before Christianity helped shape our modern world. However, the same values that the Green Man seems to suggest (at least in Garland’s interpretation), which are associated with the lustful desire of women, have survived to this day.
Thus, Garland suggests that this is not an actual issue of the so-called “battle of the sexes” or even an issue defined by a cynical view of Christian patriarchy. Rather, it is a monstrosity that existed in the attitude of men towards women even before the writing of history.
WHY DOES RORY KINNER HAVE HERSELF SIX TIMES?
It all goes back to the film’s strangest moment: The Green Man exposes his own vaginal womb, giving birth to five different generations, each weaker and more pathetic than the last, each bearing scars and grudges for which he blames women.
It’s a wild image that has probably put off a lot of viewers. However, this is the main message of the picture.
Before the finale, we watched Harper deal with her personal anguish over the loss of James, and how he and the culture at large held her accountable both for hitting her and for his subsequent actions. This is her personal time to “heal,” as her friend says.
However, Male Gender takes its horror fable to the macro level at the end, as Kinnear not only embodies all the men in this single upside-down village; she embodies men throughout the history of the species. The cycle of toxic masculinity is passed down from generation to generation, and the resentments of past centuries against women are carried over into the future.
We see this in a deceptively milder form when Geoffrey starts Act 3 trying to help Harper. He refers to her as a “damsel in distress” when he finds her frightened by a man trying to break into her house at night, and then reluctantly agrees to search the area in the dark to protect her. He announces this decision by saying, “You have all the qualities of a failed military man.” This is what Geoffrey’s father apparently told him when he was seven years old.
The way frightened boys become broken men, and the way the ugliness of previous generations is internalized by their children in the next, shows right through Jeffrey’s initially self-deprecating smile before he later turns it into a taunt and pulls Harper by the hair. He taunts her for daring to travel alone, without someone to protect her.
In the final moments of the film, we see in great detail how endless iterations of toxic masculinity have created something weak and pitiful. Garland notes that this is an inversion of most horror films, where the monster does not get stronger and more dangerous, but becomes more and more helpless with each birth. Every “child” also has the same wound, which is blamed on women, on a broken arm.
This has been the case for millennia – from the pagans of the Celtic British Isles to the modern vicar – and this continues until we come to the modern secular man, James.
WHAT THE RETURN OF HUSBAND HARPER MEANS
In the creature’s final form, which begins with the Green Man and ends in the 21st century, we get James, a guy whose own Neolithic insecurities seemed to surprise even Harper and himself. The first image we see in the film is the moment of his death, when he meets Harper’s gaze as he falls from the floor above.
In later flashbacks, we learn that Harper started that day by telling James that their marriage was over; she leaves him. The way Buckley and Essidu play out this moment is mesmerizing because they are clearly destined to be a modern, posh London couple who never had a moment of physical abuse until this day. James overshadows the situation by promising to kill himself if she does leave him, causing Harper to start screaming.
It is at this moment that he punches her, shocking himself as much as his wife. Thus, her justified fury is due both to his betrayal and to his hitherto unheard of capacity for violence and possessiveness.
And yet she can’t help feeling guilty about his death. Perhaps this is due to the inability to know if it was a suicide? Anyway, it is to the vicar that she makes the strange, extraneous remark: Could he have seen her as he collapsed to his death?
Of course he could meet her eyes. This is clearly seen in the first scene. It is their moment of recognition that makes death so surreal.
She tells the vicar that she must have imagined she saw him because she found out how pathetic and incapable James was to fight more powerful forces that, like gravity, would bring him to a bitter end. But perhaps he, too, could see her for the first time in his life as a woman locked in a cage he wants to keep her in, a property that can’t get out.
At the end of the movie, she is still trapped and unable to leave the house when she decides to run away. The men take her car and prevent her from leaving, which is claustrophobic, as is the apartment where she saw James die.
And it is there, after all, that she sees how the Green Man, through many generations, becomes James, a pitiful, weak man who, even before his birth, was destroyed by ancient forces, both biological and sociological. Finally, Harper is forced to ask why is this so?
“James, what do you want from me?” Harper asks with justified annoyance.
“Your love,” he remarks at the end.
Men have created a huge, inescapable worldwide cage to trap “love” that they cannot fully understand. Harper finally sees and understands James. And thus she is free from his ghost.
