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How anime and seasons shaped that final, wild scene in Men

Alex Garland’s Men has generated plenty of conversation to go along with the praise it’s received from critics — particularly when it comes to the film’s shocking, graphic final scene.

Men is the story of a woman who decides to take a vacation in the English countryside, only to be tormented by something sinister lurking within the quaint little town. The film casts Jessie Buckley (The Lost Daughter) as Harper Marlowe, whose husband’s suicide prompts her to book the rural holiday. Joining her in the film’s small cast is Rory Kinnear (Our Flag Means Death), who portrays multiple characters in the film, including Geoffrey, the friendly owner of the house Harper has rented.

What begins as a quiet vacation quickly takes a dark turn for Harper, whose perspective on the terrifying events unfolding around her adds another surreal layer to Garland’s exploration of trauma, gender, and the cyclical nature of creation. Her experience culminates in a final confrontation with her tormenter that delivers — in more ways than one — a scene that has everyone talking.

Note: Key plot points from the film Men will be discussed after this point. Consider this a spoiler warning.

Jessie Buckley holds a knife in a scene from Men.

“That particular sequence was written as mutations — just as a sequence of mutations,” Garland told Digital Trends of the scene that has Kinnear’s enigmatic, Green Man-like entity cycling through a series of births and rebirths as he pursues Harper from the yard and into the house. (The Green Man is a legendary being primarily interpreted as a symbol of rebirth.)

While the scene begins with a more humanlike birth, it gradually evolves into something far weirder, with each new form sprouting from a different orifice or other point on its predecessor’s body, forcing its way out as Harper looks on in horror. Garland indicated that his fondness for keeping the script flexible and shooting his films largely in their narrative order left the final scene up in the air for quite a while, with only vague ideas about how to bring it to the screen.

“Some people storyboard everything and have an incredibly clear idea of what’s going to happen. I don’t,” laughed Garland. “I say to the actors in the rehearsal stage, this script is still fluid and open and we can make changes and we can find stuff.”

Initially, Garland revealed, the scene was intended to have a much more nature-based theme to the transformation.

“There was a kind of loose thought that, because we had this Green Man character, that it would be about seasons — and the mutations would happen via things like green growth coming out of him,” he explained. “If you leave a camera on a dead fox for a week, and then do time-lapse photography of the way it decays and changes, maybe we’d do the mutations like that.”

The exact look and feel he wanted for the scene remained elusive, though, until Garland said he got “kind of slapped in the face creatively” while watching an episode of the popular anime series Attack on Titan with his daughter. The series, which is set in a postapocalyptic world filled with monstrous “titans” that devour humans, features some intricate, unique transformation sequences depicting the evolution of the titans and their relationship to humans.

Rory Kinnear's character stares through a door's mail slot in a scene from Men.

“[The series] was taking human forms and making, in some ways, subtle changes — ones that leaned in a way I really liked towards ridiculousness,” he said. “I think ridiculousness is an important part of this film, a kind of funny, pathetic-ness in some respects that sits alongside the horror and the strangeness. It’s important that those two things sit right up against each other.

“When I saw Attack on Titan, I could see how inventive and creative it was, and it made me think really hard,” he continued. “I spent that Christmas doing loads of sketches of forms and then that became the birth sequence, basically.”

For Garland, that willingness to not have everything set in stone well ahead of filming is what made that memorable scene possible, and allowed him the time to find just the right way to bring the film’s most shocking scene to the screen.

“I try to go into the whole filmmaking process, from preproduction to shooting and then still in the edit, staying alive to the possibilities, and staying alive to changes, and not feeling things get concretized,” said Garland. “For me, the dream is that somebody watches this film and does not forget about it as they are walking out of the cinema.”

Alex Garland’s Men, starring Jessie Buckley and Rory Kinnear, is in theaters now.

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