Men (Alex Garland, 2022)

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Never Cursed
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Men (Alex Garland, 2022)

#1 Post by Never Cursed » Mon May 23, 2022 7:22 pm

Men is the worst movie I’ve seen this year, an unbelievably tedious faux-feminist polemic that fails to justify a single minute of its self-congratulatory existence. Of all working Anglosphere directors, one would imagine that Alex Garland’s typical mode of reserved, cryptic, and low-travel science fiction would suitably complement the inherent restrictions of a lockdown-conceived-and-shot project, but not only has he leant into his most glaring weaknesses with this film (his inability to write natural-sounding dialogue and his unhelpful obfuscation of human emotion, presumably through his direction of actors), the social and cultural points of what I hesitate to call his “critique” are useless in a film set outside of a social existence (as well as this film in general). “What about the interiority of Jessie Buckley’s main character? Isn’t that a place where such a line of analysis could be meaningful?” Well, it feels as though all of Harper’s non-problematized traits - what her job is, her interests, her social life outside of one friend, what drew her to her husband - are missing from this film, sandblasted away in the film’s obsessive focus on trite trauma-and-petty-oppression material. The result is a purportedly “feminist” film whose central female character amounts to little more than a series of reactions and disorders, and a film “about” the negative effects of male toxicity on women that is far more interested in the affected performance of those aggressions than how they do damage to the main female non-character. Everything just happens to Harper. She never does anything non-social and the extent of her interactions with other people is to get microaggressed at until she leaves; for all the film’s supernatural and psychological hand-wavery, all it does with Harper is bounce her between random traumatizers like a beach ball.
SpoilerShow
This is taken to an incredible extreme in the film’s finale, which embodies every insult thrown at the opacity of Annihilation’s lighthouse sequence (the only good part of an otherwise lacking film). I defy anyone who has seen this to explain what happens to Harper and why after her close-up with the nude man, and this is not a puzzle film of many alternate subjective readings. There is nothing more boring in horror than extended sequences of rudderless plotless weird shit, and the insane/inane spectacle of the chain of men giving birth to each other like slimy British nesting dolls (topped off with an alarmingly nonchalant exchange between person and horror - who doesn’t react with apathetic resignation when you see your dead husband emerge from the mouth-vagina of your AirBnB host?*) is pure unadulterated first-draft weird pointlessness.

*If you think this might be “cool” or “intense” from the way I have described it, you are unfortunately mistaken.
A waste of time by everyone involved, and an uncommon example of a film bad enough to merit a critical retrospective look at its director's other work.

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Re: The Films of 2022

#2 Post by therewillbeblus » Mon May 23, 2022 7:29 pm

Never Cursed wrote:
Mon May 23, 2022 7:22 pm
Men is the worst movie I’ve seen this year, an unbelievably tedious faux-feminist polemic that fails to justify a single minute of its self-congratulatory existence
Sounds like a more offensive (unawarely anti?)feminist film than Swallow, using the same kind of misguided approach!

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Re: The Films of 2022

#3 Post by swo17 » Mon May 23, 2022 8:32 pm

Well that's unfortunate, because I don't know if I can resist watching Jessie Buckley in something

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Re: The Films of 2022

#4 Post by therewillbeblus » Mon May 23, 2022 8:42 pm

I was gonna say, I really hope Sarah Polley's new film provides a strong showcase for her again, as I was incredibly disappointed by her (yes, Oscar-nominated) role in The Lost Daughter. She wasn't 'bad', but the film's focus on the character was empty, and it sounds like it's the same deal here. She's so great while remaining enigmatic in both Beast and I'm Thinking of Ending Things, so perhaps there's a rationale behind her casting, but she's a tremendous talent who deserves to be given multidimensional roles

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Never Cursed
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Re: The Films of 2022

#5 Post by Never Cursed » Mon May 23, 2022 8:44 pm

If it's any consolation, she's the only outright good component of the film outside of some pretty exterior photography, and I hated the Kaufman, so I have no particular favor towards her

