Wednesday, August 6, 2008

So. You've Got Faith Over Here, Right? And Chance Over There.

“The LORD looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand, and seek God”
-Psalms 14:2(KJV)

“Thou turnest man to destruction; and sayest, Return, ye children of men.”
-Psalms 90:3(KJV)

Oliver Wendell Holmes once wrote “Beware how you take away hope from any human being.” It can be said that it is utterly impossible for humanity to lose hope in anything. With all the religions, beliefs, ideals and philosophies of the world every human being holds some sort of hope. The main thing any of us can hope for is a better future, a better tomorrow. What if there were no tomorrow, would there then be no more hope?

In 2006 Alfonso Cuaron made Children of Men, a film that delves into that very question. The film is set in the year 2027. We hear the youngest human being (Baby Diego) on earth has just died at the age of 18 and the world is devastated. We learn that for the last 18 years woman have been infertile and no new life has been brought onto earth since. We follow a hopeless drunk, Theo Faron, as he agrees to help the first pregnant woman in 18 years reach The Human Project. We know little about The Human Project, only that they want to help humanity survive and save the future of mankind.

The idea of the dystopian vision is blatant within the first 5 minutes of the film. When we first hear of Baby Diego we see the on-lookers faces and any glimmer of hope they may have had seems to be diminishing within the first seconds of the film. We see Theo’s cousin and his Ark of The Arts, a place where he is storing the world’s famous art since no one will be around to enjoy it. The world put forth in Cuaron’s film is a claustrophobic one as well. When Theo sits at his desk he is surrounded by other desks with nothing between them, no privacy. When we see anyone walking down the street there are constantly large groups of people just rushing past them at every second. And while this is true, when Theo is on the bus or train, there seems to be very few people on it. Likewise, when Theo is at Jaspers he is finally in open spaces and can relax. This can be said that these are the only places of progress seen in the film, and humanity has lost hope in progress.

The dystopic vision doesn’t end with the claustrophobic sense the world gives off. Humanity seems to be literally attempting to destroy progress. From the way the city looks to the idea that art is no longer needed(ark of the arts) we see humanity doesn’t desire to progress any when there isn’t anything left for it to progress to. This point is further driven home while Theo is riding the train. As the train is pulling away we come across a group of people just throwing rocks and trash at the train for no apparent reason. They are trying to destroy progress. In many films, particularly westerns, the train represents progress. There is a total digression in the world’s attitude and outlook on life itself.

In Modernity and Mis-En-Scene: Terry Gilliam and Brazil the author writes that in Brazil ( 1985, Dir. Terry Gilliam) “Gilliam makes the point that every step forward can also be a step back. In other words, science, technology, reason and logic may try to move humanity forward, but in the process they inevitably erode the traditional values that give human beings a sense of meaning in their lives.” This is an interesting piece to look at and compare to the worldview that Cuaron takes and the way Technology is used in Children of Men. Throughout the film we see televisions everywhere. In the coffee shop, on the train, in the bus, but we don’t ever see anything happy going on. All that is spoken of on the television is the hope we are losing, Baby Diego and anything relating to those two subjects. It seems televisions main purpose, to entertain, has been replaced. TV used to be able to give these people hope. Watching a favorite sports team win a game, Ross and Rachel finally getting together, these things give humanity hope despite what’s going on in the world.

Also notably stated is Jasper’s conversation with Kee and Miriam about chance and faith. “Everything is a mythical, cosmic battle between faith and chance.” But he discusses further that “Theo’s faith lost out to chance.” This could mean he began to think with reason and logic rather than faith, but as the film progresses that ideology in Theo digresses.

