LORD, thou hast been our dwelling place in all generations.
Before the mountains were brought forth,
or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world,
from everlasting to everlasting thou art God.
Thou turnest man back to the dust, and sayest,
“Turn back, O children of men!”
He gives the barren woman a home, making her the joyous mother of children.
Praise the Lord!
Based on P.D. James’ novel, this dystopian film is the best glimpse into the future since Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later, and like the latter is exceedingly grim and violent. There is no traditional hero, Theo Faron (Clive Owen) being a minor official in the British government in the year 2027 who once was a rebel against what was happening to his society, but now has settled into a routine rut that ignores the terrible things happening around him. Even when a horrific explosion kills and maims people in the café where he stops for his morning coffee, he seems blasé. Most of the world is in ruins, with only Britain retaining some degree of civilization, and there it is only by means of a dictatorial government that chaos is kept at bay. The thousands of refugees flocking to its shores are systematically rounded up and shipped off to gulags until they can be expelled. Virtually every foreigner is regarded as a terrorist; especially those of the Muslim faith, and thus the brutal tactics of the police are accepted by the public. Theo’s oasis in his daily desert is the woodland home of his friend Jasper (Michael Caine), to which he can slip away from the violent streets of London and join in relaxing conversation, music, whiskey and pot. Outside the cozy confines of Jasper’s hidden home the future is very stark, even for Britain, because there has not been a child born for 18 years. The bleak future is underlined for Theo by news of the assassination of the world’s youngest man, an eighteen year-old.
Theo’s world is turned inside out when he is kidnaped and confronted by his lover of by-gone days Julian Taylor (Julianne Moore). They had parted after the death of their infant son. Unlike Theo, she has not given up the fight for justice and tolerance but is part of a resistance group known as Fishes. Because of his governmental connections, she wants him to escort a teenaged girl named Kee (Clare-Hope Ashitey) through the various zones Britain is divided into and take her by boat to the rumored Human project, where it is believed that scientists are working on a cure for the infertility that threatens humanity with extinction. To his wide-eyed surprise Kee is 8 months pregnant. Thus begins a thrilling chase with government forces and a faction of the rebels seeking to capture the girl and either kill or use the child for their own purposes.
The film is indeed a thriller, with some long chase and battle sequences going on for several minutes with no cuts, but the film also provides food for thought. Although much of it is set in a grim, bomb-blasted London that seems akin to the apocalyptic descriptions of destruction found in some of the prophets and the Book of Revelation, the climactic scene might recall for believers the promise of Isaiah to his invasion-threatened land, “For a child has been born for us, a son given to us.” (Is. 9:6a). I almost expected to hear on the soundtrack Handel’s great song based on the passage.
The camera work in this film is striking, with Mexican director Alfonso Cuaron again living up to his reputation of being one of the most creative directors to be found anywhere. The graphic violence will make the film difficult for some to watch, but even if you are not into grim dystopias, this film might inspire you—it is very much like that often overlooked small flower growing out of a broken sword in Picasso’s anti-war painting “Guernica” (which we see in the film), put there by the artist to show that despite all the destruction and death of human-made war (and in the film by our wasting of the environment and our inter-faith hostility) there is still a small measure of hope.
Spoilers are contained in the following.
1) What kind of a character is Theo when we first meet him? How is he like such other movie characters as Han Solo in Star Wars, or Rick in Casablanca? Or if you are a fan of The Beatles’ music, the character in “Nowhere Man” ?
2) Compare Theo to Neo in The Matrix, especially in regard to their “wake up” call. (Watch for the quick shots of animals and a kitten near the end of the Children of Men.)
3) What about Jasper, once a political cartoonist: what has he done in regard to the terrible events in the world? How is his retreating to his woodland home akin to the famous hippy mantra of dropping out? Know any people like that? (If you have seen Hotel Rwanda, check the scene in which the American TV reporter tells Paul that even after watching his forage of the massacre victims, Americans will not do anything.)
4) How does the film refuse to follow the route of the usual romantic thriller? Were you surprised at what happened? How does this add to the film’s sense of realism?
5) What do you think of the forms of religion that we see in the film? What is their basic element—fear or faith? Where can we this kind of religion today?
6) What connections do you think the filmmakers intended for us to make with events of our own time? The appearance of the signs “Homeland Security” ? The rounding up of immigrants? The hostility between Muslims and native Brits? The setting off of bombs in restaurants? See any similarity with Iraq?
7) When Theo visits his cousin Nigel Danny Huston), do you recognize the huge painting on the wall? Yes, it is Picasso’s “Guernica.” Why do you think the filmmakers decided to use this painting as Nigel’s “wallpaper” (as one critic called it)? What conditions in Picasso’s time connect the painting with events in the film? If you are not familiar with the background or with the work itself, type in “Guernica” into the search box of Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Main_Page.
8) How is Isaiah’s promise during a dark time in his country’s history connected with the film and the painting? What sign of hope do you see in Picasso’s grim painting of chaos and death? Easy to overlook, isn’t it?
9) What does the film suggest might be the cost of hope? Indeed, at what other points do we see a small “crucifixion?