What does “men” mean? Alex Garland’s editor isn’t sure

Editor Jake Roberts tells IndieWire, “Over the course of nine months of collaboration [with writer-director Alex Garland] I never got a very clear answer as to what it meant to him.”

Writer-director Alex Garland’s haunting and provocative horror film Men is ruthlessly pared-down yet offers a seemingly endless array of reactions and interpretations from its audience; How you respond to this depends largely on what you contribute to it. Garland’s combination of meticulous visual and audio design with ambiguous, dreamlike imagery and dialogue presents unique challenges for audiences – as well as collaborators like editor Jake Roberts.

Roberts, who had previously worked with Garland on “Devs,” a sci-fi limit series for FX that envisioned the potential intersection between big tech and quantum computing, had been told Garland was working on a different TV series, ie as When he received the stripped-down script for “Men” he was a bit surprised. “It was suggested to me as a kind of low-budget, COVID-safe horror film that we could shoot during lockdown,” Roberts said in an interview with IndieWire.

Roberts also expected what audiences have come to expect from a Garland screenplay for the past 20 years (“Ex Machina,” “Sunshine,” “28 Days Later”)—a complex world with tight internal logic embedded in deep research rooted writer puts his heart into every project. “I read it and it was very unexpected as it didn’t have certain tropes from Alex – there was no logic or scientific basis. Like many people who watch the finished film, I read it and wait for certain explanatory answers to come. I got to page 80 of the script and realized they weren’t coming, and I had to recalibrate my expectations.”

If Roberts thought he would find the answers he was looking for in conversations with his writer-director, he would soon realize he had to recalibrate those expectations as well. “When I spoke to Alex about this, he wasn’t particularly interested in giving me easy answers,” Roberts said. “Over the course of the nine months we’ve worked together, I’ve never had a very clear answer as to what it means to him.” Garland’s insistence on keeping the film’s mysteries ambiguous, even for the editor, helped Roberts put the film from the audience’s perspective to see: “You find your own answers in what the film provokes in you. What was interesting for me was how certain things made me uncomfortable or questioned my own attitude.”

Roberts also became interested in working in the horror genre for the first time, although Men was not a traditional suspense film. “The narrative is extremely simple,” he said. “It had less exposition or narrative than anything I’ve ever worked on — there’s no B-story or anything like that to cut down to — so it really became an exercise in tone and emotion, but those emotions are very subjective . How I feel about a particular scene could be very different from how Alex feels about it. But he’s very collaborative and I can offer images or juxtapositions or rearrangements that he hadn’t thought of and he’s very open to that.”

MEN, Rory Kinnear, 2022. Ph: Kevin Baker /© A24 / Courtesy Everett Collection


Courtesy of the Everett Collection

Roberts felt that he and Garland often found their way in the dark as the film was constantly evolving – even visual effects like the dandelion seeds that provide some of the film’s most striking images were late ideas that emerged during the editing process. It was particularly difficult to generate suspense in the relatively uneventful first half of the film, and Roberts had to rely on instinct and intuition as there were no test screenings to see how the film was received by audiences. “We showed it for a few intimate groups of friends and family, but because the nature of certain sequences relied so much on effects that weren’t being made, it seemed impossible to accurately gauge anything from a preview,” Roberts said.

The editor’s strategy in the early scenes was to cut against the material’s natural rhythms, an approach that creates a palpable sense of menace even when virtually nothing is happening. “By keeping a recording just a few bars outside of the natural interface, you raise a little question in the audience,” Roberts said. “Why are we lingering here?” Roberts and Garland also made extensive use of angles shot from unknown angles, which added to the film’s voyeuristic quality. “To an extent, genre helps you,” Roberts added. “People know it’s horror, so they wait for it to take a turn at some point. If it were packaged as a romantic comedy, it wouldn’t have the same impact, even if the sequences were in exactly the same form as they are now.”

Despite Roberts’ enthusiasm for the horror genre, he deliberately avoided revisiting any of the classics in preparation for Men. “I’ve spent my whole life watching movies and absorbing their lessons,” Roberts said, “but I don’t look for specific examples because then you either copy them or reject them. It’s more of an intuitive sense of how to unsettle the viewer by focusing on mundane or everyday details and putting them in a context that makes them a little more menacing.”

Jessie Buckley, "men"



Roberts was assisted by the film’s music and sound design, which, like many other aspects of the film, evolved organically throughout production and post-production. The eerie musical echo, reminiscent of Harper (Jessie Buckley), for example, was originally written just as a scream, but Garland changed it to a melody in response to his leading lady’s special talents (the house piano became a plus). important element of the story). Then the decision was made to make the Echo’s singer a man imitating a woman’s voice, which adds to the eeriness while also engaging with the core ideas of the film. “Having a man singing like a woman was both sonically more unusual and more interesting in relation to the overall themes of the film,” Roberts said, adding that the song that opens and closes “Men” was performed by a woman (Lesley Duncan) is sung at the beginning and a man (Elton John) at the end.

Ideas like the echo or the nerve-racking nature shots that recur throughout the film were all born, as Roberts put it, “from the ongoing creative process that runs throughout the film. There’s a lot of interest in exploration, and Alex and I don’t really need to talk about it. If something works, we just move on to the next one that doesn’t work or that we don’t like as much. I didn’t push Alex about his motives. Oddly enough, as long as the process is and as collaborative as it is, my response to this remains relatively private and personal.”

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https://www.indiewire.com/2022/06/meaning-of-men-alex-garland-editor-jake-roberts-1234727448/ What does “men” mean? Alex Garland’s editor isn’t sure

Lindsay Lowe

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