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Re: The Films of 2022

#6 Post by The Narrator Returns » Mon May 23, 2022 9:04 pm

therewillbeblus wrote:
Mon May 23, 2022 7:29 pm
Never Cursed wrote:
Mon May 23, 2022 7:22 pm
Men is the worst movie I’ve seen this year, an unbelievably tedious faux-feminist polemic that fails to justify a single minute of its self-congratulatory existence
Sounds like a more offensive (unawarely anti?)feminist film than Swallow, using the same kind of misguided approach!
I haven't seen Swallow but the vibes I've been getting from the reactions to Men is Last Night in Soho, another ostensible "Believe Woman" statement that's so thudding and dumb it backs into being misogynistic. And it sounds like Men is about as convincing a horror movie as Soho, meaning not at all.

ETA: And then I see after posting this that you liked Soho, sorry for dumping the bile on your lap.

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Re: The Films of 2022

#7 Post by therewillbeblus » Mon May 23, 2022 9:16 pm

The Narrator Returns wrote:
Mon May 23, 2022 9:04 pm
therewillbeblus wrote:
Mon May 23, 2022 7:29 pm
Never Cursed wrote:
Mon May 23, 2022 7:22 pm
Men is the worst movie I’ve seen this year, an unbelievably tedious faux-feminist polemic that fails to justify a single minute of its self-congratulatory existence
Sounds like a more offensive (unawarely anti?)feminist film than Swallow, using the same kind of misguided approach!
I haven't seen Swallow but the vibes I've been getting from the reactions to Men is Last Night in Soho, another ostensible "Believe Woman" statement that's so thudding and dumb it backs into being misogynistic. And it sounds like Men is about as convincing a horror movie as Soho, meaning not at all.

ETA: And then I see after posting this that you liked Soho, sorry for dumping the bile on your lap.
I just revisited the film on UHD last night and loved it just as much as the first time! I have a low threshold for this type of film, and can totally see why people read Wright's film that way (especially since these ideas are pretty loud and particularly distracting in the final act's deceptive simplicity), but for me he repurposed the #metoo dressing the same as he did the horror elements, into a core focus of developmental sobriety in universal coming-of-age horrors and catharses. Eloise is based on his mom (I believe she also experienced shame around mental health and/or hallucinations, which obviously isn't factored into a didactic Believe Women slogan in either the film or real life, but empathy for the condition can be separate from that), and I think it's a very personal and mature film about trying to fit naive dreams into reality via self-actualization, and on that wavelength it succeeds.

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Re: The Films of 2022

#8 Post by therewillbeblus » Mon May 23, 2022 10:24 pm

Alex Garland was interviewed by RT for their Five Favorite Films feature, and some of his statements are quite amusing in reference to Never Cursed's observations:
Alex Garland wrote:The more complicated the questions get, the fewer answers there are, because I really do think there’s a real value in just the question sometimes, and sometimes less value in the answer.

I always have a sense of what I think is happening, but I try not to let that get in the way of what someone else might think is happening. I kind of concentrate a lot on allowing films to work perfectly well on different levels. So, Men could just be a ghost story. ‘Woman loses husband, goes to country house to recuperate, is haunted’ could be the story. And then, for other people who want more, there’s more. It’s there for them if they want it, there if not.
Does that clear up your spoiler box for you?

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Re: The Films of 2022

#9 Post by Never Cursed » Mon May 23, 2022 11:33 pm

therewillbeblus wrote:
Mon May 23, 2022 10:24 pm
Does that clear up your spoiler box for you?
Not really, that just makes the issue become that the symbolic stuff and expressive imagery can resolve into literally anything, which itself is a tautological expression of it not having any specific meaning and just existing for weirdness' sake. To give an example of another movie I saw recently with similar (and more successfully executed) aims, David Lynch is about as guarded when discussing the meaning of Inland Empire (a film that does a lot more to obfuscate straightforward narrative analysis than Garland's), but not only is there a lot more to latch onto in Lynch's film, we experience it through the sensations of a focal character (or duo of characters) that is much more recognizable even though the expression of those sensations is obfuscated in a way that Men's protagonist's are not. The result is that I came away from Inland Empire feeling confident as to what I thought had happened in a puzzle film concerned with hazy dream-states and memories, whereas I came away from Men feeling like the yuckster who directed the movie decided to end it with a series of archetypally disturbing encounters and bits of concept art. "Wouldn't it be cool if this happened, and then this creepy encounter with the priest, and then this body horror thing..." The irony is that the film whose events were largely improvised by a collective of artists with the intention of spinning a story out of common intuition felt more concrete than a film (presumably) possessing the virtues of a tight script, strictly adhered to preproduction and scheduling, and extensive previsualization.

