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Alex Garland Scifi Films & Shows

Totenkindly

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I think there is only a scattering of posts about Garland's work, but maybe discussions of his body of work would fill a single thread...

General list:
1. 28 Days Later (writer)
2. Sunshine (2007, writer)
3. 28 Weeks Later (rewrites)
4. Never Let Me Go (Writer)
5. Dredd (Writer, uncredited directing)
6. Ex Machina (Director/Writer)
7. Annihilation (Director/Writer)
8. Devs (Director/Writer) -- TV show, FX on Hulu
9. Men (Director/Writer)

He has also written a few books, including The Beach (which got made into the DiCaprio film some years later).

I think he's fascinating, in terms of viewing technology's impact on the personal human level. He takes big concepts but channels them and how they relate to individuals/characters. So his films are provocative from a thinking POV, while also have a rich depth of character and the personal, they feel very real.

(In comparison, Michael Creighton seemed a bit less philosophical and more interested in the tech aspects; he also tends to be a little more external with his characters, whereas Garland is dropping right into their inner souls.)

If anyone notices, my tagline on this forum is actually a quote from Sunshine -- "Hey Capa, we're only stardust."

Mostly i am starting this thread to discuss Devs. This is a self-contained story in eight episodes. I have only seen the first six but suspect the story is completed at the end of the eight-episode arc. The production quality is excellent, and it does remind me (with the musical references) of Annihilation in that regard. Garland also pulls no punches with the emotional impact of some plot points; my jaw was hanging open a number of times when things have happened in the show. He is not afraid to let space and silence linger, and tell the story through visual/audio means at times, without dialogue or scripting. It's gorgeous and heady.

I like how in hindsight all the plotting feels inevitable/rational, but when things go a certain way, I feel surprised at the time.

Since the show deals with determinism and free will, this is not be unexpected. (And really, it is more an exploration of determinism and the quantum multiverse). I don't want to spoil things, but it really leads one to contemplate how we want to feel like we have decisions that are made in a vacuum, but what could be simulated if we had the processing power to include all the variables that impact a course of events?

ANother thing I really enjoy about Devs is that the character are all very unique, and while you might see some characters as good and some as bad, they are all just rather human -- the worse people have understandable motives and good qualities, and the good people are flawed. It's really fascinating, I have mixed feelings about many of them, and it makes them feel more real. ALso, this is a show with SMART characters... and they all typically actually act in smart ways.. .except for the occasional dumb thing they do not because they are dumb but because they are human beings with emotions. It's just been very solid.

Nick Offerman is great. So is the lead (Sonoya Mizuno). I still have to give Alison Pill an MVP especially in episode 6; she's a great actress who sometimes doesn't get great parts. (I think most people are most aware of her now from being in the Picard series... but it's not really a great role. She SHINES brilliantly here, though. The first time I saw her was as a patient on HBO's "In Treatment" some years ago.) Also, they have a woman playing a male role; the character is not trans, but the effect is that he feels very YOUNG. She does an excellent job with the part, it's again fascinating as part of this surreal think tank of Devs. The end result is that these people feel like people I would know IRL or could meet. And it is tying into the theme of determinism -- you can see how all these events (which impact them on a person level) contribute to their later decisions.

Also about the Dev machine"


This is one of those shows where I want to rush to the end but am feeling very sad now because there's only two episodes left to the story. I will be crushed when it is over.
 
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Totenkindly

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He pretty much singlehandedly revitalized the interest in zombie movies too. Which can be taken as both a good and a bad thing, I suppose, because while it led to some new classics and a revitalized interest in past classics, we also got a lot of schlock released to capitalize on the new interest.

I would definitely consider 28 Days Later a zombie film, despite some people saying otherwise, and the freshest take on the genre since the original Dawn of the Dead. One of the best examples of horror maximizing potential for biting social commentary, In the spirit of the master Romero. Those are horror films with soul and a sense of conscience.

