Garland deftly balances scares, humour and genuine emotional trauma. Harper is not a scream queen, but a rational woman. Taking a walk, she sends her voice echoing through a dark tunnel, and has the sense to run when a mysterious figure rushes at her from the other end. The sound of that scene is elegant, with music and voices on the soundtrack suggesting howling banshees. The film’s cinematographer Rob Hardy, a long-time collaborator of Garland’s, creates a lush, inviting look, more light and colour than shadow.
Among the images the camera returns to often is the font in the village church, carved with the ancient image of the Green Man, a mythical character whose face is surrounded by leaves growing from his head, surrounding it like a lion’s mane. What does he mean here? Men is the kind of film it can be fun to decipher, while accepting that no single solution to its puzzle exists.
Near the end, Garland ramps up the surreal elements and the special effects, gliding towards an over-the-top ending. Speaking after the New York preview screening of the film, Garland said that he hadn’t quite worked out the climactic episode when he’d finished the screenplay, but later decided to do something big and ambitious. It’s easy to admire his audacity, even if it is too much even by surreal standards.
A glib misreading of Men might reduce it to: “Ha! Men! They’re all alike.” But the film’s ending emphasises how much Harper’s trials and Garland’s film have been about her profound tangle of love, grief and understanding.
Men premieres at the Cannes Film Festival, and is released in the US and Canada on 20 May and in the UK on 1 June.
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