Meaning of the movie “Men”
Director and screenwriter Alex Garland filled the film “Male Gender” with many symbols, the meaning of each of which can be interpreted in different ways. However, it is interesting that, regardless of the content of the interpretations, most likely, you will be right in the main thing and one way or another will catch the idea that was laid down. Indeed, even those who believe that this is a movie “for women and against men” are actually right, only they see only the tip of the iceberg. Let’s try to make our analysis of the main points and delve deeper into the essence of the film.
So, the picture begins with a reference to the biblical myth of the forbidden fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, which Eve plucked, for which she was expelled from Paradise to Earth along with Adam. The owner of the Jeffrey mansion, watching the heroine and reproaching her for her misconduct, behaves like a god with power. In addition, he reminds the girl of her “unclean nature” by talking about feminine hygiene products.
Jeffrey is trying so far gently, but to instill a sense of guilt in Harper. Absolutely all the male characters in the village are doing this one way or another, thus broadcasting the position of the deceased husband of the girl James.
The branched tree that Harper sees on a walk symbolizes, perhaps, the male race, but rather, in general, the human race, rooted in the depths of centuries. The scene in the rain is intended to show how ancient people, being in unity with nature, with the Garden of Eden, and not delving into the differences between the female and male sex, were happy.
Then comes the knowledge of “good and evil”, more precisely, male and female. First, Harper comes into contact with his feminine through a moisture-filled tunnel (obviously a symbol of the female genital organ), experiencing joy. Then a naked man breaks the idyll, chasing the heroine to the opposite tunnel – the male one, into which the passage is closed. His run is accompanied by the cry of a raven, which in many religions is a bad omen, in the Christian tradition – the personification of the forces of hell and the devil.
When Harper shows a photo of a naked stalker to a friend, she writes an abbreviation for “Oh my god.” Thus, we are given to understand that this representative of the male gender, like Jeffrey, fancies himself a god, in fact being, rather, his opposite. In confirmation, the pursuer portrays the owner (“god”), who discovered the loss from the “tree of paradise”, but breaks into the house like a fiend.
This is how the director mixes biblical and pagan mythology from the very beginning (starting with the subsequent scene in the temple, this becomes more and more noticeable), gradually intensifying the conflict between the feminine and the masculine. And although the first is presented as good, for which one wants to root, the second as a frightening evil, we are still hinted that the heroine is not without sin. She lied to Jeffrey about not playing the piano. Although in a conversation with a friend, she is even slightly offended that she is not aware of her ability to play music.
Further in the temple there are hints “on the forehead”: the Green Man and Shila-na-gig. The first is a character featured in many ancient cultures around the world. It is usually depicted as a humanoid face surrounded by leaves or, rather, growing with them. The green man is associated with the male side of the force of nature, with rebirth, with the beginning of a new spring cycle of life.
Further, according to the plot of the film, a naked pursuer will be reincarnated into him (the first scene of reincarnation alternates with the “revival” of a dead deer, which becomes food for representatives of a new life). Sheela-na-gig is another ancient character who personifies the feminine side of the force of nature and is often depicted as a woman with a hypertrophied sexual organ.
The men surrounding Harper in the village behave like aggressors: the priest accuses the girl, the teenage boy (in the mask of Marilyn Monroe, an actress who suffered from male attention) insults, the policeman releases the pursuer. The director deliberately portrays them as similar to each other – it is no coincidence that the same actor plays all of them. The pressure of men becomes more and more intimidating and takes on a mystical character: they reincarnate into each other, frightening Harper. The landlord Jeffrey seems to be the most adequate of all, although in reality he only portrays a brave defender, in the finale he turns into an open aggressor. Jeffrey’s words about his father are another hint that he is an integral part of the male race that pursues the heroine.
Harper inhales dandelion seeds (“male seed”), which flickered in the frame throughout the film: the world of men penetrates deeper into the heroine, trying to master her. However, the girl does not give up, injuring her pursuers. However, they themselves provoked her – all so that James once again showed his wounds and blamed Harper again.
The most interesting thing in the scene of the attack of men on Harper is the speech of the priest. He calls himself the Swan and mentions the myth of Leda and the Swan. Brief description of the myth: captivated by the beauty of the girl, the daughter of the Aetolian king Thestius, the god Zeus appeared in the form of a swan and took possession of her. The erotic component of the myth inspired many sculptors, painters and poets. In fact, this scene is a continuation of the main line of the film: a man who thinks he is a god, blaming the girl (this time for her sexuality) is trying to get her.
Before the final scene with the literal rebirth of men, Harper sees a huge starry sky, the Milky Way – another symbol of the feminine.