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Re: The Films of 2022

#10 Post by therewillbeblus » Mon May 23, 2022 11:47 pm

Never Cursed wrote:
Mon May 23, 2022 11:33 pm
therewillbeblus wrote:
Mon May 23, 2022 10:24 pm
Does that clear up your spoiler box for you?
Not really, that just makes the issue become that the symbolic stuff and expressive imagery can resolve into literally anything, which itself is a tautological expression of it not having any specific meaning and just existing for weirdness' sake.
Oh of course not, I meant it rhetorically to underline this exact critique you had already lobbed! And that’s funny, I was also thinking of the Lynch as the inverse example in your original post

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Re: The Films of 2022

#11 Post by domino harvey » Tue May 24, 2022 8:52 am

I may not love Lynch anywhere near the rate most here do, but there is an authenticity and sincerity to his weirdness that is almost always lacking from those trying to imitate him. I may not enjoy a lot of Lynch, but I have no doubts that Lynch approaches his work with an intuitive sense of internal logic that makes sense to him but which rests behind a veil of protective crypticism that he has no interest in crystallizing. Lynch imitators just end up doing “totes weird shit” and it shows

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Re: The Films of 2022

#12 Post by brundlefly » Tue May 24, 2022 10:11 am

100%. It's easy enough to see the difference in the second season of Twin Peaks, where "weird" often surfaced as adherence to perceived house style instead of the result of organic intent. Lynch has the authority of vision to say what does and what does not belong in his world; if it's there, it's because he thinks it should be there, and that's the only necessary qualification.

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Re: The Films of 2022

#13 Post by Computer Raheem » Tue May 24, 2022 12:19 pm

domino harvey wrote:
Tue May 24, 2022 8:52 am
Lynch imitators just end up doing “totes weird shit” and it shows
This is why, as both someone who is a fan of Lynch and who has a low tolerance for a majority of Lynch imitators, I dread Lynch's renewed popularity. Most of the people who consume Lynch's work seem to only take away the weird, surreal elements without so much as examining or understanding why these elements are utilized. That, along with the current wave of "elevated horror" and its love of explaining away the horror (usually as some sort of ill-defined metaphor for trauma), makes me afraid for the future of horror and surrealism in cinema and television (the only current non-Lynch example of well-done, mainstream surrealism I can think off the top of my head is Atlanta). I'm preparing for a whole lot of "second-half of Season 2 of Twin Peaks"-quality filmmaking in the future.

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Re: Men (Alex Garland, 2022)

#14 Post by Mr Sausage » Tue May 24, 2022 1:10 pm

therewillbeblus wrote:Alex Garland was interviewed by RT for their Five Favorite Films feature, and some of his statements are quite amusing in reference to Never Cursed's observations:
Alex Garland wrote:The more complicated the questions get, the fewer answers there are, because I really do think there’s a real value in just the question sometimes, and sometimes less value in the answer.

I always have a sense of what I think is happening, but I try not to let that get in the way of what someone else might think is happening. I kind of concentrate a lot on allowing films to work perfectly well on different levels. So, Men could just be a ghost story. ‘Woman loses husband, goes to country house to recuperate, is haunted’ could be the story. And then, for other people who want more, there’s more. It’s there for them if they want it, there if not.
Does that clear up your spoiler box for you?
I think this questions-over-answers approach made sense in something like Ex Machina or Annihilation, where the themes about the nature of identity are difficult and pluralist. But it doesn’t make the slightest bit of sense when your story is structured around an explicit social and political ideology, 2nd wave feminism. You’ve already chosen an answer. Refusing to follow the logic of your chosen interpretive structure to any conclusion is admitting you don’t know what you mean by what you’re saying. You’re borrowing ideas and thrusting them at people in an undigested state. Imagine making an explicitly Marxist movie that arrives no identifiable conclusion about class struggle, and then explaining that by saying, well, you just prefer questions to answers.

