13 January 2007

Imagine No Laughter: Children of Men

Children of Men, based on P.D. James' book of the same name, is dark, dreary, gory, cynical and ..... yet, somehow, uplifting.

[ALERT: POSSIBLE SPOILERS. You've been warned.]

Clive Owen stars as Theo, a former activist, now cynical bureaucrat, who is enlisted by his former wife to help rebels in an infertile world near-fatally wounded by toxins, war, nuclear fallout, terrorism, and a jingoistic fear of illegal aliens; a world where the world's youngest person and biggest celebrity -- an 18 year old -- has just been killed in a senseless street melee. It seems at first that Theo is only involved for two reasons: money and the possibility of reuniting with his former love. Why he needs the money is unclear; he is hopeless, with no evident plans for anything, not even the state-recommended suicide option. (The commercials and billboards for the suicide drug are reminiscent of the suicide centers in Soylent Green, the Charlton Heston dystopia movie from the 70's.) It quickly becomes clear that the money doesn't matter and he won't be getting back with Julian (Julianne Moore); before long Theo is involved in an all-out fight to protect the only pregnant woman on the planet.

The movie is disquieting. London of 2027 is uncomfortably recognizable. The news and communal grief, even the celebrity status of the recently deceased 18-year old, Baby Diego, is shockingly familiar. The terrorist bombings, the gutted, bombed buildings, the police corruption, brutality and lack of preservation of basic human rights are completely understandable to today's audience. The world of the movie is the likely grim progeny of the evils that beset us today. Except there is one difference: there are no children. Without children, there is no kid laughter, no schools, only weed-filled playgrounds and abandoned children's hospitals. There is no hope for the dying human race.

The movie does a good job of portraying a believable world where nobody can be trusted and everything related to survival is politically motivated. The selfishness of the world is embodied in an early scene with Theo's brother, who lives in the heavily guarded 'Arc of Art' Tate Modern, with rescued but damaged works of art. That he would want to save great art including the iconic statute of David (perhaps ironic is more fitting than iconic, given the world state) but care none for saving his fellow humans sums up state of hopelessness that is 2027. The smoggy world of London is contrasted with the seemingly bucolic English countryside, although it is not immune from the world's toxicity, boasting a landscape filled with abandoned vehicles and burning mounds of animal carcasses. Even the forested hideaway where Theo first seeks shelter is on the doorsteps of a refugee camp with the look and feel of a bombed out Beirut. The infertility of the world is told in almost every shot -- banners proclaiming government fertility testing policies, ads on the television, childlike knickknacks on a middle-aged woman's desk, empty and burned out schools and play yards.

Children of Men is a riveting movie but it is not for those who are easily made queasy by violence and terror. The chase scenes are intense and the fight scenes are heart-pounding. The silver grey-green fog is oppressive and the old photographs of dead children gut-wrenching. And yet, when a newborn baby's cries are first heard, the world seems to lighten with emotion because there is wonder and hope for a possible antidote to the world's bleakness. In the end, the movie paradoxically leaves you feeling hopeful yet shell-shocked.

Stay through the credits; there is a small audio balm to soothe your soul.


litlove said...

How interesting, Cam, that you should have watched the movie just after Danielle read the book. I'm really squeamish with certain kinds of images, so I don't think I could take the movie, but I will certainly be looking out for the book now!

(un)relaxeddad said...

I've been dithering about whether to rent this or not but I'll definitely add it to my Amazon list now. The best kind of science fiction always tells us something about the present day, doesn't it?

Cam said...

Litlove, An acquaintance told me that it was a 'little gory'. I discounted the gore-factor because he said he didn't like gory movies at all. It was very gory, and only heightened by the realism of the movie and by the hand-held camera and long continuous shots. I must have missed Danielle's posts (I'm a little behind on my blog reading). I'll have to go see what she wrote about the book. I want to read the book now -- I've heard that there is a lot more to it than the movie, but then that's so often the case since so much narrative just doesn't translate well into film.

(Un)relaxed: Since you are a Londonder, I think you will especially appreciate the realism of the scenery in this film. Some of the external shots reminded me of your recent Euston Road photos, although your photos were not as gritty (which is a good thing, of course; how bleak to live in a world as gritty as in this film!) I liked how the city was so recognizable, yet jarring because it wasn't quite as it is, and that the filmaker didn't resort to scenes that scream LONDON, such as Parliament or St. Paul's (although one might argue that the Tate Modern has become just as iconic.)

danielle said...

Hi Cam--I really liked the book. It sounds as though they took certain liberties with the story in making the movie, but that is always the case, isn't it! The big elements all sound like they are there, and this is definitely a book that would translate well into a movie. I am looking forward to seeing it!