Monday, April 09, 2007

Children of Men

I saw the movie Children of Men last night. It was a frustrating (and horribly violent) movie, in that the story (and certainly the ending) was less than satisfying. And yet I've come to the conclusion that the story was not the point. Rather, the movie exists to paint a picture - to create an image in our minds - that is absolutely stunning. I haven't seen such powerful imagery in a movie in a long time.

(there may be "spoilers" ahead - but since I didn't think the story was the point, I can't imagine this will "spoil" anything)

The premise of the movie is an inexplicable catastrophy caused universal infertility among human beings roughly around the present day, and tell the story roughly twenty years later. The effect was to take the problems that we have - the environmental issues, immigration crises, terrorism, war, the decline of civility and morality - and then add the infertility thing on top and watch those problems multiply 100x. The image of our world without children was one of utter horror and despair. It was lacking all hope and future, plunging into anarchy and chaos.

And then, place in the middle of it, a woman and a newborn child, with a man shepherding and desperately trying to protect them. The contrast between the violent power of the men and the utter helplessness of the child was stunning. And yet the overbearing force of the government and the treacherous cunning of the rebels both stopped in breathless awe at the sight of the child. The last scenes were of the baby and the mother quietly floating out onto the water to safety, as the planes began to bomb the war-torn town to oblivion. Their power was crushing, but ultimately impotent. Their time was at an end. This baby would outlast them.

The Biblical imagery was quite strong - I thought of Mary and Joseph desperately looking for a place to stay to have the baby, then fleeing for their lives from Herod's soldiers. Here again an all-powerful empire was in the business of crushing a determined resistance. Herod was politically threatened by the Child. The Jewish resistance wanted to use the child for their own national ambitions. But ultimately all their agendas would come to ruin. This child was brining life itself to a world enslaved by death, and at his name every knee would bow.

O come let us adore him, Christ the Lord.

It's a gritty film.

I thought the ending fit the film, but it wasn't "happy" or even redemptive, as some people thought. Rather, the whole film was so pessimistic that I didn't see how this baby would improve things.

But that said, it was one of the best films of 2006.

You didn't see how the baby would improve things? The entire world had gone to pot because it had no children and no hope. Here was the miracle that meant not only would the human race survive, but that the human race might have a chance to learn to hope again. Children were the only thing that would redeem the world of that movie.

Of course, you would certainly need more than one of them, but it was sure a start! ;-)

Well, 2 things:

1. They didn't figure out the reason for infertility, so the audience doesn't know if the "problem" was really solved.

2. The baby was the center of violence for the revolution, although the British calmed down around the child. I imagine that some crackpot would kill it. Since there were plenty of violent crackpots, that's an easy conclusion.

Like I said, I'm just extrapolating the pessimism of the movie to what I think would happen the next day. The fishing boat could just as easily be a trap.

I thought this was, hands down, the best film of 2007. From a film-making point of view, it was nearly flawless and endlessly inventive. (I didn't have a problem with then ending at all, it was very much in line with the dystopic theme.)

From a world-view point of view, the brilliance of this movie was the way it allowed itself to be so many things to so many people. Personally, I was bored with the Abu Gharib references and the "anti-immigrationists are fascists" themes, but I was struck dumb by the power of the fertility issue.

I've never before seen a film in which the lack of future was so convincingly portrayed. The film showed an entire world that understood that death, and all the finality that accompanies it, was slowly coming upon them.

This is where the child comes in... the child does not represent the future. A quick survey of reality informs us that this only delays the death of humanity a few short years.

Instead, the child represents the importance of hope to mankind. We must hope in a future, hope in a better world, hope that life goes on... no matter how much reality tried to destroy our hope, we must hope to remain alive.

It is in this issue of hope and children that I thought this film to be so potent. I know dozens of people who practically despise children... despise them for the burden they place on the parents, for the cost, for the mess, and (though many of them won't admit this part) for the amount of responsibility they require. But strip everything away, the superficial parts of our lives and world, and there are very few things more important, more valuable and more miraculous than children. (We saw this most powerfully in the scene where the presence of a single living child momentarily froze all the fear, all the anger, and all the war that had consumed the world.)

Anyway, didn't mean to take over the comment section, but I LOVED this movie... Funnily enough, none of my friends here is Salt Lake City seemed to appreciate my take on the movie.

I thought it was second only to Pan's Labrynth for Best Picture of 2006. PL was slightly more poignant, to me at least.

Those are good points there and all valid, Matthias.

As for cinematography, I think you might be right. That ambush scene in the car was amazing. All one long shot - completely brilliant.


Fair enough on your last point. Since I don't often give ground in our sparring, I thought I'd take this opportunity to do so. ;-)

Thanks for your thoughts, Matthias. I heartily concur - especially coming to terms with the value of children. As you well know, that resonates with me more than it used to.

I'm right there with you on Pan's Labyrinth, Royal. Brilliant film, wonderful, beautiful, vicious...

For me, its a matter of emphasis. In recent years, I've been struck by how important children are and how amazing the gift of life is. Add to that how so many in our society de-value children, treating them as a nuisance and looking down on those who see children as miracles from God.

Within this context, "Children of Men" struck me to the bone, catapulting it to the top of my list for the year.

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