Content Note: This article contains discussion of grooming, sexual assault, misogyny, gore and violence.

This article also contains spoilers for ‘Men’ (2022).

I spent the last week of May wandering through an oppressively hot town in tight shoes. I was lucky enough to get a badge for the 75th Cannes Film Festival. I brought along a camcorder and my boyfriend Tim. We clomped around happily in our respective dresses and tuxedos. On our second day, as we passed under a café awning, Tim wondered aloud if we were going to see anyone famous.

And then, as if we’d summoned him, I saw someone at the very last table on the cobbled street who looked totally incongruous with his surroundings: the actor Drake Bell, folded almost apologetically into a seat in the corner.

“The industry exists at the intersection between youth and power”

Since he departed from his popular Nickelodeon children’s program Drake and Josh, a judge ruled that Bell’s status as a celebrity enabled him to gain access to a vulnerable twelve-year-old girl in 2017 and groom her for several years. They allegedly engaged in sexually explicit conversations. Bell pled guilty to charges of attempted child endangerment and disseminating matter harmful to juveniles. He was sentenced to two years of probation.

And now he’s in Cannes with his wife, drinking an aperol spritz.

"We clomped around happily in our respective dresses and tuxedos"Anjeli Chapman, with permission for Varsity Newspaper (photo cropped)

But is his presence really so surprising? So much of the trappings of Cannes felt like an homage to the American ethos. The town was littered with blown-up photographs of Jack Nicholson and Robert De Niro. There are few places in the world that are just as enamoured with Hollywood as Hollywood is with itself. Cannes is a breeding ground for the same culture that predatory American actors, producers, and directors are so drawn to.

The industry exists at the intersection between youth and power. Names like Harvey Weinstein and Roman Polanski are synonymous with sexual violence. Does the film industry naturally attract a higher percentage of sexually abusive people due to its inherent power imbalances? Or do the crimes of the men who aren’t rich and famous just go unreported?

The film Men, which premiered at Cannes on the 27th May, examines venomous misogyny in all its iterations. It is directed by Alex Garland and features enviably sharp performances by Jessie Buckley and Rory Kinnear. The film opens with a jump. Not a jump scare, although it contains plenty. Jessie Buckley, her nose bleeding gently, gives herself an unconscious little start. So does the audience, without being entirely sure why.

Here is a film that’s designed to unsettle.

“If nothing else, this film serves as a portfolio for [Rory Kinnear’s] range as a staggeringly talented actor”

In the next scene, Harper Marlowe (Buckley) plucks an apple from a tree, unaware that she’s being watched by Geoffrey (Kinnear). He’s the owner of the country home to which Buckley has decided to retreat after a traumatic upheaval leaves her without a spouse. “Mustn’t eat that,” Geoffrey tells her. “Forbidden fruit.”

We wouldn’t need this line to recognise the obvious symbolism: women are being punished for their original sin. Their pain is deserved, and their very existence requires them to be trapped beneath the plate glass of the male gaze.

This is the sentiment woven throughout Men. Even the score seems to reiterate it. Harper creates it herself in the first act, singing into a dark tunnel and listening to the echoes reverberate and build. Her unnatural notes come back as the film’s soundtrack, which crescendos in moments of panic; the danger she finds herself in is a prison of her own design.

“There are few places in the world that are just as enamoured with Hollywood as Hollywood is with itself”

Buckley conveys pain, anger and exhaustion with flawless realism. She is both an accurate portrayal of a woman and a broad symbol for women in general. Rory Kinnear plays more than five distinct characters, each with individual regional dialects, tics and mannerisms. If nothing else, this film serves as a portfolio for his range as a staggeringly talented actor.

As Geoffrey, with his blithering gallantry, Kinnear is nearly charming. As the vicar who puts a proprietary hand on Buckley’s lower thigh, he’s disgusting. “Men do strike women sometimes,” he tells Buckley, almost genially. “It’s not a capital offense.” These characters are all played by Kinnear for a reason. Is the message that men are interchangeable, that male violence is both insidious and ubiquitous?

It’s easy to compare Men to the film Promising Young Woman, a 2020 film by Emerald Fennell. In Promising Young Woman, the twist is that our protagonist’s wonderful boyfriend (Bo Burnham) is actually a hideous misogynist. The subtext of this realisation is, of course, that misogyny is so pervasive that it’s practically inescapable.

Anjeli Chapman, with permission for Varsity Newspaper (photo cropped)

In Men, this isn’t the twist. It’s the premise.

This sense of omnipresent misogyny is cultivated beautifully by Kinnear, who stars in every male role but one. There’s a reason that the film’s trailer reveals this choice to the audience: Alex Garland wants us to know its perspective before we even enter the theatre.

“Is the message that men are interchangeable, that male violence is both insidious and ubiquitous?”

One hallmark of horror is the final, lingering scare. The evil hasn’t been vanquished just yet. The alien, monster or misogynist that you thought you’d killed is just gearing up for another round. In the final scene, Harper’s friend Riley discovers her in the garden of her rented home, thoroughly spent after a night of battling dark monstrosities that I won’t spoil for you. But I will spoil a detail of the film’s ending: this is the first time that we’ve ever seen Riley in the flesh instead of through a phone. We can see that she’s heavily pregnant.

Perhaps for some viewers, this was a relief. Now, finally, it’s time for some redemption. Her stomach heralds the next generation, which will bring peace and respect for people of all genders. If this was your read on the ending of Men, I applaud your optimism.


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To me, the baby in Riley’s stomach represented the next frontier of misogyny, whatever it looks like. I’m writing this review on the heels of the American Supreme Court’s crushing decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. Men have been an oppressive force in a variety of colourful ways since the advent of gender. Why would they stop now?

One problem with Garland’s film is that its male characters are overt and extreme. How would a man even recognise himself among these brutes? Does the film invite further scrutiny from those men who are eager to evolve and are open to criticism? Perhaps it only serves to affirm them as they fail to identify themselves in the lineup. Symbolism in A24 movies can sometimes feel less like a delicate trail of breadcrumbs and more like being whacked in the face with the full baguette. Fortunately, there’s still plenty of ambiguity to argue about on the way home.

On my way back from the screening of Men, I walked past a laundromat where a French teenager was perched on top of a washing machine, kicking her legs. Her companion was leaning in so that their faces were almost touching. She was staring pointedly away from him, her arms crossed defensively over her chest. Even from a distance, I recognised his pose. You probably would have, too. It’s a pose of a man with an agenda.

I raised my eyebrows at her. She raised hers back. Then she gave a little shrug, which was larger than language.