So, throughout the film, men accuse and persecute the heroine, declaring that she is their property. What does all of this mean? Sick subconscious Harper, psychologically traumatized by the death of her husband? The embodiment of abuse? Perhaps yes. But the main point is to demonstrate the difference between the male and female worlds. The first from the most ancient times tried to take possession of the second, using all possible methods from direct aggression to seemingly harmless manipulations.
Women were driven into frames, they were told that they were weak and must obey. But now everything is changing: men are gradually losing their power and even becoming miserable. This explanation of the film “Male” is fixed by its final scene.
“Men” raises very relevant and tough topics
After the tragic death of her husband, Harper (Jesse Buckley) leaves the big city for the countryside. She rents a beautiful estate and wants to live there alone in order to calm down and put her thoughts in order. The owner of the house, Jeffrey (Rory Kinnear), seems to be as friendly as possible, if a little intrusive. But then Harper meets a crazy stranger, and things only get scarier from there.
If you look at the plots of Alex Garland’s directorial works, it is easy to see that he almost always makes women the main characters, and the story itself is tied to their confrontation with the conditional “male” world. Yes, formally in the tape “From the Machine” they talk about a programmer who became interested in android. But it’s also a film about how two men test whether Alicia Vikander’s character is “real”. And in Annihilation, female scientists deal with extraterrestrial intelligence after the male military could not do anything with it. And even in Development , it is the girl who finds out what is happening in the secret department of the IT company.
In The Kind of Man, Garland finally makes society’s confrontation with toxic masculinity a central theme. But at the same time he mixes in the guilt that is placed on the victim, and wonders if there is a way out of the endless cycle of misunderstanding and violence.
To reveal the theme, the director uses an unusual technique. All the men, except for Harper’s husband, are played by the same Rory Kinnear. That is, for the heroine, in the most literal sense, they all look the same. This is not even a spoiler, just look at the frames from the picture.
Kinnear appears as a master of disguise, and it’s not just about makeup (and in one case, creepy computer graphics): in each of the images he behaves in his own way. In a press release for the film, they wrote that the actor not only thought out the character and behavior of his characters, but also sketched out their biographies in order to better understand the characters. Each time, Kinnear got used to the role so convincingly that even the film crew treated him differently: Jeffrey’s shirt-boy made everyone happy, and the sex- obsessed priest frightened many.
One of the most important dramatic scenes of the film is connected with the last character, in which literally all the pain of the main character is expressed. It is interesting, by the way, that the text in the dialogue between the priest and Harper was invented by Jessie Buckley herself. Therefore, even with a slightly grotesque presentation, it sounds as realistic as possible.
At this point, we are talking about guilt and the normalization of violence . Moreover, “Male Gender” also reveals why the director chose the countryside as the scene of action. For Harper, a single moment of aggression from her husband drew a line under the relationship. However, she leaves the modern progressive city in the wilderness. And there they still say in plain text that men sometimes beat women, there is nothing wrong with that. The main thing is to apologize later.
With each scene, it becomes clearer that everything that happens is partly a metaphor for the internal trauma of the heroine herself. She tries to rid herself of guilt for something she was never guilty of. After all, although Kinnear plays almost a dozen characters, and Buckley only one, she is the same archetype, the embodiment of an infinite number of women who find themselves in a similar situation.
This is a real horror, sometimes even too unpleasant.
Male Gender is presented as a horror film, although Garland’s previous work has more often been classified as science fiction. However, viewers who are well acquainted with the work of the author know very well that he always knew how to scare. Before starting his directing career, the author wrote scripts for the films 28 Days Later and Danny Boyle’s Inferno. Yes, and in the same “Annihilation” two incredibly scary scenes at once – for example, the appearance of a “bear” – will give a hundred points ahead of many classic screamers.
However, now the director has finally gone into the horror genre. To be more precise, it approached the now popular post-horror, or “elevated horror” (the term elevated horror has long taken root in English-speaking countries). Garland packed a gloomy drama into a genre shell, supplementing it with folklore elements. Therefore, “Male” is easier to compare with ” The Lighthouse ” and “The Witch” by Robert Eggers than with the tape “Ex Machina”.
The first third of the picture looks even ironic. In one of the scenes, the main character goes for a walk in the forest. It is easy to imagine that the conventional James Wan would throw a dozen screamers in these 10 minutes. But Garland just pumps up tension, sometimes even diluting what is happening with humor. But by the time something really tough happens, everyone’s nerves will be on edge. Gradually, the film will turn into a kind of analogue of ” Repulsion ” (or even the entire “apartment trilogy”) by Roman Polanski. After all, even Harper herself cannot understand whether what is happening to her is real. Although this is not so important.
