Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Children of Men (warning...couple of spoilers included)

Long story short: Blockbuster's had a sale going on a lot of it's used dvds, and I've been shopping. From amongst my many purchases, I've already watched 'Aeon Flux', 'Resident Evil 3-Extinction', 'War of the Worlds' (Ok! I'm a bad sci-fi nut! Deal with it.), and the title-featured 'Children of Men', which I just watched this afternoon. Only in retrospect did I realize that all these films are of the 'end of the world' genre, though 'ALMOST the end of the world' would be more accurate. I've yet to see one that had the guts to follow the premise all the way through to its conclusion. There's always an out, isn't there? A messiah figure, or a miracle out of the clear blue, or...or...a plot twist cheat at the end that sort of deflates the whole premise.

This was my problem with the film 'Parenthood', by the way. It's basically the story of a dysfunctional extended family, and there's this great scene near the end where Steve Martin pukes up a lot of angst when he learns his wife is about to have yet another child. He gives quite a poignant performance there, outlining the sense of frustration that moved him to quit his job, his feelings of personal inadequacy, as well as the belief that all his personal freedom had vanished beneath the weight of 'duty' he felt to keep everything moving along. Something most 'adults' can relate to, I'm sure.

Anyway, his seemingly insurmountable problems, as well as everybody else's, go 'poof!' in the last five minutes of the film, and in celebration of this group miracle, every single fucking couple, married or not, decides to have a baby.

ABSOLUTELY...FUCKING...RIDICULOUS! Message of the movie? 'When in doubt, do more of the same, and eventually everything turns up roses!' The more I think about it, the angrier I get, and my wrath will NOT be diffused by reminding me that the film was a 'dramedy'. Still a fucking cop-out, in my view.

So, on to 'Children of Men. Firstly, I absolutely loved the thing. I'd heard mixed reviews, so perhaps I was expecting too much, but...I thought the movie was just great. In a nutshell, here's the story-

It's the near future (2027?), and there have been no births for 18 years. No explanation as to why, but the women have all turned up sterile. Civilization is breaking down, people are turning on one another, and only a brutal police state is left to keep some semblance of order. Refugees from other countries worst off than Britain are being deported en masse, and often killed in the process.

Then, lo and behold, a young woman turns up pregnant (who didn't see THAT coming?). The protagonist's goal is to deliver the woman and her unborn child out of the country, and into the hands of a group working to restore civilization. In the process, there's a lot of chasing around, some interesting characters, and a whole lot of stuff getting blown up (I don't mean to downplay these aspects of the film, btw. The camera work is quite unique, and the action riveting, for the most part). Somewhere along the way, the baby is actually born, safe and sound amidst all the destruction, and is eventually whisked off into sanctuary, along with its mother, by the good guys (this is a pretty straightforward assumption from what happens in the last minute of the film, actually).

Now, the whole time I'm watching this movie- all the violence, and blood, and accompanying tears (I'll admit I shed a few myself here and there), I'm thinking "Is the blatant irony here on purpose? Doesn't it occur to anybody that the whole world might be a tad better off without us?" And then, at the very end, there it was...actually, during the rolling of the credits. The sounds of children. Playing. Laughing. Good news, everybody! The merry-go-round is set for another spin!

Afterwards, I called somebody to discuss the film, and somewhere in the middle of one of my rants, it hit me. I suddenly understood the movies, the stories, all the religious apocalyptic literature. EVERYBODY knows life sucks! These bleak future worlds inhabited by zombies, cyberpunk refugees, beasts with 666 tatooed on their foreheads, and nuclear irradiated kangaroos, are us! Now! And we all want out, but none of us want to die. So we invent saviors, or just spin improbable scenarios where, somehow, things work out contrary to all the evidence. It seems to occur to almost no one that there's no reason to believe the next generation will be any different than this one. No, we'll have learned our lessons by then, and utopia will be our reward (in this life, or in the next, according to one's particular eschatological predilections).

There was something so tragically comical, watching all these miserable wretches up to their ankles in mud and gore worrying about the fact that, in the near future, there would be no more of the same. Not to mention the fact that society went into the toilet precisely because people tend to place their souls in the basket of the abstract future, rather than learn to abide happily in the present. And all because of the entirely fictitious need for vicarious immortality, which in itself is less of an idea, than a vague childlike desire to obscure the reality of death, and loss.

