The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

More thoughts on “Children of Men”

You know, I was really kind of stunned by the movie, truth to tell. I was expecting something a little more effects-driven (there are some excellent, subtle digital effects, but “Children” could have done without them) and perhaps more action based. Don’t get me wrong: the action scenes are absolutely superb, but it’s all so well integrated that I never found myself thinking “here’s an action scene.” I occasionally noticed that the director was showing off a bit—doing an incredibly complex scene in a single shot. This creates a sense of sustained tension that is impressive, but in terms of clarity of depiction, well, the one-take approach suffers in comparison to more traditional methods.

Still, I simply have no complaints that are as important as the message this film had. At the core of life, of society, of our mental and spiritual health, it suggests, is the continuation of life, and that continuance takes the form of our children.

A world without children’s laughter is a dying world, and the spiritual malaise infecting Cuaron’s world is palpable, infects every frame, drains the joy from scenes and lives like a force of cosmic suction. This is a horror film about the death of hope on a global scale. If I had seen it last year, it would be on a very short list of “Best ofs.”

The pregnant woman at the core of the film is black, and if this was an American film, I think my antennae would have twitched at that. Ah, another spiritual guide, an opportunity for white folks to ennoble themselves.

But this is a British film, and I have noticed that Brits seem to have a slightly different relationship with their former Colonials than Americans have with their former slaves. The 2003 film “Love Actually” has a more matter-of-fact approach to interracial relationships than I have ever seen in a U.S. film, and quite disarmed me. So I was willing to look at the plight of pregnant Kee (Claire-Hope Ashitey) as that of a woman, not a symbol. Yes, it was irritating that she didn’t know who the father was, but that actually fits with a world in which there is no pregnancy. Meaningless, anonymous sex would be the norm, bonded loving relationships the exception. And the fine, fine Nigerian actor Chiwetal Ejiofor is on hand, avoiding the horrific “John Coffey” syndrome where a single black character somehow becomes an abstraction, not a human being with hopes, dreams and needs.

No. Kee is childish, wise, weak, strong, and a whorish Madonna. She is confused about what is happening to her, and exquisitely perceptive about her own path—she wants to have her child. She wants to find someone, somewhere she can trust, and when she places her faith in Clive Owen’s dispirited civil servant Theodore Faron, we are pulled along with her decision: there seems no one else in the world more appropriate to her plight. And if he is redeemed by his efforts, by her trust, it does not diminish her.

And when other people finally are aware of what is among them (I don’t want to be too specific), the way she is saluted and regarded was one of the most powerful scenes I have ever, ever seen in a movie. Believable to an absurd degree, and in an odd way echoed “The Pursuit of Happyness” in its statement that children are our life, that we are capable to doing things for them that we could not, would not do for ourselves.

As science fiction goes, it simply doesn’t get more relevant than this. There may or may not be tremendous climatic or biological threats in our future. But the risks associated with not remembering that our grandchildren are watching us, that our descendants two hundred years from now will judge us for what we do here, in the first hundred years of the new millennium…well, they are simply too high to ignore.

“Children of Men” is a terrific piece of filmmaking, and the first great film I’ve seen in 2007. The year is off to a very, very good start indeed.

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