‘Nightmare logic’ doesn’t work when you include an interpretive key along with it.

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Re: Men (Alex Garland, 2022)

#15 Post by therewillbeblus » Tue May 24, 2022 1:39 pm

Yeah exactly, to your point (and Never Cursed's initial post detailing Garland's strengths), Annihilation is the perfect example of this done 'right' in evoking discomfort via unpredictable variables that don't follow a consistently objective internal logic themselves. That film is destined to elicit subjective responses as a result of what kind of existential horror that brings up for each individual viewer. I know I had a profoundly personal response to that film, but that was precisely because of presenting an absence of logic (which is, in intent, operating under its own coy internal logic) and forcing me to respond to that. This seems to have that intended feeling and reading in mind, and then disrupt its own internal logic to provoke... something? "Anything!" says Garland

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Re: Men (Alex Garland, 2022)

#16 Post by Mr Sausage » Tue May 24, 2022 2:18 pm

I haven’t seen the movie, but judging from the comments here, I don’t wonder if Garland set out to create a feminist nightmare only to find himself uncomfortable with the clearly defined answers feminism offers. So the movie ends in a defensive refusal to offer any answers, interpretations, or clarity. I kinda want to see this just to see if Garland is retreating from the very ideas he set out to express. Or if he has a skin deep sense of feminism having something to do with oppression, but no idea of what oppression means or interest in finding out beyond its capacity to produce uneasy dramatic situations.

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Re: Men (Alex Garland, 2022)

#17 Post by therewillbeblus » Tue May 24, 2022 2:49 pm

Oh yeah, I’m definitely gonna touch this stove

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Re: Men (Alex Garland, 2022)

#18 Post by DarkImbecile » Fri Jun 10, 2022 3:37 pm

I must be a masochist, because not only did I touch this stove, I mostly liked it and I'll probably do it again!

I see where Never Cursed's critiques are coming from — and I can imagine a world where I was similarly irritated by the way Men plays out — but instead I found myself happily engaged with its defiantly unsubtle and awkward oddness. It may be the slightest and least of Garland's features, but I don't think it can or should be as easily and completely dismissed as it has been by many of those who hate it (and I'm aware I'm pretty solidly in the minority on this one, as far as I can tell).

Garland's previous sci-fi features are more careful to construct an internal logic that allows for an examination of what Mr Sausage correctly identifies as more complex and multifaceted themes than are tackled here, but Annihilation in particular dips into the well of horror for its more unknowable and irrational sequences. With Men, Garland dives recklessly into the illogic and brute force of horror. I don't think he's as concerned with offering fresh insight or new angles on the oppressive weight or brittle insecurity of masculinity as he is with a maximalist expression of grotesque toxicity, and there I think he largely succeeds. I also don't think Garland is aiming for either polar extremity of "didactic explication of feminist principles" or "inscrutably-coded Lynchian puzzle box" — his intentions are not hidden, but they're not articulated like a simple equation either — and some of those expressionistic flourishes (like the first act connection between femininity and a state of natural grace) worked quite well for me.

As for the climactic sequence:
SpoilerShow
As absurdly over-the-top as it gets, I do think there's a clear interpretation of what's happening there — as primal man gives way to each of the manifestations of need, insecurity, and resentment we've already met, culminating in the self-centered, entitled demands for unearned love from Buckley's husband — and I actually think the final exchange between the two highlights the masculine hollowness from which spills the bile from an angle which felt fresh to me at least. I don't need Buckley's reaction to any of this to be rational any more than I need the events themselves to be rational, when the film is so clearly heavily weighted toward the allegorical.
Finally, Jessie Buckley continues to be incapable of doing wrong for me — unlike twbb, whose unrepentant misdiagnosis of her performance in The Lost Daughter is one of this site's greatest ongoing tragedies — and I think she nails both the vulnerability and defiance necessary for an admittedly and intentionally thin character to hold the center of this film as well as she does.

