Friday, February 16, 2007
Children of Men is an extraordinary film. Not only does it have its cake, it gets to gobble it too. On the surface a kind of nativity fable redux, broiling just under the skin is a protest film. Fortunately it is not an opposition tract; in similar fashion as Fight Club did a few years back, this film is decidedly protesting in support of something, a rant of positivity rather than simply a rant.
The radicals this time around are the Fishes, a pro-immigrant militia. We've seen them in many movies before, most recently in the Fight Club's vacuous clatch of Space Monkeys, and in like vein they take themselves far too seriously. When, in Children of Men, the pregnant girl asks protagonist Thelonious Faron if somebody performing tai chi is "wobbly or gawky", his answer could describe the Fishes: "Earnest." In this context, earnestness is a bit narrow, a worldview that excludes beauty. The creators of the film are blessedly not so blindered. Theo himself is a former activist, but he's "more successful now." His success, however, makes him feel like shit. Not until he has entered the allegorical landscape of Bexhill Refugee Camp does Theo truly feel the old passions stirring. But i do not believe he is called to resume his activist routine; instead of feeling drawn back toward a group like the Fishes, he sees an alternative. Just how that alternative takes shape is for Theo to decide, and we see as the film progresses where that decision takes him.
The 'fugee camp is Abu Ghraib, it is Gaza Strip, Grozny, Beirut, Darfur; most keenly, it is Guantanamo Bay. The references, I presume, are intentional. The temptation is to accuse the filmmakers of vandalising the headlines. I believe something far more sinister is at work. The director and co are bringing us a work of art, in other words, a dangerous mirror in which the reflected rather than the reflection is the thing.
What kind of world is reflected in the glassy water of the story? I do not think there is a single answer. Each viewer needs to decide what they see. The possibilities offered are tremendous. I see an incarnation of grace amidst a time of terror, a manifest explosion of grace in the form of an infant that is nothing in itself, but serves as a tiny mirror of the human soul.