Yeah, it seems to fall within his purview -- he wasn't just concerned with the zombies themselves, but he's also focusing on how dealing with the zombie plague changes us as human beings both individually/morally as well as socially. Jim is trying to figure out how his own ethics changed, and we have the counter-example of the soldiers who try to establish order in the chaos but also creating a group where some members (esp female) are forced into certain roles.

I don't want to hate on 28 Weeks Later, it's not as interesting as the first film, but it's got some fascinating moments in it including moments of courage/cowardice as well as sacrifice versus not. ANd honestly the opener is one of my favorite "Craziest moments in cinema" I've seen over the years. I still laugh thinking about it... and it's all so hopped up.
 

Julius_Van_Der_Beak

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I'm going to check out Devs once I finish Legion. I imagine it will scratch myitch for crazy, trippy, beautifully shot Sci-fi TV.
 

Totenkindly

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Finished episode 7 over lunch. Oh man, oh man... my heart is breaking, there is a lot going on.

i hate summarizing this as "free will" vs "determinism" -- because it is just running far, far deeper than that... or into all the nooks and crannies that most cinema/shows don't bother to address. It is very rare that I spend a lot of a TV episode fearful for the well-being and lives of the main characters -- because either I know what is coming and/or I just don't care that much. But here, I just don't know, and yet what happens seems inevitable. It's a beautiful example of how a show's themes can be reflected in the character and plotting. There was at least one reveal in this episode that I feel like an idiot for never even thinking about, because it seems very obvious in hindsight.

Again... Alison Pill is also great like she was in episode 6. They finally really started giving her some central role in the story.

One thing to raise here, talking about the impact of technology on humans: If you KNEW what was going to happen, would you feel motivated to change it? And why? It's really fascinating here -- because being human seems to be equated with choosing to act and invest in others even when the outcome might be certain but we're not sure, but if we are sure of the outcome and cannot change it, then this can remove our impetus to act, we became the cogs in the wheel, and just watch everything fall as we might expect... and in a way we feel like we have become less human, less caring. As explored at one point in the show, if everything is determined, we are not culpable; but if we have choice, then we are guilty for our failures and bad choices.

But it can be a self-fulfilling prophecy, because I can look at this and both realities still exist at once: Some characters simply accept the inevitability of fate, and others seem to fight against it even when they know they can't change it, at the very least because they want to understand WHY they are doing what they are doing.

It reminds me a bit of the clunkier dialogue in Matrix Reloaded -- the Merovingian had a lot to say about determinism, and how if you did not understand why you were doing what you did, you were simply the pawns of the system and the people who DID understand...

The thing, those who want to understand, and those who try to rebel -- why? Is it because they are making a choice, or simply because everything in their lives has shaped them into a person who would rebel? Or their DNA is contributing to a rebellious F.U. attitude?
 

Totenkindly

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Rewatching Ex Machina now, and comparing to the script in the A24 hardback my kids bought me for Christmas. It's interesting to see how close it is, yet what things got changed/pulled.

Also weird seeing Sonoya Mizuno in her non-speaking role as Kyoko, after seeing her in a speaking part throughout Devs. It's one of those cases where Garland tailored the role to suit her -- her Lily is very soft-spoken and mostly monotone, she's not necessarily a great voice actor, but she definitely acts better through her body and expressions, that is her strength. It's really clear watching her here as Kyoko, who doesn't speak at all, but who is exquisite in her facial expressions and body movements.

Regarding Ava and her intentions:
 

Totenkindly

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I did watch the finale of Devs. I had a few issues with it. It wasn't BAD, and in fact parts of it were quite good, but I am having trouble articulating what those issues are. Some of them might be cathartic -- I did not like the general resolution to some characters, although I think it all ended well in the last five minutes.

Also, the major plot point I felt did not follow from everything else. It was a changing of the premise, rather than an inevitable conclusion like everything preceding it. So I was bothered by it. It's unfortunate it is the culmination of the entire story arc, because then that kind of inconsistency is like pulling a keystone out from the arch.

Don't get me wrong, this was a great series. It's just that one moment really bugged me.

Also, in the 30 minutes of resolution, it's a little confusing to understand what happened, but if you read recaps and rewatch, it is more obvious.