I'd love to hear from the other contributors to this thread once they've seen it, and while I have little doubt I'll continue to be lonely on this hill, I suspect others might be inclined to park themselves at least part of the way up the slopes.

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Re: Men (Alex Garland, 2022)

#19 Post by MichaelB » Fri Jun 10, 2022 5:18 pm

I'm happy to park myself part of the way up the slopes: fair chunks of it didn't work for me, but I was rather more impressed by Men than I was by other recent heavily hyped British horrors like Saint Maud and Censor. (Handily, David Lynch has already been mentioned above, providing a perfect excuse for me to flag up that what really irritated me about those two films was the painfully derivative school-of-Lynch approach to their soundtracks, whereas Men's aural environment was noticeably more imaginative, with a hyperrealistic approach to individual sound effects that mirrored/echoed the heightened greens.)

My wife said that it strongly reminded her of Nic Roeg's Puffball, which is something of a backhanded compliment because that film often doesn't work either, but both Puffball and Men are unusual in that they take paganism seriously beyond the superficial visual/thematic trappings and come up with imaginative ways of fusing ancient imagery not just with modern material but also a refreshingly graphic approach to the kind of sexual material that a lot of Anglophone cinema shies away from - for instance, the image of the stone Sheela-na-gig (a surprisingly common sight in Europe), with its vulva confrontationally splayed, foreshadows later verbal and visual content.

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Re: Men (Alex Garland, 2022)

#20 Post by brundlefly » Fri Jun 10, 2022 5:44 pm

I think the problem for those tempted to see this only for Jessie Buckley is that Never Cursed is right: Her Harper (yikes, name choice) doesn’t do much of anything and is not concerned about revealing herself to us. It’s none of your business, she’s telling us as she lies about her ability to play the piano; Harper wanted to be alone to rest and process, this was time she planned for herself and you’re out of line asking her to perform for you. There is a lovely early stretch when the movie’s teasing it’s a fairy tale, a bit of bucolic exploration that allows the actress to beam while surrounded by the sound of her own voice; but for all the subsequent goop and gack this is mostly a woman-in-jeopardy flick and so there’s not much nuance beyond panic, exasperation, defiance.

It’s Buckley’s second project in a row that’s referenced Leda and the Swan, maybe she’s collecting those.

Weird that it’s also not much of a Rory Kinnear showcase, given he’s Klumpsing around. There are some nice hair and make-up details – a single untended fingernail; ardently maintained yet disastrously uncorrected choppers. But once his omnipresence is established, whatever shades of selfishness and assumed authority he may be trying to convey are erased by simple menace; Kinnear’s face may as well be swapped out for a Shatner mask. “Come to Daddy” is shorter, weirder, scarier.

I don’t know if Garland’s diving recklessly here into horror so much as rummaging through its toolbox haphazardly? I’ve had mixed feelings about his two other features, but what I found most interesting about Men is how much it throws at the wall and how I saw every bit of it slowly slide to the floor. Conjures the Green Man, stares at the stars, zooms into rot, but it feels less like a hint at eternal omnipresence than a dishing of distraction. Teases at those portraits of paranoid, psychologically crumbling women that male directors have used (sometimes effectively, often questionably) to poke around at female interiority – but is so determined to not violate Harper’s walls that the only glimpses into her brain are objective-looking flashbacks of domestic strife; without exporting anything from her subconscious, and because the behaviors she’s haunted by aren’t telling parallels with the trauma from which she’s recovering, there’s no invigorating connection between the two. No revelation to be had, no psychological obstacle over which to triumph, no expressive mood in which to wallow. As NC said, it’s petty, and can feel very random. It’s not an investigation or a statement, it’s Men, Amirite?

