Garland’s last conversation is also her most seductive, and audiences may not be ready for it. The director tells IndieWire why he “can’t prevent or worry too much” about anyone’s performances.
The Last Spirit of Alex Garland is a film called “Men”, about a woman who is terrorized by a man who seems to represent everything men, and it is, of course, written and directed by a man.
Garland, still the daring screenwriter of movies like “The Beach” and “28 Days Later” and director of decidedly non-commercial visions like “Annihilation” and “Ex Machina,” has made his most baffling and inscrutable film to date. . He’s also aware of the terrain he’s diving into as he tells an extremely contemporary horror story about the terror of public spaces that women are forced to walk through. This setting here is the English countryside, and this woman is Jessie Buckley, playing the figure of someone named Harper in some kind of one-man horror show where she’s the last girl from start to finish.
She’s on an inevitably ill-conceived solo vacation in a well-established country house, reeling from the sudden and violent death of her husband (Paapa Essiedu), whose exact nature is constantly changing amid the puzzle-box montage. de Garland: Did he jump off the roof of their apartment complex in London? Did it accidentally fall? Does Harper want him there? That’s what the men of this world – from the daffy gardener Geoffrey to an emotionally manipulative vicar to the naked man who stalks Harper in the garden – want her to believe. Oh, and they’re all played by Rory Kinnear.
The cheekiness on the nose of this device will literally not be lost on any sensitive moviegoer in 2022, but Garland plays with audience expectations of lightning rod topics like gaslighting and victim blaming, which have become so de rigor that they lose their currency. More than even “Annihilation,” whose confusing final moments found biologist Natalie Portman facing an alien likeness of herself in a beacon that seemed to refract human DNA, Garland delivers an unforgettable visceral ending that looks abstruse on its head. , but that’s because he wants audiences to find their own patterns in his metaphysical clouds. (Watch out for IndieWire’s fuller discussion of that ending with Garland later this weekend).
IndieWire spoke to Garland ahead of the film’s release as he’s in production in London on “Civil War,” his upcoming action flick also for A24 and starring Kirsten Dunst. In our conversation, he is measured, self-deprecating, doubting not so much his art as his place in the conversations around them. “I think I better not do interviews,” he said at one point. (He even told the New York Times recently that he plans to quit directing altogether.) This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.
Courtesy of Everett Collection
IndieWire: What I admired the most about this film is that what we see is the reality of the film. It’s not Harper’s hallucination, it’s her lived experience. There’s no escaping the Grand Guignol at the end where it’s all in his head. Wasn’t it always the idea to cut the rug like that?
Alex Garland: There are different ways of interpreting the movie or deciding what it’s about, but in terms of how I felt, if it all turned out to be in his head, it would have made the movie borderline lousy. ‘ethics. There was never any intention to do so.
It’s a movie called “Men” that hovers around the edges of a gaslighting female-centric thriller with extremely contemporary themes. Have you had this question or do you doubt that you are a man telling this story?
No not at all. It would be a strange position to take personally. It would be weird to take a step back because I think we’d be entering a very weird space if you started telling writers what they can and can’t write about. You can’t read what writers write, but you have to be careful when telling people what they can and can’t write about.
More broadly, however, I would say there is an inference in this question that presupposes what the film is about and what it says. If I said that, from my point of view, the film is about a feeling of horror, but it is a feeling of horror from the point of view of being a man, then why would there be any reason not to write about it even in accordance with the web, the kind of restrictions that have hinted that there are areas you can and can’t write about? So even in that definition, I don’t really see why it would be necessary to restrict the film.
So, for example, to be clear about this, if I as a man observe a behavior, or read about another man’s behavior, or if a thought floats in my own mind, or there is an impulse floating within me that I have a feeling of horror for, why shouldn’t I be allowed to write about it? It makes no sense to me.
Courtesy of Everett Collection
Jessie Buckley also wrote the film in many ways. In the weeks leading up to filming, you, Jessie Buckley and Rory Kinnear spent a lot of time talking and working on the themes of the film.
No question. She had read the script, and she did what you always, really, hope of all collaborators, but she did it in a really spectacular way, which is to offer a set of thoughts and ideas and things she would like to do that I couldn’t have invented myself.
That’s what I’m looking for in my life as a filmmaker anyway as long as I’m not some kind of auteur director trying to keep everything in control in the frame. On the contrary, I try to do the opposite, to delegate and give up as much as possible. So I would say that Jessie is kind of a co-author, but that could also be read as a sign of virtue on my part, that what I’ve done is given to this young woman as an author, particularly because of the nature of the story.
But actually, there’s also a shared paternity between, say, Rory Kinnear, who loved me is a middle-aged man, or the DOP [Rob Hardy] or the decorator [Mark Digby]the visual effects supervisor [David Simpson]. Jessie is one of those people, but does she have a voice in this? Absolutely. As a lead actress, she ends up clearly defining things that are unique to her. If it is a shared project, it is also his. This does not only concern the interpretation of the dialogue, it can extend to the dialogue itself, and not only to one’s own dialogue, but to the dialogue of others. So there are lines that the vicar utters that are really from Jessie. They weren’t in the original script she read.
Courtesy of Everett Collection
At the start of the film, we see Harper climb that tree, pick an apple, and take a bite of it. As an audience member, you are immediately thrust into the realm of allegory, now wondering if Harper is less a person than a symbol. Why start with such a recognizable biblical image?
It’s not specifically biblical as much as one of a set of things, is it? There are a whole bunch of things that are widely recognizable to us. Now, one of them might be picking an apple off a tree, which has kind of, yeah, there’s kind of a reference to Adam and Eve, basically. But another might be, say, a contemporary buzzword, like blaming the victim. And what I do is I guess that these two references – one of which is religious and the other is more contemporary, at least as a sort of two-word phrase – that people come to the film knowing these things.
So it’s not like trying to point out something about Adam and Eve or original sin in quotes or actually blaming the victim or microaggressions or whatever one might choose to put in there include. It’s making assumptions that we know these things. It does not list them. He uses this as a sort of launching pad for other things. I know it might not come across that way, because I think for some viewers their interpretation will be tied to their own private sense of the importance or lack of importance of biblical imagery. But I guess my position is that I can’t really prevent that or worry too much about it. I think film interpretations are generally more indicative of the person performing than the film itself.
Courtesy of Everett Collection
You said this movie is more about “horror feelings” than a horror movie itself. Maybe you don’t want to be put in that box.
I really have no problem with this box. I probably didn’t explain very well what I was trying to say – which is usually why I think I better not do interviews because I tend not to articulate things the way which I hope to articulate.
What I was trying to say was closer to what we talked about earlier, which is that it’s a horror movie in regards to a feeling of horror. So it’s a horror movie. It uses all sorts of genre conventions, tropes and beats and in different ways. And structurally, it really is like a horror movie. I’m not afraid of your labels. I kind of embrace them, to be honest.
What Harper is going through is reminiscent of being a spectator in a horror movie.
That would be my impression. Like a lot of real-world horrors, I think what I was trying to do, sometimes at least, was to confuse things against each other. Like, the fact that some of these things are just plain stupid. Some of them are overtly, totally, terrifying and really aggressive and really violent. And some of them are really pathetic and weak. I kind of try to have all of these things side by side.
A24 releases “Men” in theaters on Friday, May 20.