NO MEN BEYOND THIS POINT
Now that I have your attention, allow me to direct your attention to one of the smartest movies I’ve watched this year. Despite the title, everybody is allowed past this point and in fact, I encourage everybody to move past this point. This particular movie comes from Canadian filmmaker Mark Sawers and it was showcased at this past year’s Toronto International Film Festival.
I love smart, witty movies about current affairs. I especially adore movies that tackle gender politics in new and unique ways, while still ensuring that nobody feels particularly alienated in the process. The title alone might dissuade you of the fact, but NO MEN BEYOND THIS POINT is a creatively thought-out mockumentary about what the world would be like if women suddenly were just able to reproduce via parthenogenesis. Hilarity, chaos, and a dose of realism ensues.
Don’t bother trying to employ the Bechdel test here; you will confuse yourself, probably. I confused myself.
The first time I watched the trailer, I chuckled. I merely thought of it as yet another movie to rile up the anti-feminists and potentially some feminists. Gender politics are a tricky thing and I’ve found it is often quite difficult to encourage good discussion around the topic, especially on the internet. Outrage culture is at its peak, especially with the very real and important changes that are happening to today’s society. In the age of “political correctness” and censorship, this movie captures all of the nuances, behaviours and language…and then some.
It is 1953 when governments start noticing an influx of “virgin conceptions” where a woman does not need to have intercourse to reproduce. It is to the outrage of religious institutions and governments that so many women — including a nun! — are making these “blasphemous” claims. The claims are dismissed as women being hysterical and feeding off each other’s supposed lies. Life goes on and the world continues to be run by men.
Eventually, in the 1960s, it becomes clear there’s a real problem as not only are women conceiving children without intercourse, but almost all the babies are female. The men are, understandably frightened, as women collectively stop cooking, preparing the house, and showing up for secretarial and waitress jobs. An old news snippet shows that a corporate man forlornly states that he had to go retrieve his own coffee and wait for 20 minutes since no women were working. The male-run governments continue to be dismissive while believing that this will all blow over.
Eventually, women begin to take positions of political power, within the congress, and eventually seats on the World Governing Council, because it “should be representative of the fact that now over 60% of the population is female.” Naturally, the first female president comes to be well before the turn of the 21st century. Snickers resounded around the theatre.
The mockumentary primarily follows the testimony of a 37-year-old male, Andrew Myers, who is the youngest man in existence. He works for Iris and Terra who are partners and mothers to 4 young girls. He ponders his existence and wonders if other men feel resentful of him for being the last male born. Men, now old and significantly reduced in population, have mostly been relocated to secluded spots where they are fed and provided with activities to live out the rest of their days. Men who wish to continue being a part of society are like Andrew, living with families (composed of solely women) and helping out with housework. Andrew ends up becoming “intimate” with one of his employers (intimacy is frowned upon) and struggles with being sent to live in isolation with elderly and listless men who have come to accept that their gender is dying off.
In this alternate reality, the women in power have decided to adopt the monotonous mantra “Praise Nature,” which seems to have replaced religion, since God is, well, male. The largely female society is anti-sexuality, meaning that all women have basically become asexual and often do not opt for passion or romance in a partner. Society also does not encourage “crookedness” which is the equivalent of heterosexuality in our world. Men’s sperm can no longer permeate the supposed hardened shell of a woman’s ovum, another scientific feat thanks to “nature.” After all, the women argue, who are they to defy nature and evolution?
The beauty in this movie is the attention to the minute details. The filmmakers provided such a detailed world. It is a world where women all sync-up on their periods and weather forecasts now highlight the full-moon cycle and issue gentle warnings to be wary of family get-togethers. It is a world where women are “partners” as opposed to lovers because it kind of makes sense that women would turn to asexuality when faced with this new world. Women are also apparently responsible for nixing the internet, military programs, and NASA because “why would you send a man up to just stand on the moon?” What useless programs. The new World Governing Council puts money into science, research, nature conservation, and the aforementioned male resorts.
