In a Q&A after the world premiere of the surprising new horror film Menwriter-director Alex Garland (Annihilation, Ex-Machina) caused a stir on social media when he said he was inspired by the anime series The attack of the Titans, which he was still watching. The post-apocalyptic sci-fi horror series had a huge impact on the anime industry, but no one expected the creator of such singular live-action American movies to cite the series as having a impact on his work. After the film’s premiere, Polygon spoke with Garland about how he came to watch The attack of the Titans and what it means to him.
“I was watching it with my daughter, who brought me in and said, ‘Daddy, you should really watch this,'” Garland tells us. “I’m just blown away by this show. It’s so complex on so many levels, but in Titans itself, it’s done something really interesting – it takes on human forms and makes slight changes that bring things to the edge of the ridiculous, but do it with real courage and confidence.
“So he’s hovering over this weird space between something absurd and something really scary. I was just really, really impressed. And I thought, on some level, I was too – too lazy , maybe. I don’t know what the right word is. But I’m not that good, and I need to improve. So it made me re-examine Men and think about it. That’s the good thing about other people’s good work – it lifts everyone up a bit, you know? »
Garland is quick to point out that there is no specific image or idea in Men which directly echoes The attack of the Titans – he says he started working on the script about 15 years ago and has been rewriting and revising it regularly ever since. The film centers on a woman named Harper (Jessie Buckley) who takes a trip to the English countryside to escape recent trauma and meets a series of men who all want something from her, all have the same face and show all of them willing to assault him out of frustration if they don’t get what they want. Graphic male nudity plays a disturbing role in the film, but Garland says the anime’s inspirations weren’t as specific.
“The truth is, every time you see something really good, it encourages you to try harder, think harder, do better,” he says. “What The attack of the Titans was, it kind of gave me a jolt. And when you have a jolt, you have the ability to step out of what you’ve been working on and thinking about, and clear your head and start over and not think What was the idea I had at the start? but What is good for the film?”
Garland is a bit concerned that people will overestimate the impact of the animated series on his work: “It would be doing something wrong to give too much attention to it,” he says. “Because to me, a movie is a really fluid thing, taking in all kinds of things from all kinds of places – and most importantly, people – along the way.”
With that in mind, he dodges any specific questions about where he was in the process of writing or making the film when he got his inspiration. “There are The attack of the Titans-like changes that kept happening throughout the shooting process or the editing process,” he says. “Or it can be related to playing the piano, using a poem or whatever. It’s just that the whole movie is in a sort of constant fluid state, partly because it’s the product of a group of people working together and roleplaying in a conversation. All I’m really saying is that at some point one of the voices that came up and contributed to something at some point was The attack of the Titans.”
He says that in the end, the animated series was so impressive to him that it took him away from any complacency that might have crept into his cinema. “You know, it’s hard — when you see other people’s stuff and it’s really good, you kind of have two choices,” he says. “The first is to let yourself be intimidated by it and think, Should I do this at all? And the other is to think, No, I have to run faster. And I tried to respond by running faster.
Men opens in theaters May 20, 2022.