Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Children of Men

This film is superb. It is close to the end of its run even in London, I believe, so get out to see it soon or watch out for it on DVD. In America I think it will be showing over Christmas.

This film gets four big things really right.

1. The action is superb. There is a brutal threat to the gunfights and a reality to Clive Owen's character's inability to be a real superhero that makes the action sequences of this film incredibly affecting. The phrase "on the edge of my seat" isn't one I really understood till I left this film and realised I had actually been perched, almost unable to sit down, on the edge of my seat through large sections of the it.

2. None of the characters are inhuman. While truly awful things are done they are all clearly the work of humans. The villains range from revolutionaries fatally compromised by the struggle to the agents of a state centre trying in vain to hold under impossible pressure. References to brutalities of today seem to be understood in their perspective of the response of a state desperately trying to maintain order and losing its sense of decency in the process rather than cast as the actions of pantomime villains. This gives the film the tang of reality which Star Wars in London moral operas like V for Vendetta cannot dream of.

"No one is a villain in his own story"

Harry Turtledove's observation is reflected in this film to great effect.

3. The grand counterfactual is done very well. Britain seems plausible as a last outpost of society while the rest dissolves in war and nuclear terrorism. The island nation trying to preserve a veneer of order and civility, personified in the arts minister cousin of the main character, suggests an understanding of British, and human nature, on the part of the film maker that impresses me.

The diminishment of the value of life that the film shows as a result of the childlessness pandemic wasn't what I expected. I went into the film expecting the prediction that, apparently, the novel delivered: that an increased scarcity of human life would lead people to want to live forever. Instead the despair of a futureless society has led people to see no value in the life they have now and the counterfactual is shown as a violent and suicidal one. After seeing this I think it is actually an inspired understanding and seems more plausible than the idea of a struggle to live forever. Life shorn of its purpose does seem pointless watching the film which perhaps embodies this aphorism quite well:

"If we have our own why in life, we shall get along with almost any how."

-Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols

It is the lack of purpose and future which makes the present in this film so grim. That is, perhaps, a lesson which a myopic society like ours, so focussed on pleasure as happiness, really needs.

4. The personal story is genuinely emotional. The key story dynamic is that of the male patriarchal instinct; Clive Owen's character defending the mother and child. As such, the least sympathetic character is a man who ignores this for money and the hero is a man whose main distinction is an utter trustworthiness. If this wasn't what the makers were getting at then I apologise for my conservatism, but it seems timely to point out that, while feminism was right to condemn the abuse and repression that came with patriarchal society, the "women and children first" code is still something deeply heroic.

Also, the depiction of the personal need for contact with children was very affecting. The scene where a child's crying cuts through the noise of automatic weapons firing encapsulated this brilliantly. I think it did a great job of highlighting the role children play, the child restoring that sense of hope so tragically absent the rest of the film. This might have worked better if things like the use of pets as substitutes for children had been made more explicit but I'm not sure it would have made for a better film.

This film was brilliant. If you haven't seen it make time. I'm sure I'll work out the faults at some point but for now I am, as is probably obvious, in utter awe at the achievement.

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