Garland undercuts what could work by silly hokey-pokey plotting
SpoilerShow
– affirming the real-world presence of naked guy is such a surprise because it’s a terrible idea, and he chose immediate course-correction over revision –
or simply holding on to its few ideas until you’re forced to laugh at them. That home stretch is bold!
SpoilerShow
But while Kinnear goes through the world’s worst commute, I was yawning and giggling and singing, “Oops! There goes another rubber tree plant!” And was wondering if the director could be both a fan of Yeats and Fat Worm of Error.

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Re: Men (Alex Garland, 2022)

#21 Post by therewillbeblus » Fri Jun 10, 2022 5:51 pm

DarkImbecile wrote:
Fri Jun 10, 2022 3:37 pm
unlike twbb, whose unrepentant misdiagnosis of her performance in The Lost Daughter is one of this site's greatest ongoing tragedies
Given some of the ongoing unrepentant rants this site has seen so far this year, such a statement is surely as hyperbolic as All Men R Evil. Now I'll just be over here waiting for DI to hate a good Buckley perf (I'm sure she'll give us another one of those soon enough!)

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Re: Men (Alex Garland, 2022)

#22 Post by DarkImbecile » Fri Jun 10, 2022 10:09 pm

therewillbeblus wrote:
Fri Jun 10, 2022 5:51 pm
Now I'll just be over here waiting for DI to hate a good Buckley perf (I'm sure she'll give us another one of those soon enough!)
Image

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Re: Men (Alex Garland, 2022)

#23 Post by Toland's Mitchell » Sat Jun 11, 2022 4:47 pm

I will also park myself partway up the hill. I appreciated Garland's suspense-building and Buckley's performance, thin as her character may be. More substance there could have helped but it didn't ruin the movie, for she had the broad brushstrokes and the sympathy to hold interest. My main issue was with the finale. Thematically, the first two thirds of the film kept playing the same note, as we moved from one example of male oppression to the next. Kinnear's performance of every character cemented this concept. However, the supernatural third act, while visually interesting, didn't offer much to expand on it, and felt rather empty as a result.

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Re: Men (Alex Garland, 2022)

#24 Post by therewillbeblus » Sun Jun 26, 2022 7:15 pm

I hated this, but DI's defense is alluring and I think there's value in his reading to a point, especially this part (bolding mine):
DarkImbecile wrote:
Fri Jun 10, 2022 3:37 pm
Garland's previous sci-fi features are more careful to construct an internal logic that allows for an examination of what Mr Sausage correctly identifies as more complex and multifaceted themes than are tackled here, but Annihilation in particular dips into the well of horror for its more unknowable and irrational sequences. With Men, Garland dives recklessly into the illogic and brute force of horror. I don't think he's as concerned with offering fresh insight or new angles on the oppressive weight or brittle insecurity of masculinity as he is with a maximalist expression of grotesque toxicity, and there I think he largely succeeds. I also don't think Garland is aiming for either polar extremity of "didactic explication of feminist principles" or "inscrutably-coded Lynchian puzzle box" — his intentions are not hidden, but they're not articulated like a simple equation either — and some of those expressionistic flourishes (like the first act connection between femininity and a state of natural grace) worked quite well for me.
The film functions more effectively for me if viewed as an inverted horror film - that is, toward how our real-life (rather than cinematic) experiences of horror pray on our senses on a level that defies logic and rests in ineffable emotional terrain. This film itself is not scary, but I'm also not sold that it's trying to be. While I'm not inclined to give Garland enough rope to say he's intentionally subverting and reconstructing the genre's signifiers in a self-reflexive manner, it's remarkable how he refrains from utilizing one of horror's greatest tools -its score- to play into jump scares or mere suspension-induction when it would be so easy, and even instinctual, to rely on this asset to aid in the goal of triggering our responses in sync with its subject. Instead, nearly every time a cryptic figure enters the frame, within Buckley's awareness or not, we don't get the expected needledrop. Whether this means that she's desensitized to oppression or that her experience of the horror of living with trauma is constant and obfuscated to herself -thus behaving illogically as we consume her subjectivity against the friction of what our non-traumatized perspectives are (at least in reference to her unique psychological relationship to trauma, as our own traumas =/= another's)- is up for debate.