One thing I think is cool is watching Episode 1 again after finishing the series, and noting the parallels. This is one of those series that is good for a rewatch, because earlier scenes that might not have made much sense or the language felt opaque if only you knew more about what was going on, well, now you can interpret it all with more sense.
 

Totenkindly

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I finished my DEVS rewatch like in two days.

Kind of cool rewatching since I could focus on looking for things I missed on first pass, plus I could recognize certain scenes and characters that were foreshadowed but on first past I would not have recognized this. I felt like I was getting a better handle on why certain things played out certain ways and what the point was.

the CGI is pretty great (in service to story). Like, the fuzzy data swarming and continually reforming into recognizable images and sounds as it coalesces. Or the scenes involving Many Worlds, where you can see alternative realities play out superimposed on each other, sometimes with emotionally devastating results. The devs area / machine is absolutely breathtaking in color and design, resonating with spiritual energy. There's an occasional harrowing bit of CGI that doesn't even look like CGI. I love how it is not eye candy for its own sake but used to tell a story rather than show off.

Nick Offerman and Alison Pill are great as the self-selected "priesthood" of the DEVS system, with their ruthless/unrelenting faith in determinism. I've seen them referred to as the "clergy w/ doubt" and the "clergy w/o doubt" respectively and that is a fair description. In fact, all the acting is superb aside from the protagonist, who is sufficient but struggles a bit with natural line readings. Mizuno is really great with body acting (see her in Ex Machina and Annihilation) and with some scenes here as well, like when she reacts to news about Sergey in e1, but not as talented/natural with her line reads; Garland helps alleviate this a bit with assigning her character a profession of encryption programming. it doesn't alleviate the problem completely but making her character soft-spoken, monotone, and detached subsumes some of her acting weaknesses into the character so it's not nearly as distracting. I feel like a stronger performance might have really pushed DEVS into the elite ranks (giving it that little extra oomph) but oh well. the secondary cast is very strong.

On second watch, I think I'm grasping the end a bit better, although it isn't completely satisfying. there is also an uneasy marriage here between determinism and choice, as we see people trying to make choices but even when there's something that you might be tempted to label a choice, it's like the system just subsumes it back into itself and the overall outcome remains similar.

the series does have a number of significant twists, at least -- in both momentary surprises as well as overall plotting -- that make it enticing to watch.

I think Garland really falls into humanistic scifi while pointing out the horrific elements of such encounters with the non-human. I think his stuff typically borders on horror if not diving right into it (like 28 Days Later). Sometimes the horror is how humans respond to each other in the face of new / unknown technology, but typically it's the thing where we are self-aware and yet are just meat machines at the mercy of forces bigger than ourselves. We project an illusion of control, but that is what it is -- an illusion -- and in the end we're still vulnerable to either the monsters of nature (of which we are part of, as biological entities) or to the aliens that our technology creates for us.

I will probably watch Sunshine again soon, I love the general ending but also the character interplay. Capa -- a normally thinking / passive character -- is forced into action to directly enter a situation he has been having nightmares about the whole trip, and yet the last five minutes of the film is really this bit of singular beauty, involving physics and the birth of light and being transfixed in that place as a space of wonder.
 

yeghor

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I liked the first half of Sunshine which was more Scifi-like, then they unnecessarily turned it into a thriller in the second half.

I liked Devs too, partly because am a fan of Sonoya Mizuno.

I liked Dredd with Stallone better than the newer one though it was a bit cheesy sometimes.

28 Days and Weeks movies were quite nice too.
 

Totenkindly

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I liked the first half of Sunshine which was more Scifi-like, then they unnecessarily turned it into a thriller in the second half.

My favorite half of the film is up to about the time they get back from exploring the other ship. I wasn't bothered as much by the tonal shift, because I still see a connecting element here. Obviously something had to happen to the first ship, so this is what happened and it's just a continuation of that. But also the film is exploring the dangers of fundamentalism (and DEVS is this way too, a bit). Extremity among humans is self-destructive.