The functions this film plays within history, past and present, while tying them into its overall theme brings the Science Fiction ideals more upfront than they might have been. Not that the historical themes covered in this film are related to science, but that the historical themes are used to give us a context of where we are today, in our contemporary society. This is what most Science Fiction films do. They show us a vision of the future or past and use it as a mirror for today. In The Imagination of Disaster the author covers this theme throughout many of the 1950’s Science Fiction films such as The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951, Dir. Robert Wise) and Forbidden Planet (1956, Dir. Fred Wilcox) which discuss the threat of nuclear war, which was a heavily prevalent thought in the times the films were made. Children of Men brings us the refugee camps but makes them look disturbingly similar to those of Nazi Germany during the Holocaust. We are brought into the issue of illegal immigration and also shown some images that are very reminiscent of September 11th. Euthanasia is another topic that is brought into this film, but not enough to make an impact on the viewer other than to show the loss of hope felt throughout mankind.

The main theme this film covers throughout all of that mess is hope. This is a topic well covered in many Science Fiction films. The genre is all about hope. From Back to The Future to ET hope is the most often used ideology for a Science Fiction film. Even when the film has a grim subject, or a scary theme, such as in an alien encounter film, even if they aren’t here in peace, the idea of life on another planet is too engaging to not hope for. The way Cuaron presents this hope is through a very traditionally packaged religious story. From the idea that Kee (the pregnant woman) and her baby are the only hope for mankind and their future, to the name of the main character(Theo, meaning God in Greek).

While the Novel’s religious themes are much less subtle Cuaron doesn’t totally shy away from them. When Kee reveals her secret to Theo they are in a barn, referencing the birth of Christ in Bethlehem. When Theo sees Kee’s pregnant stomach the only words he can utter are “Jesus Christ!” It is Theo’s job to get Kee to the Human Project by getting her to their boat(aptly named “Tomorrow”) in a refugee camp. This baby is the hope for tomorrow, just as tomorrow is the hope for the baby.

It can also be said that Theo is a more modern version of Noah. At many points in the film we see animals come up to him, even once it is commented that “They like you, they normally don’t like anyone.” It is also notable that they are always seen in pairs, just as in the story of Noah when he had “2 of every kind” get onto the ark. More proof for this theory can be found in the final scene when Kee, Theo and the baby are on the row boat waiting for “Tomorrow.” The hope is found at sea.

In this same scene Kee proclaims the name of the baby will be Dylan (the name of a child Theo once had but had passed away at a young age). The name Dylan means “sea god, son of the waves” which can also be related back to the story of Noah. There are many hopeful Dylan's in the world though. To me, most notably, I think of Bob Dylan.

The message that Children of Men provides us with is a message of hope. Even throughout the darkest times, hope can be found and will seemingly appear out of nowhere. The only hope any of us can have is in tomorrow.


Farzan said...

I love this film, I saw it last year and fell in love with it. I should check it out again seeinh as how I havent seen it in awhile. Cool blog, keep it up

Dead Pan said...

Thanks Farzan, I love this movie as well. It has alot of complexity mixed with subtlety which works perfectly together.

Thanks for the kind words. =)

Fletch said...

Excellent write-up - did you just read the novel or watch the movie or both? Seems like you had already done one and now just did the other. Either way, I'm glad you did it - you pointed out a number of things that I was blissfully unaware of (the meaning of Theo's name, the animal attraction, etc), though when you think of "Dylan," you should think of me. ;) (Actually, I was named after Bob, so that works, too.)

Dead Pan said...

Fletch---To be honest, I have yet to read the novel, though I really want to. When I talked about it in the essay, I was basically just going off of what I know about the novel. I am planning on reading it soon though. Have you read the novel? If so, what are your thoughts on it?

And of course I think of Mr Fletch, AKA Dylan, especially when it comes to God of the Sea. I regret not mentioning it. =)

Fletch said...

No, I've not read it, either. And I probably won't, as I find that I can't read a book after seeing a movie based on it. I don't like that I can't form an image of the characters in my head, instead subbing in the actors heads.

Pat said...

Great, thoughtful review. I really appreciate your spiritual/religious insights.

I watched this movie over a year ago on DVD, with two friends who hated it, didn't get it - and wouldn't shut up about the fact that they didn't get or like it. I've always wanted to see it again on my own, because I found it gripping and powerful, right from the very first frame.

Dead Pan said...

Pat---Thanks for chiming in. I would say see it again as soon as you can, it only gets better with subsequent viewings.