Children of Men

One tactic of science fiction is to show us our own world in masked fantasy so that in seeing our folly committed outrageously by strangers we might recognize it in ourselves. The future of Children of Men is not so distant that we can’t immediately recognize all its elements as part of our current lives. Indeed, if you asked a resident a Baghdad twenty years ago to imagine his city and life in ruins today he might have thought it as improbable as the Alfonso Cuaron’s imagined London of 2027. Children of Men remixes current events in a way that brings them home to Western audiences more successfully than the 2-minute nightly news clips do. Anti-immigration hysteria. Terrorist bombings. Conspiracy theorists. National IDs. Constant video surveillance. All of this is part of life in 2007. We hardly notice how we’ve traded liberty for security, as we stop for our morning latte and become engrossed in the latest TV celebrity death.

In 2027, it is not Princess Di but the death of the youngest person on earth who captures the hearts of Theo Faron’s (Clive Owen) countrymen. Human society has devolved because human beings are no longer able to procreate. Without children there is no hope. And without hope we might as all be our worst selves.

This is not a conceit that I buy into, particularly. The majority of my friends, married or not, are childless, and I don’t see them languishing in hopelessness. If the only thing keeping society going is our ability to pass part of ourselves down to future generations, then we are doing a strange job as custodians of our legacy to them. This argument seems to me in the same category of philosophy that posits that the only thing that keeps us civil is the promise, or threat, of an afterlife. I think that if we believed this moment was the only moment we had, we might try harder to make the most of it. However, the conceit does give humanity a chance to be redeemed by a child; Children of Men opened on Christmas Day to underscore the obvious.

Cuaron, thankfully, does not spend a lot of time on backstory. He simply explores the world as a given and shows us a world, that for many people in 2007 is the given. The movie’s reluctant hero, Theo, is dragged (literally) into a plot to help a resistance/terrorist group get a young refugee to safety.

Visually the movie is very interesting with layers and layers of images mirroring contemporary culture. As an antidote to the quick-cut chase movies, Cuaron includes some extremely long takes. (One 9-minute shot, it’s rumored, was actually stitched seamlessly together from several shorter takes–Cuaron explains it wasn’t. CGI was used but only to remove the blood from the camera lens.) Another chase sequence gets off to a very slow start and is at the same time tense and ludicrous. You want to laugh but you’re too involved in the moment and the danger to laugh. Cuaron shows us that everything we’ve learned about action thrillers in the 1990s is old and tired.

In a scene early in Children of Men, Theo visits his well-connected cousin to try to get safe passage to the coast. As he is driven into the imposing Battersea Power Station the strains of King Crimson’s “The Court of the Crimson King” swell and I’m floored. I’m so distracted by this music that the movie takes on a surrealistic air; I can’t tell where Cuaron’s visions end and my begin. And the song goes on and on. I try to get AJM’s attention but I don’t think he knows the song. That song. I built worlds around it, too. What it reminds me of more than anything is a drive in 1973 away from Las Vegas, through the mountains near St. George, Utah and on to the north rim of the Grand Canyon. The next time I made that drive, the song replayed in my head with its attendant memories.

How could I not like a movie when the director has such agreeable taste in music? Pink Floyd fans might be equally thrilled to see a visual homage to Pink Floyd’s “Animals” album cover a few moments later.

Children of Men Trailer

Postscript

iTunes doesn’t have any other King Crimson but does carry the soundtrack album for “Children of Men”, including “In the Court of the Crimson King”. You have to buy the whole album. It is a great soundtrack but I’d prefer the choice. Oddly, it’s labelled “Explicit”–all the songs in the soundtrack are, I guess because one of them is and you can’t buy them separately. I don’t remember anything explicit about it and, my poor parents (who listened to it a zillion times on the car ride from Nevada to Florida and back to Texas) didn’t seem to notice it either.

I wonder why Cuaron chose this track from “In the Court of the Crimson King”. On the surface, “21st Century Schizoid Man” seems more appropriate. And thematically, the lyrics to “Epitaph” fit better.

