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Men: let’s unbox this disturbing and disgusting ending




This post contains spoilers for Men.

This is what happens at the end of Men. Harper (Jessie Buckley) faces off against a series of men (all played by Rory Kinner) in the too-idyllic-to-be-true country house she rents. After a succession of hallucinatory and violent clashes, she bears witness to her naked stalker sprouting leaves and branches, a living Green Man giving birth to a man, giving birth to another man, giving birth to another man, who all have the same torn hand and broken ankle as the previous one. Its violent and brutal body horror, so repetitive and narratively inexplicable that anyone who can stand the visuals could eventually become numb to the grotesque concocted by the writer-director Alex Garland.

But then the births end. Harper is sitting on the couch. Everything calms down. Day light. Her deceased husband James (Paapa Essiedu), who has haunted her throughout the film, then walks into the room and sits down next to her, her ankle still broken and her arm still torn. At this point, the graphic violence of the earlier childbirth scenes finally makes sense, bringing the film back to the twin themes it offered at the very beginning: guilt and grief.

That doesn’t mean that Men relates only to these topics. As that title suggests, the film is also about gender and masculinity and how women are forced to deal with men who might gasse, abuse and assault them. It’s also about religion and mythology, to some extent, though the viewer’s degree of engagement with these ideological threads may depend on their personal relationship to these themes in real life.

But Men, a difficult watch that has already proven divisive, is arguably a better movie with a more cohesive ending when viewed through these themes. In the flashback scenes with Harper and James, we see the pair arguing as James threatens to kill himself if she leaves him. In another flashback that continues the scene, James punches Harper, so she kicks him out once and for all. In his attempt to re-enter the apartment, he bursts into the upstairs unit, climbs onto the balcony, slips and falls to his death. Or maybe it didn’t slip. Maybe he chose to fall. Harpers isn’t sure, but she struggles with her death regardless.

Her guilt shows in the divisive fight scenes at the end of the film, when she has to defend herself against a series of men (and a schoolboy, also played by Kinnear), one of whom is the Green Man, who evolved into Gaia. -like being. After putting his arm through the letter slot, Harper stabs him. He pulls his arm back, violently tearing it in half in the process. The fact that each subsequent man bears the same injury, plus the broken ankle, connects them all to James, who suffered the same injuries in the fall that killed him.

James is also the only man in the story who looks like a human being, rather than an archetype that can replace tropes like the Nice Guyas in Geoffrey, the clumsy country house owner who, in the end, happens of chivalry and attacks Harper, then drives away with his car; or the hypocritical vicar whose perverted obsession with Harper leads to his death. (Incidentally, the scenes with the vicar sound like the movies’ most powerful and resonant treatise on toxic masculinity, perhaps because one woman, Jessie Buckley herself, wrote much of the character dialogue.) The fact that Harper is the one to stab the men in the arm is tied to her feelings of guilt for potentially leading James to his death.

Courtesy of A24.

Or something! Mens moral and philosophical goals have a quality of choosing your own adventure. Garland, both in his directing choices and in his numerous interviews on Men, was circumspect about the film’s meaning, particularly its violent crescendo of an ending. He says in the films’ press notes that the visuals were inspired by playing with images of the sheela-na-gigmedieval sculptures of a female figure exposing her private parts and the green man and finding our way through what has become a guy with a vagina on his chest.

Maybe the guilt and grief end up rising because, in this movie, those themes are about people rather than ideas. It’s much easier to engage and understand two characters who loved each other and were torn apart by abuse and death than it is to make sense of the symbolically loaded, The attack of the Titans-inspired spectacle of a man giving birth to another man giving birth to a man who gives birth through the mouth of the feet. (According to the movies’ press notes, Kinnear says The Green Man, a tribute to the mythological figurerepresents the rebirth people need after bereavement, making the ending a literal play on that concept.)




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