I really like how in the first half, we also see the same kind of almost spiritual reverence towards the sun expressed by Kaneda and by Searle. Both seem to be invested in staring into the sun as if trying to understand its mysteries, and with an almost religious reverence... like a spiritualist would try to contemplate the nature of God but can't quite ever ferret the divine out. In this case, it's almost an act of submission to the sun and its mysteries, which affect mainly just themselves in terms of outcome. But Pinbacker is different, he rechannels that religious fervor into something destructive against those who he perceives as infidels.

It's kind of pitting nurturing spiritualism against destructive/violent spiritualism. So maybe it feels like a tonal change, but thematically it's still part of the same story.

Of course what Capa experiences is like an act of unfolding creation and resurrection, it's beautiful and a transcendent experience. Mankind, in the face of the outrageous power of nature and physics, it's both terrifying in how BIG it can be compared to ourselves and yet this glorious experience if we can set aside the fear.
 

Totenkindly

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Went to look for his upcoming projects. Looks like this:

Men (upcoming film) - Wikipedia

Men is an upcoming horror drama film written and directed by Alex Garland. The film stars Jessie Buckley and Rory Kinnear.

On January 6, 2021 it was announced that Alex Garland will write and direct a film for A24, with Jessie Buckley and Rory Kinnear in talks to star.[1] In April 2021, following allegations of abuse, Scott Rudin was removed as a producer on the film.[2]

Principal photography began on March 19, 2021 and expect to conclude on May 19, 2021, in the United Kingdom.[3][4][5]

Interesting, that means if they were on schedule, they finished shooting on Weds.
Apparently Garland's birthday is next Weds.

I remember hearing stuff about Rudin, I forget what the specifics were right now. People are so freaking mottled. I know one of the good things Rudin did was championing Garland on Annihilation, when the studio wanted to screw it up to make it more commercial; Rudin held power of final cut and refused to compromise. Edit: looks like he was abusive towards employees (physically and emotionally) and was terminated from A24 so he could self-admittedly work on his issues. Good grief.
 

Totenkindly

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I did end up rewatching Sunshine tonight.

One thing I like about Garland as a writer is that he's a methodical logical writer who sets up everything in his stories to make sense, connect together, and follow. This makes for sensible/cohesive scripts.

There's multiple examples of this, but two things I noticed again tonight in Sunshine is:

- There's a shot early in the film of Mace dropping his wrench into the cooling fluid housing the mainframe. His hand is in there only a second and it really hurts him because it's so damned cold. Not only does this set up Mace to tackle the mainframe issue later, but it frames the scenario as well when you realize what Mace needs to do.

- Capa is the only character we see in the gold suit (aside from Kaneda) -- he's in the suit TWICE in the film, before the climactic scene is reached where he has to put himself in the suit and do his hell trek. So the film sets up that Capa knows how to wear this suit and function within it, and we've also had experience with how slowly it moves / how it's pretty clumsy even if it is very protective.

All of this is immersive, it allows the viewer to make connections as the film moves forwards as if we were part of the crew because we are acquainted with background, environment, and so forth as the crew is. there's other stuff too (like we become acquainted very early with the observation deck and how much of the sun's light needs to be screened to protect those within it). And Garland is not clumsy about how he inserts it. We're seeing various crew go about their daily work, so of course we see Mace doing routine work. Capa doesn't even volunteer to go out in the suit the first time; Mace volunteers him because he blames Capa for the deviation from the mission; and due to the bad blood between them (which started with Capa took too long to send a message home, preventing Mace from sending his final farewells), we understand why Mace is so pointed about it and we ALSO understand why Capa just says yeah, he'll go out there and meet Mace's challenge. everything seems to unfold very naturally.

it seems pretty clear that Capa and Cassie have a thing going on between them.

there's also this interesting debate over Trey, which cracks me up because the director and writer disagreed -- very similar to how the directors and writers of Avengers Endgame disagreed on whether Steve lived out his life in a time branch or the actual timeline. Makes you wonder how they manage to create a cohesive story without agreeing on something so fundamental, but... anyway, back to Trey:

 

Totenkindly

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okay, third time is the charm for DEVS. I feel like I got a real handle on it this time. My son wanted to see it, and this was his first watch, and then we could discuss. We also blitzed the last six episodes today. (Wow.)