If the dramatic plot of The Male Clan is quite straightforward, then its horror component is metaphorical. The director has collected many references to mythology. And it’s not just about the most understandable religious allusion: just after arriving at the house, Harper eats an apple from the garden without asking. There are also more complex references: for example, one of the images of Kinnear clearly resembles the folklore Green Man, who is still depicted in English pubs.
And, by the way, this character of his is the most ambiguous in the entire film. Perhaps he poses less danger than other incarnations, precisely due to his closeness to nature.
However, those who expect Garland to be just a beautiful and intense spectacle are in for a cruel test. By the end of the film, the director will turn into almost the Lars von Trier of the Antichristera. It will mix religious and mythological references (google Sheela-na-gig) with naturalistic body horror that only people with the strongest stomachs can handle.
I’m sure the final scenes will piss off a lot of people. It will seem that the author deliberately mocks, forcing one to feel disgust and even shame. And it is true. Part of the point of the nasty scenes is just to not only see, but also feel the experiences of the main character, and many other women.
However, the picture remains very beautiful.
Perhaps, after describing the horrors of body horror, this will sound strange. But The Male Gender is also an incredibly aesthetic movie. Garland always shoots gracefully and very atmospheric. Even those who scolded “Developers” for the plot, note the amazing visuals. “Gender male”, with relative simplicity, allows you to reveal two facets of the director’s talent.
On the one hand, Garland is great with outdoor scenes. The nature of the English Gloucestershire, where the picture was shot, is beautiful in itself. And the director also allows you to enjoy the plans of endless fields, again referring either to von Trier (let’s not forget that there are many beautiful scenes in Antichrist), or to the Dane’s idol Andrei Tarkovsky.
Garland, in a press release, notes that Male Gender is like a kind of mirror: the audience will decide for themselves what the film says and what it does not say. And here he almost verbatim quotes Tarkovsky’s words about his ” Mirror “. And if you look closely at the picture, you will notice that Garland portrays many beautiful scenes through reflections in water or glass – this is also one of the favorite tricks of the Soviet classic.
But the evil irony is that external beauty is fraught with many dangers, so the heroine quickly escapes from the enchanting forest. Or maybe Garland just wants to put his heroes in a confined space as soon as possible. And here the other side of talent is already revealed: the author perfectly creates a feeling of hopelessness. No wonder the director’s debut “Ex Machina” was almost entirely filmed in several rooms. Not only that, Garland is once again working with a minimal cast of just four people.
Together with the production designer, set designer and cameraman (all of the author’s films have the same team, hence the recognizable style), the director turned the old estate into one of the most disturbing horror locations. The soft tones of the exterior of the house give way to red inside. Here, each room has its own individual atmosphere and many important details. And when it comes to the climax, the beautiful house turns into a cage, on which the heroine rushes with the camera relentlessly following her.
But the peak of aesthetics can be considered the scene in the tunnel, where an echo is added to the complete symmetry and reflections in the puddles. From that moment on, sound design becomes no less important part of the picture than the visuals. The choral music is almost inseparable from the sounds of the film itself: the heroine’s scream turns into off-screen singing, the voices escalate the tension and mix with the noise.
Alex Garland shoots slowly again. Of course, the scenes are not drawn out the way they were in Development, since the timing is three times less. But still, the camera allows you to look at the faces of the characters for a long time, and the scenes shot in slow motion turn into paintings. Almost to the very end, “Male Genus” pleases with literally every frame. And then maliciously destroys this aesthetic with the most brutal body horror to get rid of any romanticization of injuries.
“Gender male” will not stand every viewer. But it seems that Alex Garland deliberately turned the film into a test. He submits his thoughts even too directly, but the reaction to what is happening will be individual. Someone will laugh at the most uncomfortable moments, someone will close their eyes, someone, on the contrary, will not be able to tear themselves away from the screen.
But regardless of the first emotions, the film will surely leave a strong impression. Because its relevance cannot be ignored. The words that the men met by the heroine utter can be found literally in any discussion of relationships. The feelings she experiences are familiar to anyone who has interacted with toxic people. It’s just that the director managed not only to talk about these feelings and show them, but also makes you feel the trauma. And this is as annoying as it is important.