The wall on which the prophets wrote
Is cracking at the seams.
Upon the instruments of death
The sunlight brightly gleams.
When every man is torn apart
With nightmares and with dreams,
Will no one lay the laurel wreath
As silence drowns the screams.
Confusion will be my epitaph.
As I crawl a cracked and broken path
If we make it we can all sit back
And laugh.
But I fear tomorrow Ill be crying,
Yes I fear tomorrow Ill be crying.

What cheery jingles I listened to in my youth!

4 Responses to “Children of Men”

  1. M2 Responds:

    I have a Christian friend who once asked me, if I don’t think there’s an afterlife, why do I even bother getting up in the morning, let alone doing volunteer work. I never quite knew how to address her question.
    OTOH, When I’m depressed, I’ll that the world is so messed up, I’m glad I have no kids and why should I worry about what’s left? So maybe there’s something to it after all.
    I wonder how that movie could have a satisfactory ending, though …

    You should go see it. It’s a great movie. I’m looking forward to seeing it again…maybe when the DVD comes out so that I can listen to the commentary. But you should see it in the theater at least once. — mss

  2. KAT Responds:

    I thought as I watched the movie that The Court of the Crimson King commented on the cousin and all plutocrats who live high while everything else crumbles.
    And the whole scene on restoring artwork brought to mind a NICE album title: ARS LONGA VITA BREVIS. Although, as Theo says (and isn’t THAT an art reference to the brother of VvG?), if people aren’t around, what’s the point of preserving art?
    A friend told me that the LA Times had an article on Cuaron and his musical choices, but I haven’t been able to find it in the archives or tucked away anywhere else.
    I loved the way Michael Caine looked like an aged John Lennon–then the Lennon track over the credits. Perfect. Not on the soundtrack is the music Jasper (Caine) used as an alarm: Test Department, an industrial band from the early 80s.
    Ooops. I’ll spare you the other observations….

    Share! Share! That’s what comments are for. I don’t mean to give the impression that I didn’t like his choice of “The Court of the Crimson King”. I loved it. I was bowled over by it. I was incredibly happy that someone loved that song enough to include it in his movie and perhaps introduce another generation to it. Like you, I took it as a comment on entering “the court of privelege”…a place of beauty and affluence amidst the ruins. I can’t remember the dialog exactly but Theo asks his cousin, “How can you live like this when all that’s going on?” and he gestures “out there”. His cousin replies. “I don’t think about it.” That seems to sum up a certain class of people in this country pretty well, I thought.
    Yes. Michael Caine was wonderful and I loved that he based his performance on John Lennon, too. There’s so much more to say about this movie; sometimes I just want to get a post finished so that the discussion can start. — mss

  3. JQS Responds:

    From the beginning long-shot sequence when Clive Owen gets his coffee it was apparent that this film wasn’t going to play by action movie rules. I felt that anything could happen to anyone at anytime. So I was tense the whole time I was watching it. The camerawork gave it a documentary feel. Very immediate. It engulfed you in the action. Sometimes I did get distracted by the camerawork, wondering when he was finally going to cut away–especially in the car scene.
    What a contrast to “V for Vendetta” which gloried in its graphic novel roots and seems even more comic bookish now by comparison. The two couldn’t be more different even though the settings (British police state in the near future) and themes are similar. “1984” and “Brazil” are close cousins.
    I also liked how the exposition was handled. None of that sloppy dialog like, “Hey, Bob. You know how women can’t have babies anymore?” I hate it when characters in movies have conversations just to inform the audience what is going on–conversations they’d never have because they already know what’s going on.

  4. Drew Responds:

    I just have a question of this comment.
    “Not on the soundtrack is the music Jasper (Caine) used as an alarm: Test Department, an industrial band from the early 80s.”
    Do you know the name of the particular song being used as the alarm. It would be great to play that around the house.

The surface and beneath the surface