Lily's Choice


The Many Worlds ending
 
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Totenkindly

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Julius_Van_Der_Beak

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I liked Annihilation a great deal. This is the first I've heard about this movie.

Haven't seen Devs yet, either.
 

Totenkindly

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I'm thrilled they ever let him make Annihilation and let his team have final cut. (Despite all the shitty stuff Scott Rudin did over his career that finally ran him into the ground, one thing he did right was fighting claw and nail to not allow any studio modifications of the film.)

Maybe it didn't make box office history in terms of money but damn it's a movie I will watch repeatedly the rest of my life.
 

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I'm thrilled they ever let him make Annihilation and let his team have final cut. (Despite all the shitty stuff Scott Rudin did over his career that finally ran him into the ground, one thing he did right was fighting claw and nail to not allow any studio modifications of the film.)

Maybe it didn't make box office history in terms of money but damn it's a movie I will watch repeatedly the rest of my life.
One thing I love about it is the idea is that this crazy thing that changes everything, it might make sense not to view it as destruction, but rather as making something new.
 

Totenkindly

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One thing I love about it is the idea is that this crazy thing that changes everything, it might make sense not to view it as destruction, but rather as making something new.
yeah, it's a fascinating film about change ultimately, and how all the characters react to it. For some, the changing is terrifying, for others it is blessed relief. The film does deal with the fears of that and there's definitely a parallel to the cancer cells that start the film (cancer is mutation aka change), and it is coupled with the idea that humans do tend to destroy themselves over time almost as an act of inevitability. Yet it can also just mean becoming someone or something new. Also, the idea that the alien force isn't necessarily "evil," it is just refracting and changing things because that's what it does, it just scrambles information into new configurations, but humans can view change as a loss of stable sense of self -- we are no longer who we were, we are something else than what we were yesterday.

Garland also has the balls to not try to package it neatly or try to provide clear answers, he just injects us into the situation and we experience it and watch it play out and feel the same discomfort as the characters. It's haunting, like Ventriss changing below the lighthouse.

it's crazy to also watch the last minute or so of Josie, in the garden area, on slow mo. Talk about a great use of CGI, and I think you can figure out based on the position of all the plants which is which.
 

Totenkindly

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Saw Men this morning. As expected, it was a packed house -- ha ha, just kidding, it was me, my kid, and some random guy we didn't know. We didn't bother wearing masks.

I've seen a number of reviews since, and this is the one that I think best describes it. I'll be happy to read reviews without any puns on the word "man" honestly, because they get old pretty fast.


My overall opinion is that this film is beautifully made and acted, but is somewhat opaque and mostly exists to trigger responses and conversation (note the review I posted) rather than be entirely clear. Some of Garland's other works are more accessible; in this sense, the film most resembles "Annihilation" in that it generates more gut reaction that can't quite be articulated and only muddy interpretations. It is maybe the most "on the nose" film he has made regarding men behaving badly (because frankly this is not something new for Garland, if you look at the last third of "28 Days Later" and "Ex Machina") but I think the film digs deeper than most of the crap amateur reviews I have seen that only seem to deal with its superficial elements. It can actually trigger some great conversation if you find others who actually want to discuss the ideas and imagery, rather than just react or diss on the film. I think it goes deeper than "men suck."

For example, there's a reason why it's far more common for men to kill women who don't provide them the affirmation they want; women typically have a different response. There's a reason why we had men putting women on pedestals and making them the object of romantic quest for centuries in our history and literature. The film isn't even suggesting that some of this is purposeful; there's actually a lot of small things in the film that I don't think the men (all typically represented by Rory Kinnear in the film -- I am still wondering whether they are supernaturally versions of Kinnear, or whether Buckley's character is just perceiving them that way, or whether it's just a signal to the audience that they are all variations on a theme, it's a question Garland doesn't really answer? It's fascinating to me that Kinnear represents "all men" in that regard, as if her trauma is from her ex-husband, then why don't they resemble him?) are even trying to do, but they do assume the role of a woman in a man's world in some way and don't even realize it can place a woman in fear or at disadvantage. There also seems to be something in some kinds of masculinity that is desperate for female affirmation (hey, incels, anyone?) and that will lead men to respond aggressively when they don't receive it.