What if men no longer served a purpose on Earth? Wouldn’t it be strange? The movie argues that it is the stubbornness and egos of men that lead to their downfall. It showcases men who refuse to accept the new world order and opt to live in isolation in the woods. The women who are now in power offer a place for men to live, with controversy surrounding whether they are actually injecting estrogen into their supplied food in order to turn down their sexuality (they were, it turns out). Men are up in arms about it, obviously, but until it becomes increasingly clear that women have eclipsed in men in population and power. Science and nature have spoken and it appears that nature wishes to eradicate all of “mankind,” so the women appear to be in no rush to change anything.
Here’s the thing about Gender Politics.
I adore what this movie tried to do and I was thoroughly entertained throughout the entire sitting. It had a dry humour about it and toed the line between “hey, here’s an important message” and complete satire. It’s difficult to provide an extremely serious outlook on the state of gender politics
As with anything that attempts to delve into gender, sexuality, and feminism, there are bound to be some mishaps. As I mentioned before, it’s often difficult to construct good conversation and discussion points around these topics because of how volatile our interactions can get.
In order to drive the point home, Sawers employed tactics and commentary that were used to oppress gender and sexuality. When the women take power, their rule is excessively conservative. Their governing board consists of elderly, right-wing members (not much has changed in that regard). Sexuality is frowned upon and intimacy is rare and discouraged between partners. Women may raise children together for convenience, but marrying or partnering off out of love or passion has significantly decreased. In fact, Sawers swings so far away from female-on-female sexuality, including tidbits like an anti-sexuality campaign and education on how to encourage women to not masturbate.
The big “What If?” of this sci-fi/drama movie is developed via the destruction of the social and political constructs that we’ve come to know. In Sawers’ narrative, one extremely dominant gender is obviously not a good thing and seems to unevenly distribute advantages to women and what they might do if they were the majority of governing powers. The controversial protest groups that rise up include Anti-men Activists and a men’s group (probably MRAs in today’s terminology) that is often considered “hysterical” by mainstream news sites.
I’m conflicted mainly because I feel as if I have been conditioned to not take joy in a movie like this — one that aptly sums up the nature of how women have come to gain some footing on “common ground” with the men in society— with the roles reversed of course. Men have obviously not taken over the world to the extent that this movie displays, but it is undeniable that men have shaped the world we live in and the issues we face. However, I refuse to shy away from the happiness I feel upon seeing a movie like this when I see comments that dismissively pass it off as feminist propaganda, or those that cry sexism upon merely seeing the title of this film.
The movie ends on a high note and optimistic future for this dystopian/utopian society. Andrew and Iris embrace their intimacy and go public with their “crookedness” calling for equality and drawing attention to the fading male population. They are ecstatic to receive a real marriage certificate and to be accepted by growing numbers of the world population. It is with tearful smiles that they are ecstatic Eventually they even manage to figure out an in vitro fertilization tactic that allows his sperm to fertilize her egg, producing the first baby conceived by two people in decades. It’s kind of up in the air after that — have they paved the way for more men and women to pair off? Who else was harbouring these secret feelings of crooked heterosexuality?
Despite all the holes and shortcomings of the film, as an audience member, I felt happiness and empathy towards Andrew and Iris. Was I supposed to? Wasn’t I supposed to feel that the wrongs have finally been righted in this new world order?
Consider Andrew and Iris. They are finally given the chance to be happy. They’ve been given a chance to finally live the life they always wanted. They’ve started a movement and the beginning of something that could change the world again. It really drives the point home. The whole “What If” returns full circle and implies that there could be a “new normal.” I came out of the movie wondering if I could recall anything that really stuck out to me about this movie, but it ended up being all these little nuances and moments that did it.
So, there it is.
Surprise! It wasn’t some outrageous man-hating movie that encourages women to hate men. I mean, if you watched it thought that, I believe we were watching it very differently. But I embrace difference, change, and above all, a brighter future for everybody.
This movie features Tara Pratt, Kristine Cofsky, Patrick Gilmore, and Rekha Sharma. It was directed and written by Vancouver-native Mark Sawers.