“Men” is a film that does not challenge the gender binary so much as wallow in it. Harper’s ill-fated getaway is suffused with dour shots of fertility idols and portentous biblical references; before she is terrorized by a pack of pathetic and violent men, she chomps an apple she’s plucked from someone else’s tree. Garland, the film’s director, has said that “messing around” with ancient masculine and feminine symbols led him to the image of “a guy with a vagina on his chest.” When that vagina births a succession of bad guys, rendering them all as laboring parents and mewling babes, it reads as a kind of misanthropic final judgment, as if men abusing women is a grotesque but ultimately inevitable cycle.
The imagery of “Resurrection,” on the other hand, originates from nowhere. There is no mythical antecedent to David smugly carrying his beer gut like a womb. He requires no padding or prosthetics. He just asserts that there’s a baby in there, and he does it with such psychological intensity that Maggie starts to believe him. Watching Roth’s riotously unsettling performance, I felt freed from the reality of my own pregnant body, and also a little bit won over. David’s claims are ridiculous, but so is pregnancy. Though I am of course aware of the biological process through which babies are made, it still feels so supernatural that if you told me that people get pregnant by gobbling up live infants, I might believe it.
After plodding through decades of pregnant-man tropes, “Seahorse” — a 2019 documentary that follows Freddy McConnell, a British journalist and trans man, as he conceives, carries and gives birth to his first child — came as a welcome relief. Finally, the image of the pregnant man is freed of the distortions of comedy, horror and metaphor and presented simply as a human experience. As McConnell endures the physical and mental trials of pregnancy, he must also contend with intense social pressures: He feels alienated from other men, patronized by women, ignored by medicine and estranged from his own identity.
The backlash against gender-neutral language like “pregnant people” — and the assertion that it somehow “erases” women — is unintelligible to me. It is the coding of pregnancy as the paramount expression of femininity that make me feel expunged. The gendered constructs of pregnancy work differently on McConnell’s body than they do on mine, but I identified closely with him. He describes pregnancy as a process, and that is clarifying. It is not an extension of my personality. It’s just the wildest thing I’ve ever done.
For me, the most unsettling image in the annals of pregnant-man movies came at the end of “Men” — not the birth scene, but the one that followed. Throughout her weekend of horror, Harper is in touch with a friend, Riley, who becomes so concerned for Harper’s safety that she drives overnight to find her. When Riley steps out of the car, we get the film’s final reveal: She’s pregnant! If pregnancy represents horror in a man, it is meant to signal the opposite in a woman — she must be nurturing, preternaturally understanding, good. I don’t know what I’m supposed to think about that, but I know how I felt: like a punchline to an old joke.