Eye For Film >> Movies >> Alpha Male (2022) Film Review
Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode
There’s a theory in psychology about why most people are disinclined to step forward and take the lead in social situations unless they’re pushed, and it’s pretty simple: if everybody did it, people would fight constantly and nothing would ever get done. As a rule, society functions better and most people are happier when they settle for being followers or just not worrying about it, but that can be difficult when parts of society still insist that a man is not a real man unless he’s telling other people what to do. Piotr (Adam Bobik) is quite a relaxed, unassuming sort of guy and happy that way, but when, one day, he stumbles into the wrong support group and meets the Leader (Miroslaw Haniszewski) he is promptly informed that his happiness is an illusion. He is not, he’s told, in control of his life. He’s unhappy in his job and his girlfriend is pushing him around. For a fee, he can be shown how to fix this – and when he pleads poverty, he is persuaded to try it out for free.
Freedom is, in fact, a central concept in the Leader’s teachings. A man who is free cannot be manipulated, asked for assistance or given advice. He need take no account of the needs of others. This, Piotr is told, will make him irresistible to women. There’s only one woman he really wants to impress – his girlfriend Basia (voiced by co-director Katarzyna Priwieziencew in a series of phone calls), who encourages him to stay on the course because she wants him to develop sufficient willpower to give up smoking. If he calls her out on her unacceptable behaviour, the Leader says, she will perceive him as a much more exciting, dominant man, and will be ready to do anything he says. During these scenes, the other men in the group look as if they want to speak up, but far be it from them to interrupt a man whom some of them have been following loyally for years.
There have been a number of grim films on subjects closely related to this in recent years, so it’s nice to see it approached with humour and some measure of sympathy for all the characters. Exploitative and destructive he may be, but at his most extreme the leader is portrayed as someone in need of help rather than simply as a monster. The various exercises in which the class engages provide natural comedy whilst staying true to the conventions of such courses, and there are running gags based around the absurd layout and management of the building in which it is held. Although it sags a little in places and could do with losing 10 or 15 minutes, subplots constructed around the supporting characters help to sustain the pacing.
Bobik is a likeable lead and carries Piotr’s character arc well, though it might have been more interesting with a few more rough edges. Haniszewski gets the more interesting character but does less with it. There’s some effective humour around the fetishisation of objects, including a letter which has almost sacred status within the group, and around the sunk cost fallacy which compels group members to keep on believing against all the evidence.
Although the Leader clearly has a serious problem with women, the film avoids heavy use of misogynistic slurs, and its most disturbing scene substitutes a cloth doll for an actual female body. By taking away any excuses – the doll cannot have wilfully harmed anyone – this positions the rage turned against it as something which exists outside of material reality and requires no immediate provocation. It’s one of several little tricks which directors Igor and Katarzyna Priwieziencew use to keep the focus on how certain approaches to expressing masculinity damage men themselves independently of what they may or may not do to other people.
One final note: this film is full of sumptuous food (a plot point). Don’t go to see it when hungry or you will suffer and end up feeling persecuted.
Alpha Male screened as part of Fantaspoa 2022.Reviewed on: 23 Apr 2022