Archive for Children of Men

Children of Men – Our Dark Future

Posted in close analysis with tags , , , on November 30, 2008 by babydylan

Children of Men is one of Eugene and Alex’s favourite films. Together they have watched it many times and conversation always seems to stem back to this film is one way or another. It even inspired the name of this blog. Eugene had a few thoughts which wouldn’t leave him alone and thus he had to get it out. Alex, while editing, managed to slip in a couple of her points as well. This piece will probably be only one of many but for now, here are some of the ideas Children of Men inspires…

Even now, after having scene this film for the umpteenth time I can still watch any scene of Children of Men over and over again. You could take any scene within the film and still find that each segment has its own almost hypnotic effect. Its so real its almost therapeutic, seeing a glimpse of a future that is free from flying cars, space ships and robot minions yet is instead occupied with people struggling for normality in view of their hopeless situation. It is apparent from the opening scene, of our protagonist Theo Faron forcing his way through a crowd of stunned cafĂ© patrons over the death of the youngest boy in the world, that the world the characters inhabit is bleak and visibly crumbling. Theo’s blatant lack of compassion at Baby Diego’s death is at once jarring and expository as the other patrons are so overwrought with grief they cannot continue with their daily routine, yet Theo continues unperturbed getting his daily coffee, black and bitter.

Every scene within the film is orchestrated to portray the corrupt world that is common in Noir storylines yet this film, set in 2027, takes place in a damaged future that mirrors our own yet with subtle differences. Every time I describe the picture to someone – to those poor souls who have been unfortunate enough to not have seen it – I’ll tell them that it’s the most plausible vision of the future I have ever seen in a film. In fact, the verisimilitude of this film is so plausible that I more at home in Theo’s world than in those of other more recent portrayals of past events such as Australia or Brideshead Revisited, films that are based on documented and factual events unlike the wholey fictional world of Children of Men. It has no alien babies or anything else typically science fictiony. At best it’ll have full length moving adds adorning the side of a bus, yet these subtle science fiction elements anchor you to the world instead of being there purely for flashy money-shots. Heavily clad guards patrol every setting, filling the screen with their menacing battle gear, ready to deal out capital punishment in the most mundane settings. Like black clad funeral directors at the end of the world wake. They are an ever unsettling presence as are the numerous modes of transport that seem wildly out of place in the centre of London, including a cyclo that can be seen in the opening scene, police on horseback and cars from another time. Wild animals can be seen in open spaces, illegal immigrants are consistently presented as being a threat to Mother England, the only intact sanctuary left from hate. A hatred that is constantly trying to infest the apparently ‘safe’ Britian forcing, or perhaps excusing, excessive brutality.

Theo and Kee flee with a certain baby called Dylan

Theo and Kee flee with a certain baby called Dylan

And of course there are no children, an element which we know about from the opening scene and is undoubtedly the crux of the film, yet it is curious that we accept this anomaly almost immediately buying into the constructed world and fully formed characters wholeheartedly.

“Strange isn’t it, what happens to a world without children’s voices”

Like any good film, the audience is quick to fall into the rabbit hole, such as is true with Children of Men. However the absence of children annoyingly takes its toll in an almost imperceptible way, making the world a grimmer and meaner place for it. Theo – the films broken moral compass – is accepting of this horror and it isn’t until he is forced to realise what can be gained from his engagement in life that he is jolted from his apathy. In turn the audience come to the realisation that Theo’s world, full of unflinching violence and death, yet a desperate love of life, is not so dissimilar to our own.

The films power lies partly in the fact that the future is given no back-story, in that the current bout of infertility and the third world state of every other country except Britain is not explained. Similarly, Theo’s back-story and motivations are never fleshed out. The only story of Theo’s past we receive is second hand through ex-wives or close friends, anecdotal evidence recalled in a moment of conversation or emotion. The audience, being curious to find out about Theo’s past at the commencement of the film, find the facts when they eventually come, to be insignificant being completely invested in the world of the film.

The film works on different levels because there are plot threads planted at every stage, threads which grab us on different viewings. On one level, we might be stunned by the films technical achievements, on another we might be interested in the films subtle critiquing of the current war in Iraq. Sometimes we can draw parallels between the treatment of the films fugees, and our own treatment of refugees and asylum seekers, and at other times, we can be surprised by the films multilayered references to the infertility that is plaguing their world – is it because of pollution, is it God’s wrath, is it natural selection? Theories are raised but never answered allowing the audience to form their own opinions and hypothesis. And even another viewing, we might become interested solely in the character of Theo, his back-story, his embittered personality, and his fate. Such is the detail that has been given to every element of the picture.

Originally I wanted to describe the world as being amoral, yet that would imply that the people within it are corrupt because they want to be. In this world desperation is second nature, the suicide drug Quietus, which is manufactured and as easily available as any headache tablet is marketed as being a quick solution to everyone’s problems. In fact it is even doled out in weekly rations, a ‘suave’ way to meet the end of the world. The problem of course being an overwhelming unhappiness that permeates everything, to the extent that the people are no longer free thinking. Coupled with the distant protagonist, the world is similar to the settings of early film noir, a style of film I have only just come to really know. Jules Dassin’s Night and the City – one of the key film noirs – went to great lengths to portray a corrupt cityscape populated by greedy characters all wanting to gain their fix and the sense of having made it. Similarly Children of Men has the corrupt city, but characters all united by the one common foe, unhappiness and desperation.