But to DI's point, I think it might be unfair to order a clear internal logic that is accessible to us through the same nonverbal language as the film's protagonist when the only transparent message here is that we cannot know her experience, her trauma, that she herself does not know. It makes sense that Garland would betray the instincts of a horror film's soundtrack and narrative techniques, when Buckey's psychology has been warped to its own nebulous yet singular instincts, as that's what trauma does to a brain. Plus artists have used their respective mediums to translate these feelings to audiences without a concise, crystalline abstract for as long as art has been around, so this is all fair game as far as I'm concerned, and would make for an honorable -even if not successful- exercise if it played evenly by its own rules of obscurity.

The problem is that this doesn't, nor does it really add up to much if we don't care about the character or have any reason to engage with the material due to its mysterious premise and ill-defined purpose. Like Swallow (a film I compared this to presumptuously but that nonetheless fits as a companion piece), this film doesn't make choices that it desperately needs to make - to either treat its subject's experience as subjectivity with an internally-directed focus on unconditional empathy, or opt for a more objective portrait that examines something else (be it the tragically skewed but sympathetic condition she's in against actual occurrences, a sincere alignment with factual injustices zoomed out, etc.) as various junctures. That doesn't mean that films can't do both (artists have accomplished this before, most recently exemplified by Wright's latest effort, which I'll get to later), but the problem comes when a filmmaker construes the two as one without either consciousness to this misguided conflation or a willingness to separate definitions with deliberate distinction and alternate between lenses.

Garland tries to have his cake and eat it too: Engaging with the subjectivity of a person actively living with acute trauma, processing her truthful-to-her experiences in real time as the only experience that matters in a vacuum, and seemingly committing to some didactically-thin allegory, demanding this experience to be objectively meaningful - but not even just that, more important than our experiences that might ignore hers. You know, the kind those of us with the targeted dominant status can turn off and ignore if we didn't witness this great work of art to remind us. That I didn't buy, not because it isn't true, but because of the way it's expressed. Unlike Promising Young Woman, which cynically empathized with both Cassie's subjectivity and everyone who chooses to cope through cognitive dissonance to some degree out of self-preservation for mental health, this movie seems to be finger-wagging and pandering to audiences without offering a solution or merely a tangible hold we can attach our attentions to in taking that prompt to grow and become a sharper, better audience (or validate the impotence of the state we’re in with well-rounded humanism, which would be another form of tangibility vis a cue of magnetism toward acknowledgement of our collective futility to overcome intangibility on these issues).
Toland's Mitchell wrote:
Sat Jun 11, 2022 4:47 pm
Thematically, the first two thirds of the film kept playing the same note, as we moved from one example of male oppression to the next. Kinnear's performance of every character cemented this concept. However, the supernatural third act, while visually interesting, didn't offer much to expand on it, and felt rather empty as a result.
I agree with this, but what bothers me is that Buckley's character is such a vapid canvas that pitting Kinnear's reverse-Kind Hearts and Coronets one-note perfs against hers didn't accentuate that point. If anything, it's like, alright, one boring, empty female character is equal to like seven boring, empty male characters. So, what's your point? 0 > 0 x7? Is that really an effective use of the multiplying actor gimmick? Buckley is a talented actress, but (and I'm sorry to DI in advance for ruining his Sunday) she needs to sit her agent down and advocate to be given more to work with than weird, thin blends of subjectivity and objectivity, her characters often caught in the middle of whatever the director is trying to accomplish and minimizing her and/or her character's intrinsic merits in the process.