One more on the nose example and that was in the trailers (so I am not spoiling anything) is when Harper picks up an apple on her way into the rental cottage and takes a few bites because it looks delicious, and Geoffrey the caretaker looks at her and sternly says, "Mustn't do that, forbidden fruit and all," and she blanches wondering if she made a dreadful error, and then he relaxes and says he was just joking -- but it's still not clear whether he honestly was. (Kinnear makes it come across as off-kilter.) It's a common notion in Christianity that Eve was at fault for tempting Adam with the apple, forcing humanity into original sin -- she's the fall of man (which is why some conservative denoms say women now must be subservient to their husbands) -- and it's just a weird little thing near the movie's start that triggers a whole host of social jabs where Harper is being blamed for, used for, or subsumed into some male expectation, especially because she is strongly wrestling with guilt over the earliest scenes of the film.

A powerful moment relating more to female fear (before the overt "stalking" incident) involves the underpass we see in the trailer as well:


The end of the film is the infamous "body horror" sequence that I won't describe because part of its power is just the WTF-ness of it, and it's one of those things that is so crazy that I was both deeply disturbed but also started shaking with stifled laughter as a reaction because I simply did not know how else to respond. I can kind of "feel" what it was trying to say but I can't really put it well into words. I thought it was just as cool as anything I've seen in a Cronenberg film.

Anyway, Garland himself said he viewed this film as 50% filmmaker and 50% audience in terms of the meaning of its content, and this is entirely what is going on -- the film will cause a response of some kind but it's more interesting to discuss the elements of it and what they might mean than it is to have a clear understanding.

For me personally, as far as my enjoyment of this film and his 9 works I listed in the OP, I'd place it around #6-7. I like everything Garland has worked on, there's just things I have enjoyed more. I appreciate that it's not easily interpreted but I might have also appreciated more fleshing out of Harper and her husband or a better explanation of the Green Man and Sheela Na Gig imagery throughout the film and tying it more solidly into the themes. The end can also be a bit confusing in determining what literally happened versus just symbolically in Harper's mind, there are mixed details.
 
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Julius_Van_Der_Beak

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For example, there's a reason why it's far more common for men to kill women who don't provide them the affirmation they want; women typically have a different response. There's a reason why we had men putting women on pedestals and making them the object of romantic quest for centuries in our history and literature. The film isn't even suggesting that some of this is purposeful; there's actually a lot of small things in the film that I don't think the men (all typically represented by Rory Kinnear in the film -- I am still wondering whether they are supernaturally versions of Kinnear, or whether Buckley's character is just perceiving them that way, or whether it's just a signal to the audience that they are all variations on a theme, it's a question Garland doesn't really answer? It's fascinating to me that Kinnear represents "all men" in that regard, as if her trauma is from her ex-husband, then why don't they resemble him?) are even trying to do, but they do assume the role of a woman in a man's world in some way and don't even realize it can place a woman in fear or at disadvantage. There also seems to be something in some kinds of masculinity that is desperate for female affirmation (hey, incels, anyone?) and that will lead men to respond aggressively when they don't receive it.
Interesting. I actually really enjoy discussions about the role of gender on society. Sometimes certain things produce a kneejerk reaction in me, but if I stop and try imagine myself in the other person's shoes, I can usually see where they are coming from.

I'm wondering now about common differences in reactions to romantic rejection from women as opposed to men. Let's say we have two rivals viaing for the affection of one person of the opposite gender. If the rivals are both men, is the man more likely to take it out on the woman if she rejects him in favor of someone else? If the rivals are both woman, are they more likely to fight each other rather than take it out on the man?

I suspect this is the case but somehow I feel you might have more insight on the situation.
 
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