Friday, May 12, 2017

Movie Review: The Children of Men (2006)

The Children of Men (2006) co-written and directed by Alfonso Cuaron

Having recently read the novel on which this movie is based, I thought I'd revisit the film which I saw in the theaters eleven years ago. Naturally, the movie moves up the time scale--it's set in 2027, so the infertility begins in 2009, eighteen years before what happens in the movie and three years after the movie comes out. But what other differences are there?

The movie and book share a bleak view of what happens to the British government (though the book implies that the rest of the world is just as bad off). The movie shows the government as an oppressive force, though the main oppression depicted is the treatment of foreigners in England. Refuges from other countries are rounded up and deported; no new immigrants are allowed in the country. Their plight is the main focus of the Fishes, the underground movement that wants the government to change its ways in the book. Here in the movie, they want to overthrow the government, and thereby fix things for the immigrants. Theo Faron is no longer an Oxford prof with connections to the top of the corrupt government--he just has a cousin in the art ministry who can get documents for someone to make it to the coast (and on a boat out of Britain).

So the infertility plight (which is the core of the novel) is almost secondary to the immigrant's plight in the movie. When a pregnant woman (whose name is Kee) does show up, she's almost entirely a political concern. The Fishes want her to inspire an uprising against the government, though the original plan was to get her to an off-shore organization called "The Human Project" where she would presumably be properly cared for (thus Theo is shoe-horned into their plans). But the characters discover that they really know nothing of the Human Project and in fact it is generally thought to be a made-up thing. So the whole satire/horror of women finding substitutes in dolls or animals for babies, of the intrusive government-enforced fertility checks, of hopeless expectation of extinction, etc., is lost in the film. The pregnant woman is more a catalyst to move through the various atrocities committed against (and some on behalf of) the immigrants.

The most surprising change from the book was the complete omission of Christianity in the film. When Jasper (Theo's friend who in the movie is a drug-growing hippy) explains the interaction of faith and chance, it's clear that faith is only a personal stance, the actual content of faith can be anything, even opposing things for different people. Midwife Miriam seems to believe in a mixture of eastern and western faiths (she does Tai Chi and prays for biblical angels to protect her, but never Jesus or God or Allah or etc.) but her faith doesn't accomplish anything for her or for Kee. In fact, she goes along with Jasper's views--she's a bit fascinated with his theories and jealous of him seeing a UFO. They have a fascination with higher powers without any depth of understanding or insight, or any grappling with even the idea of a Supreme Being.

It's hard to see these flaws on a first view of the film because of the superb technical work (and if you haven't read the book). The movie uses a lot of hand-held shots and often very long single takes, giving it an immediacy and verisimilitude that fits with the dark and oppressive nature of the film's world. The action sequences are very well done and the performances are fine. Viewers are swept up emotionally and taken for an exciting ride.

The movie is enjoyable on a visceral level but much less so on an intellectual level. The shifts in focus are noticeable and not as satisfying if the book is fresh in memory. Definitely watch the film before reading the book.

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