Some years back, I was about to have our old dog, Barney, put to sleep. As the day of the act approached, the truth of the matter finally sank into my daughter. Crying, she asked me, "But, if this is all life's about, what is the point?" I believe it is this fundamental question, emerging not from the intellect, but from the emotions, that begins this spin into fantasy land, through a heartfelt need to deny reality. Unfortunately, we are all too willing to build utopian bridges with the bones of the subsequent generations we continue to breed, never realizing that all these bridges are, in fact, vicious circles leading back to where we started. Trite, but true.

Let it end, people. Stop breeding.

Oh! The name of the ship captained by humanity's rescuers was aptly, albeit ironically, named the 'Tomorrow'. Didn't your mama ever tell you that tomorrow never comes, silly rabbit?


TGGP said...

I didn't like the movie. I certainly wouldn't put my hopes in the species on the. The "Fishes" were unbelievable terrorists. Why would there be such immigration problems as a result of infertility? I think I started retching when I tried watching the DVD extra feature with Slavoj Zizek.

Reality isn't post-apocalyptic. Then it would seem normal. The entire point is to be out of the ordinary. If I wanted to watch normal I'd look out my window.

Anonymous said...

I think the immigration problem had to do with the fact that Britain was, relatively, one of the more stable powers left in the world. Sort of like how Mexico has problems controlling its own southern border at times.

I would argue that reality is both pre-apocalyptic/apocalyptic at all times, depending on where you're sitting at any given time. Post-apocalypse is by and large an imaginary field; a time of rebound after a rather artificially bounded 'apocalypse' has occurred. Existence is constantly falling into apocalypse when considered as a whole...we all suffer our 'end times', both as individuals, and as species. It would be different if apocalypse meant actual, total extinction, but...it never does.

Glad you're on the mend, by the way.

Anonymous said...

So, the main problem of universal infertility is immigration? How ridiculous! The filmmakers were so eager to make a banal political point that they sacrificed the meaning of the story.

Anonymous said...

Illegal immigration actually seemed fairly ancillary to the main thrust of the plot, which was the typical escaped-extinction-by-the-hair-of-our-chins scenario. Still, I thought they pulled it off rather well, and the immigration angle certainly didn't seem unfeasible, what with people fleeing more unstable countries for less unstable countries. Happens quite frequently, seems to me.

Of course, after all's said and done, we're talking about a piece of speculative fiction, and I don't resent some leeway in the artistic vision, at least until it gets ridiculous, which this movie didn't strike me...as? hehehe!

Thanks for the comment.

Anonymous said...

I thought illegal immigration was a big part of the plot; most of the conflict wouldn't have existed if not for the fact that the pregnant woman was an immigrant.

I understand the infertility => instability => immigration chain of reasoning, I just don't buy it. Wouldn't Britain be glad to plunder all the productive young workers it could in such a situation? Who else is going to pay for the retirees?

Anonymous said...

Ah, plot devices! We could argue them all day...hehehe!

Addressing your second argument: I think you have a point; at least, in the beginning. And sometimes human behavior is about as easy to predict as the weather. Still, at some point I think a nation would be forced to deal with this 'leaky boat syndrome' by shifting the emphasis from number of bailers, to sum total of weight, no? By the time of the film, it seems like the infrastructure is pretty much shot to hell. On top of which, of course, all the nasty xenophobic tendencies of mankind are going to rise up under the stress, exacerbating the problems.

Chip said...

My first thought was that the immigration angle was a politically motivated non-sequitur, too, but the wife called me on it. Throughout the film there are peripheral indications that total war - and total collapse - has left Britain pretty much alone in the world scene. Reflecting on the urgency of the crisis, it seems plausible (probable, really) that a Camp of the Saints scenario would play out much the way it's depicted, with the infertility crisis only fueling the urgency.

Declensionist conservative Kevin Michael Grace's reading of Cloverfield as a portent of "The Long Emergency" might apply more generally here as well, especially wrt the pessimistic (and covertly antinatalist?) currents in the cinema of apocalypse that Jim suggests.

And Jim, since we're on the subject of movies, you really must see -- and write about -- Michael Haneke's The Seventh Continent.