For Paul Drozdowski. Spoilers abound, be warned.
Our hero’s day job at the Energy Company proves far too nauseating for him, when he sees his fellow employees all at their workstations, each watching the exact same broadcast, and crying. There is nothing nauseating occurring in his mind when he’s bleeding to death at an old water station, helping a woman and her baby into a small rowboat, and he is surrounded by paintings similar to those of cave paintings, bright and unique and primitive.
And that’s really the question of “Children of Men,” and it is a question, not a theme. What aggravated me about the movie was that I was always on edge – there was no time to linger or think. The characters are rushing, the scenes are racing, our senses are provoked one way, then another. Get the symbols in: like how he drinks alcohol until the moment of delivery, or the times “Jesus Christ” is uttered by him and the man who kills him and his wife, and move on. Nothing to see here, there’s a story to complete, with a big fat boat saying “tomorrow” at the end, as if there’s hope.
I mean, please. It’s very clear the movie’s question is whether we are beyond hope, as Clive Owen says at the beginning of the movie in a moment of reflection with Michael Caine. All the heroic virtues, placed in our dysfunctional time, are made less than what they are, even as they shine brighter. Note how Owen and Julianne Moore, the terrorist ex-wife, fight. There is no way to reconcile these two, even as they are going to try to save humanity. In another movie, we’d say they’re symbolic of two things that are key to the human, but cannot be reconciled perfectly. But I looked at them and saw at least two relationships of mine up there, on screen: there was the point we just couldn’t talk to each other anymore. She’d start getting hysterical and wouldn’t listen, and I’d start getting frustrated and wouldn’t talk. (Note what happens to husband and ex-wife when ex-wife does start getting receptive to his advances, and how much pressure there had to be to give into the old feelings). And these two are the virtuous ones of the “future.”
That’s the real reason why there are no children in the “future” – “Children of Men” isn’t about the future, it’s about the present. Who has kids anymore? Those cages on the subway platforms, crowds shouting “Allah Akhbar” and firing guns into the air, police in full riot gear – are we separated from that by something in us that won’t give way, or by degree?
The movie seems to say it is a matter of degree. Our hero is one who is above love in any erotic sense, because he has to be. He’s put in that worst of all positions well before any greater responsibility, because of the need to survive himself. All his heroic actions, though, depend on Fortune. Someone has to be there to pick up the woman and her baby at the end. And yes, there is an element of Fortune, a trust in Nature, that is needed for us to be human, don’t get me wrong. And he is a genuine hero, a complete human being, because he does take chances for love.
But the Fortune involved here is that a miracle needs more miracles to be a miracle. It is not unbelievable: the movie is credible enough. It’s rather saying something about the movement of the movie. The death of an age may mean there is a new beginning, somewhere. But any life connected with the previous age isn’t part of that age. The old age can’t even see anymore. It just stands in awe or confusion, like the most simple things are beyond it.
We move from land and energy to water and fog. The life that is born isn’t a new hope for man. It’s a new hope for another age. This one is done, and the reduction to the primal is complete. In a sense, everyone is doomed, even those who might start the new age. For no one wants to be at the beginning of something which has so suspect a chance at being preserved.