This worked really well in I'm Thinking of Ending Things, because she represented an Internal Family Systems part of a psyche that, using that psychological framework, is allegorically a multidimensional human being that is of equal value to our other internal parts, supplied with a personality, wants, needs, dignity and worth. In The Lost Daughter, I was frustrated with how her character was filtered through memory in a subjective manner, but treated as if we don't need any information since we're examining her through our character of alignment- her future self- and thus objectively observing someone we are told we should know and care about because we're in Colman's head. But we don't know her, because we don't know a character that doesn't know herself (sound familiar?) so there was an uncomfortable dissonance that forced detachment, and not in a self-aware 'Ah Because She Feels Detached' way (both Colman and her younger self in Buckley felt detached from their environments, but whether the memory was a filter influenced by the current self's state was never insinuated, instead presented objectively as a regrettable behavior by someone exhibiting the same behavior.. and so this subjectivity and objectively merged in a convoluted mess that was disrespectful to the level Gyllenhaal was attempting to attract her audience).

Buckley's character here is used again for this frustrating function, and that reduces her worth via film grammar. It's not just that we're disallowed a lot of information about her- that could be fine and work to empathize with a human being devoid of their exterior traits - but how she is manipulated like a pawn by the script and director's ambitions. It’s ironic, and yes I recognize the additional irony of a male writer making declarations about a female actress’ career choices in the wake of watching this film, but I don’t think gender should exclude the opportunity to offer a critique and I hope I’ve made a case for why I feel this way outside of a sexist lob. Buckley is a dynamic actress with so much potential - within the faux-‘confines’ of these types of roles (see: Kaufman)- and I selfishly just want to see more of that.

So it’s ironic, and works as the opposite of what Wright did recently with Last Night in Soho, which has been irritatingly misunderstood to be a unidimensional didactic exercise on #metoo (just like some are reading this film, perhaps fairly so, I'm really not sure even after finishing it!) when Wright imbues all the many shades of color one experiences as they go through their most challenging and important life transition into his central character. He also oscillates between valuing her subjective experience with supremacy and zooming out for the purposes of humility regarding the limitations of that subjectivity, which reflexively services growth for the character as it has for all of us who have ‘been there’ (which is everyone above a certain age), and the writer/director as well. Wright is doing the same thing with his own subjective infatuation with the era and his humble awareness of the problems with fetishization, allowing the merits of his ingrained perspective and identity to coexist with self and external critique; checks and balances, without permitting one to usurp the other. It’s a challenging balance to attempt in execution, let alone accomplish, and one I don’t expect a movie like this to aim for- which is not where the bar is set. Still, ultimately not making any choices and rendering us powerless to endure a pointless and nonsensical but self-important Art Film, that may or may not be trying to be or exhibit horror on a meta-level, is too great an offense to not try to critique it - even if I'm very unclear about exactly what the film thinks it's doing and exactly what part deserves critiquing first.
brundlefly wrote:
Fri Jun 10, 2022 5:44 pm
Her Harper (yikes, name choice) doesn’t do much of anything and is not concerned about revealing herself to us.
Okay, this has to be an unintentional detail by everyone involved, but that's a funny thing to recognize, even if maybe Garland would defensively counter that, by recognizing the degrading subtext of her moniker, you're part of the problem because that shows that you've ingrained an oppressive instinct to defend... you know what, I don't have a clue what he's trying to do, so I'm not going to give even that much credit. If the film had formed an indication of how it would respond to this in its thematic DNA, I’d give it an extra star just for aiding my exhaustion by making one single choice. Respect the audience, man, even if you do so by letting us know you don’t respect us.

Johnny8204
Joined: Fri Jul 01, 2022 11:43 am

Re: Men (Alex Garland, 2022)

#25 Post by Johnny8204 » Sun Jul 03, 2022 11:18 pm

In defense of Men...I feel like this is the inverse of Ex Machina a companion piece that attempts to show the different side. Naturally the problem with Men is it's lack of originality you have dozens of horror films that look sound and act like this. This is especially true in the past 5 years or so. I actually saw The Watcher(2022) which is basically the same film except stripped of most of the gimmicks and played as straight and realistic as possible. Garland tried to make a Bergmanesque film but missing the key component of Bergman female leads (they are flawed). The Watcher is more inspired by Polanski's apartment trilogy and the lead in that film is flawed and human. At this point I feel like we just have to wait and hope that horror will change again in the next few years into something different and better.

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