Originally posted on Wednesday, January 17, 2007
The film "Children of Men" is set in a near future when people are no longer able to have children. The story takes place in a gloomy England which maintains a veneer of civilization while the rest of the world collapses. To make the point of what is at stake, the story opens with the killing by a mob of the world's youngest person, an eighteen-year-old, for failing to give someone his autograph. Despair and senseless violence are presented as the reaction of both individuals and governments as humanity faces a slow extinction.
The British government rounds up and jails any refugees, and deports them to brutal concentration camps (in busses with "Homeland Security" painted on the sides.) The story's protagonist is a dispirited bureaucrat, traveling to and from work on the train, coffee cup in hand, ignoring cages full of pleading refugees in the train stations.
He has a cousin high up in the government and an ex-wife who is leading a violent radical group protesting the mistreatment of refugees by setting off bombs. The ex persuades him to help obtain documents to get a young refugee woman to the coast, so he visits his cousin to ask for the papers. The wealthy cousin is collecting the world's art in his penthouse, from Michelangelo's "David" to Pink Floyd's pig balloon. Picasso's "Guernica" hangs on the dining room wall, where the cousin's teenage son, one of the last generation, plays some sort of video game during dinner, utterly oblivious to everything going on around him.
Having obtained the papers, the bureaucrat finds he must travel with the refugee to get her safely through; with his ex-wife, her lieutenant, an older woman, and the refugee girl, they set off by car to catch a boat somewhere along the coast. En route they are attacked by a roving band of bandits. The police arrive and in the general shootout the police are killed and the group are caught by police surveillance cameras. Now a wanted criminal, the bureaucrat finds that the radical group plans to do away with him; he also discovers that the refugee girl is the first pregnant woman in eighteen years, and that the group plans to use her to further their cause rather than allowing her to escape to safety. The older woman, who is a midwife, the refugee, and the bureaucrat all escape from the radical group, and the film becomes a first rate chase movie, as the small party tries to escape both the government forces and the frustrated radicals, and deliver the refugee girl to her boat.
Overwhelming the action-movie chase and the science-fiction movie futuristic gloom, though, is the fundamental message of the story, a Christian message of sacrifice and redemption. Many willingly sacrifice their lives for the refugee girl, who symbolizes hope, on her way to the mysterious boat, symbolizing redemption. The point is made that most people are unredeemable; when people first see the baby, during a firefight between the police, radicals, and refugees, they stop fighting and many fall to their knees in awe. But a few moments later they turn their backs and begin killing each other again.
There is another, more disturbing disturbing message in the film, one that is part of many people's understanding of Christianity; one that doesn't think much of women. Except, of course, when they are young, passive, and pregnant. The refugee girl has little to say about what is happening to her, and is more or less just carried along. Mysteriously, all involved seem to have little interest in locating the man that got her pregnant; you would think that would be of major interest when considering the future of the human race (especially since the title of the work is "Children of MEN".) The implication, then, is that the men are all OK and it's just the women who are defective. The carriers of Original Sin.
The rest of the women in the film are not held in high esteem by the storyteller. The only powerful woman in the movie, the ex, is "suitably" punished by pointlessly dying while playing a silly game. The midwife is nutty ("Did he really see flying saucers?"), although she gets to sacrifice herself for the cause, which also allows the man to deliver the baby. The bureaucrat's mother is catatonic. An Armenian refugee woman helps them escape, but chooses not to come with them to the redeeming ship. Oh, and when the ship comes, the sailors are all men.
The "radicals" are presented as being as great an evil as the government; incoherent in their goals, they seem to only crave power and meaningless violence. The basic view of "older generation" has of any opposition. Or maybe it's a little side message from the storytellers: "We are smarter than you because we know it's not the sixties anymore."
It's very well made film, with lots of interesting visual details that carry the mood. Motorized rickshaws belch smog in the resource-poor and no longer environmentally conscious city streets; abandoned farmland is piled high with the burning bodies of dead cattle; wild deer feed on plants growing in an empty and collapsing grade school. Clive Owen plays the bureaucrat perfectly. The supporting actors are all very good, especially Michael Caine as the bureaucrat's ex-hippie father, hiding out in the woods, the British TV actress Pam Ferris as the midwife, and Chiwetel Ejiofor as the radical lieutenant. Claire-Hope Ashitey doesn't get to do much except have an animatronic baby on-screen.
On the whole, though, the "message" factors in this movie cancelled out most of my enjoyment.