Sunday, March 22, 2015

Children of Men

SPOILER ALERT! The plot will be discussed.

Children of men? Why not children of women? I’m just asking. I guess I would have to put the question to P.D. James, since the movie is based on the mystery writer’s book. Of course, it may refer to the Bible, specifically “Ecclesiastes.” In that book, humans are often referred to as “sons of men.” But, could it be that in the world of this film, set in 2027 England, where women are not capable of becoming pregnant, that the blame for female sterility is the fault of men? That the offspring of men and their failed policies is a barren Earth, and thus the ironic title? Like I said, I’m just asking. If you’ve seen this film, I’d like to know what you think of the title.

When I first saw this movie, directed by Oscar-winner Alfonso Cuaròn (for Gravity), I felt let down. I expected a more traditional looking sci-fi motion picture with futuristic trimmings, and instead saw a film with a lot of violent motion sequences. After a couple of subsequent viewings I now appreciate that Cuaròn gave us something different. The action scenes are virtuoso long shots without cuts. Because we see what is going on from the perspective of Theo (Clive Owen), we are immersed in the action and experience the violence viscerally with Theo as he sees it in the background, as an explosion while he walks with his cup of coffee, or witnesses the abuses of refugees from a passing car or bus. He sees a smashed baby carriage in the corner of a rail stop, a powerful image of the current state of this world. In another take, we see an abandoned and trashed school, with a sculpture of a dinosaur outside it – another effective picture of the loss of innocence, and an impending end of days. It’s like watching a panoramic horror show flash by our field of vision.

Let’s get back to the plot. The movie opens with a news story that the youngest person on earth, a young boy who was a celebrity because of this fact, was killed. Right away you know what is the problem with this world. The news stories show that the social order in other countries has collapsed after eighteen years of no births. Without a future for the human race, there is despair, since there is no feeling of purpose to current actions. With the death of each successive individual, the world’s population is heading toward extinction. Religious cult groups have emerged such as the Renouncers, who flagellate themselves since they see the curse of infertility as a punishment from God for the evil ways of humans. England, however, has held on to a semblance of civilization. Because of this fact, many third world people try to enter the country. The government is vicious in clamping down on illegal aliens, herding them into detainment camps, and violently dealing with any who help them. These actions have spawned resistance groups. Julian (Julianne Moore) is a leader of one of these cells. She kidnaps Theo and asks him to get transit papers from a powerful friend for a young woman. 

We see a photo of Theo and Julian with a child early on in the story. We later learn that the two were romantically involved and had a child, Dylan. The boy died in a flu pandemic. Theo and Julian were both politically active, but after the child’s death, Theo became cynical and apathetic, and the lovers separated. He visits with his friend, Jaspar (Michael Caine), who is an aging hippy and has a catatonic wife. The film track contains songs from Jaspar’s time, as if hearkening back to a more idealistic life. But, Jaspar is an anachronism in this current world that needs its own type of solutions.

Theo (whose name means “god”) is the main character, but he is hardly a divine person.  He is sullen, alienated, and intimidated (he cringes and flees from violence and cowers when he is kidnapped). In a later scene he appears clumsy, running in flip-flops. But, he seems to find his “religion” so to speak. At first it appears he is helping Julian for money. But her reemergence in his life energizes him, gives him purpose. When he can only get joint transit papers, he almost seems elated that he will have to accompany the young woman, Kee (Clare-Hope Ashitey). While traveling in a car, Theo, Kee, Julian, Miriam (Pam Ferris) (who was a midwife), and Luke (Chiwetel Ejiofor), (one of the revolutionaries), are ambushed. Earlier in the scene, Theo and Julian are playful, shooting ping pong balls into each others mouths. This is now followed by bullets “shooting” at them. Julian is killed, and the others escape and go to a “safe house” which turns out to be a farm. It is here that Kee reveals to Theo that she is pregnant, with birth quickly approaching. It is appropriate that this reverse annunciation is made at a farm (a place of fertility where things grow) and specifically in a barn among cows, who provide milk for nourishment as does a lactating mother. Her name is Kee, and she is the “key” to the world’s survival.

Cows are not the only animals in the movie. In fact, the film has enough critters to fill a zoo. All the people have pets, mostly dogs, but there is a zebra in one scene, and a flock of sheep in another. The person who gives Theo the transit papers has a huge pig balloon floating outside his penthouse window. When we see Theo wake up in a room, the walls are wallpapered with bears. It’s as if the animals are surrogates for the absence of children, and these non-humans will be the ones to inherit the earth. Or, maybe, as the book in the Bible says, the lives of people and animals are intertwined: “For the fate of the sons of men and the fate of beasts is the same: as one dies, so dies the other.”

There is talk of how the future child will be needed by the revolutionaries because the mother is an illegal alien, which would be an affront to the refugee repressive government. Kee does not want her child taken from her for a political cause, and Theo just says make the pregnancy public. He sees the “miracle” as a way to restore hope to all. He is looking beyond partisan agendas, and it emphasizes the rebirth of his optimism. Julian, too, before her death, had voiced a desire to move away from violence. Theo overhears that Luke had her killed because of her resistance to the tactics of the resistance. He plans to have Theo killed and the baby taken from Kee. She, Theo, and Miriam escape from the farm and head to Jaspar’s home. There is talk of getting Kee to The Human Project, a group working toward solving the problem of sterility. Jaspar tries to give the three time to escape, but is killed by the military, which sees Theo as part of the rebellious terrorists. Jaspar’s plan was to get Kee to a refugee camp near the coast, get her on a boat, and meet with a ship that would lead to The Human Project. On the way to the camp, Miriam sacrifices herself to the military so Kee will survive.

They are helped by a foreign woman who speaks no English, named Marichka (Oana Pellea).  In an isolated room, Theo helps Kee give birth to her child. In order to get to the boat, Theo has to kill Syd (Peter Mullan), who initially helped them, but who now looks for a monetary reward. Luke and his band show up at the camp, and grab Kee and her baby in the middle of a refugee uprising. Theo finds her and the baby as a battle rages on and bullets fly. Luke is killed. For a brief period, as the revolutionaries and soldiers see Theo and Kee escort the baby away, there is a truce in the presence of new life. But, this transcendent moment is short, and the “Men” of the title resume their fight for their causes.

The two make it to a boat, but they float into a fog, implying that the future is unclear. They see the ship, whose name is “Tomorrow.” Okay, a little heavy-handed, but it provides what direction society can now look toward. But, Theo, just like Christ, needs to be sacrificed for future salvation. He was wounded in the earlier crossfire, and dies on the boat. The ship floating freely signifies that The Human Project is not tied to any one country or belief system, and is thus a symbol of life for all.  It is through fear of others (the immigration issue) that the world was led to paralysis, which is impotence. The factions wanted to use the baby as a pawn in their power plays, and this action would subvert motherhood itself.

Theo at one point asks Kee who is the father. She says, kiddingly, that she is a virgin. She then says she is not sure who is the father. Theo plays a couple of religious roles in this film and one is almost like Joseph escorting his Mary and child. Kee says she will call her daughter the unisex name of Dylan, to honor Theo’s lost son. In this desert of a world, Theo’s sacrifice has symbolically allowed his bloodline, and with it, hope, to flourish.

The film analyzed next week is The Birds.

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