Virtual Bourgeois

Just An Analog Guy Trying to Upgrade For a Digital World

It is Sunday and I’ve Seen Children of Men

Posted by Gerald on July 8, 2007

It is Sunday morning and we are headed for a high of 96 today.

I’ve been posting and commenting a lot this weekend.  All of my friends have plans or are out of town and I have no one to go play with 😦

As a result, I was home last night and I watched a dvd of Children of Men directed by Alfonso Cuarón.  This is a story set in 2027, eighteen years after the last child has been born.  It is set in Britain, which has realized Tom Tancredo’s wildest dreams for this country by closing itself off from the rest of the world and aggressively hunting down and deporting the “fugies” (illegal immigrants) who have tried to escape the horrors that characterize much of the rest of the world.

The plot centers around Theo (Clive Owen), a former activist who is now holding down a bureaucratic job and going through the motions of his life.  His state is clearly meant to echo that of the whole world.  We discover that he had been married and had lost a child during a flu pandemic (in 2008).  Theo is contacted by his ex-wife (or maybe just estranged, it is hard to tell) Julian (Julianne Moore) who is part of a radical group working to help the illegal immigrants.  She wants his help getting papers for a girl named Kee, who we discover is an illegal immigrant and who is pregnant.  What follows is an odyssey through this dystopian world as Theo tries to help Kee and her midwife Miriam get to the coast to meet a boat from a semi-mythical group called the “Human Project” which is working to solve the problem of human infertility.

The real core of this movie isn’t the story.  Cuarón provides a vivid picture of a world without any hope.  The film is at its strongest when it shows small moments against the backdrop of the end of humanity.  Theo’s cousin Syd, who helps him get the papers for Kee, is part of an art preservation project for the government.  What they are trying to do is preserve art from vandals and terrorists who are destroying it in this miasma of despair.  When Theo asks Syd how he keeps doing this when he knows no one will be around to these work anymore one hundred years on, Syd says he just doesn’t think about it.  Sitting in a long abandoned school, Miriam tells Theo about the escalation of miscarriages she had seen 18 years before and the day she realized she had no appointments scheduled more than seven months in the future – and after calling other midwives that none of them did either.

“As the sound of the playgrounds faded, the despair set in.  Very odd, what happens in a world without children’s voices.”

Dystopian films can often get buried in their own world background (Soylent Green) but that doesn’t really happen here.  I think this film is ultimately about fatherhood – and hence the title.  This could have been a film about motherhood – in fact that would almost be the natural way for this story to unfold.  In this case we have a story about fathers, both good and bad, and their roles.

Theo was a father who was destroyed by the loss of his child and who comes alive again as he becomes a sort of father to Kee’s baby.  Michael Caine is fantastic as Jasper, who may or may not be Theo’s actual father but is everything a father should be for him.  The negative aspects of fatherhood are embodied in Luke (Chiwetel Ejiofor), who wants control of the baby for his own ends and who intends to remake the child into his own image.

It would have been easy to make this into a blatantly Christ-like story – the miracle child who will save humanity – and the writer even nods to this:

Theo: “Who is the father?”
Kee: “Whiffet!  I’m a virgin.” pause “Nah! Be great though, wouldn’it?”

Kee doesn’t know who the father is among all the possible candidates.  The facelessness of the baby’s father creates a space for both of the would-be fathers in the film to step into that role.  It may also suggest the title – that men are the fathers of children and have a responsibility to them.  That there is always a struggle between Theo – the father who wants to guide and protect – and Luke – the father who wants to control and exploit.

This is an excellent piece of science fiction.  It takes a scientific premise – the collapse of fertility in humans – and uses that to tell a very human story.  This isn’t about latex and special effects, it is about using speculation to explore who we are.  I wish we could see more movies like this and I highly recommend it to everyone.

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3 Responses to “It is Sunday and I’ve Seen Children of Men”

  1. Steve said

    Hmm… sounds a bit like The Road— at least in its contemplation of the big stuff through despair and hopelessness. Been meaning to catch this one for a while now…

  2. Gerald said

    I don’t think this will provoke as profound a response as you’ve described for that novel, but it is worth checking out.

  3. Steve said

    Yeah… don’t mistake my idiot ramblings for profundity! (cue modest music… Mahler, maybe 😉

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