(Photo by Monica Schipper/Getty Images)
Alex Garland’s movies tend not to explain too much. Ex Machina and Annihilation both left audiences with more questions than answers, and the writer-director’s latest film, Men, is no different — by design.
“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,” he tells Rotten Tomatoes.
Men, out in theaters on May 20, stars Jessie Buckley as Harper, a young woman who vacations in the British countryside in the wake of a terrible, complicated loss. However, once there, she’s haunted by a man played by renowned character actor Rory Kinnear — or rather, by men played by Rory Kinnear. The film is full of striking visuals, terrifying moments, unexpected body horror, the possibility of catharsis, and many more provocative mysteries. What it all means is not ever clearly explained, and even though Garland has his own ideas as the creator, that openness to interpretation is what drives his work.
“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,” he explains. “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.”
It’s perhaps no surprise, then, that five of his favorite films also trend towards the unexpected. They sit with the viewer well after the credits have rolled and invite the viewer to ask themselves what it means. From a recent Best Picture winner to a gripping Soviet anti-war movie, here are some of Alex Garland’s Five Favorite Films, as told to Rotten Tomatoes.
The Lighthouse (2019)
I wanted to think of a film that was really modern, or a couple of them, because probably the easiest list for me to come up with would be films that are, like, 30 or 40 years old. There are some amazing people working today, and I think [Robert Eggers] is one of them. I thought The Lighthouse was fantastic. It was incredibly funny and strange but most of all, incredibly original. I just appreciated that. I appreciated that he made it with the people he made it with; I thought the performances were fantastic. It was incredibly beautifully shot and put together. It was just so original that I thought, “Well, something right is happening if films like this can get made and get made so beautifully.”
The thing I loved about Parasite was that it felt complicated and profound and really, really surprising. Continually surprising. And it had no adherence to standard storytelling structures — which I adhere to in kind of a helpless way — probably in a kind of lazy way, but mainly in a helpless way. I just thought Parasite was a really good instruction in terms of how free you can be in film. It made me think about how inhibited and traditional I am by comparison. It was kind of inspiring in that way.
Come and See (1985)
This is a much older film called Come and See, which is a Russian movie set in the Second World War. It plays a really complicated game between the absolute sharp edge of reality and the strangeness of interior surrealism and brings the two together, I think, perfectly, to make the film extraordinarily powerful. Probably in this whole list, if I could recommend one film for people to see, it would probably be that one. But it’s not an easy watch. You have to be up for it, and you have to be prepared for it, because it is increasingly disturbing as a piece of filmmaking, but it is just brilliantly executed. At the end, it takes such a big swing, such a big imaginative, creative stylistic swing, and lands it. I think it’s a truly great piece of cinema.
It’s definitely a film where it would be a mistake to have your phones in such a way where you’ll get alerted by a text message or you’ll need to go and fix a sandwich halfway through, because it’s meditative until it becomes incredibly visceral. I would recommend it, strongly.
Spirited Away (2001)
I really love animation. Like with all of the films on this list, I don’t think at any point in Spirited Away, I was able to anticipate the next thing that would happen. It’s got probably close to among the most striking imagery I’ve ever seen in a film. It got under my skin in a particular way. As sheer pleasure, it’s probably the film on this list I’ve enjoyed the most, and on some instinctive level, felt the most right, that I felt like I would like to walk into that world and be part of that world, which is the kind of thing I used to feel about films when I was a kid.
It’s a Nicolas Roeg film. It’s about some kids that are stranded in the Australian Outback. It’s virtuoso filmmaking. It has one of the strangest unannounced or unanticipated scenes in any kind of film I’ve ever seen. It can be really shocking, but it’s also really touching and very sort of oddly charming. Every time I see it, it blows me away.
Men opens in theaters on May 20, 2022.
Thumbnail images by: Eric Chakeen/©A24, ©Neon, ©Janus Films, ©Buena Vista, ©20th Century Fox Film Corp.