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Children Of Men

Children Of Men

By Jack Murphy • April 26th, 2013
DECONSTRUCTING CINEMA, cheap PART 28: CHILDREN OF MEN
Universal Pictures

Release date: September 22nd 2006
Running time: 105 minutes

Director: Alfonso Cuarón
Writer: Alfonso Cuarón (based on novel by P. D. James)

Cast: Clive Owen, Michael Caine, Julianne Moore

Baby Diego: 00:04:24 to 00:06:59

Deconstructing Cinema: One Scene At A Time, the complete series so far

Children Of Men

Children of Men is set in the UK in 2027, but not the UK as we know it; rather a sterile UK where immigration is illegal and the rest of the world has been pulled apart by (nuclear) horses and general political unrest. It’s the sterility of the world which is at the heart of the film, in that there is one person left, Kee (Clare-Hope Ashitey) who isn’t sterile, and it’s up to Theo (Clive Owen) and ex-wife Julian (Julianne Moore) to make sure she succeeds in giving birth.

This is a film that had a profound impact on me. Having read around Children Of Men, the famous car ambush scene is what repeatedly springs up. Without a doubt that is a great scene; the pace, the acting and cinematography came together to make a very good car ambush scene. But that’s not the scene that really got to me in Children Of Men. It was actually a very subtle scene early on that particularly struck me, which was merely a brief conversation between the Theo and his friend Jasper (Michael Caine) about a terrorist attack on London and the death of the world’s youngest person ‘Baby Diego’.

To put this into context; the film begins with a crowded café and the news footage on television explaining how the youngest man in the world had died. Theo walks into the cafe, glances at the screen, grabs his coffee and goes. Then there’s an explosion, but I won’t be talking about the explosion.

Having used the death of ‘Baby Diego’ as an excuse to leave work Theo gets a train and arriving at the station he walks past a group of detained immigrants, but I won’t be talking about the horrendous state of immigration. It’s at the station that Theo is picked up by his friend Jasper and they climb into Jasper’s car.

Children Of Men

These scenes act as a crescendo to what is my favourite scene in Children Of Men. They set the scene, as it were, and give an insight into what the UK has become. But only from the outside, only from a voyeuristic perspective. We’ve seen how the death of Baby Diego has impacted on the masses, but it’s not the masses this film is concerned with. It’s more interested in the individual, in particular how Theo sees his world and how relationships exist in this world.

It’s when they begin to discuss the death of Baby Diego that we really get an insight into Theo.

JASPER
Baby Diego? Come on, the guy was a wanker.

THEO
Yeah but he was the youngest wanker on earth. Pull my finger, come on, quick.

This is what makes Children Of Men possibly the most chilling post-apocalyptic film that I’ve ever seen. It’s the sheer normality that is not only striking but terrifying. There isn’t the urgency of 28 Days Later (2002) or the stark despair of I Am Legend (2007).

The looming threat of zombies, or scary creatures doesn’t exist in Children Of Men. The harsh reality of the situation is rooted in what humanity has done to the world, and how the world has retaliated. To reinforce this, in the same breath of discussing the youngest man in the world dying, Jasper makes a fart joke.

This young man, famous for being the youngest man, has died, and both men agree he was a wanker and move on. Although a pastiche on celebrity isn’t what the film was aiming for, it is one of the small moments that contribute to the terror this film incites in me. Despite being set 25 years into the future, Jasper isn’t driving a flying car, rather just a bog standard run down car. And the two friends are mocking a dead celebrity, and also laughing at the masses for being so attached to a person they’ve never known, and who was allegedly a wanker.

This normality gives strength to the terror of the film as it becomes a very believable situation. The portrayal of the UK in such a state of crisis is scary because it looks like it could only take 2 – 3 years for the UK to fall into that place. As the cameras pan over fields of burning cows, there is a gentle reminder of problems that the UK has come up against in the past and how fragile it really is.

Children Of Men

When you compare Children Of Men to a much more literal post-apocalyptic space such as The Road (2009), it’s this normality that is haunting. In The Road and I Am Legend in particular there is an impetus on the world that has been lost and the total desolation of the world, but in Children Of Men it’s more of a focus on the future. The infertility of the world puts a shelf-life on humanity. The apocalypse has come, and it’s taken away the potential for a future, rather than destroying the present.

There’s a tradition with the apocalypse of grandeur; split into the original biblical concept of redemption for the righteous and a more modern conception of unequivocal damnation. Lois Parkinson Zamora writes in the introduction of Writing the Apocalypse: Historical Vision in Contemporary U.S. and Latin American Fiction that apocalypse is:

not merely a synonym for disaster or cataclysm or chaos […] [it] is, in fact, a synonym for “revelation,” and if the Judeo-Christian revelation of the end of history includes – indeed, catalogues – disasters, it also envisions a millennial order which represents the potential antithesis to the undeniable abuses of human history. 1

In Children of Men the end of history is tied up in their inability to reproduce, the ‘antithesis to the undeniable abuses of human history’ isn’t present, instead there is hope to continue with the young lady that Theo is to meet later on in the film. But hope to continue doesn’t mean revelation, it just means to carry on. Baby Diego dies and they move onto the next youngest person, and right now in this scene all they have is the present that is falling apart around them and has been for a long time.

I found that Children Of Men for me rings true with the final stanza of “The Hollow Men” by T. S. Eliot:

SOURCES:

  • [1] Lois Parkinson Zamora, Writing the Apocalypse: Historical Vision in Contemporary U.S. and Latin American Fiction, p. 10.
  • [2] T. S. Eliot, The Hollow Men, The Norton Anthology of Poetry eds. Margaret Furguson, Mary Jo Salter, Jon Stallworthy, p. 1359.
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper. 2

It isn’t over with a flood, or a plague of zombies, but with as series of very bad mistakes by humanity and in total normality.

Children Of Men

Jack Murphy

Jack Murphy

Jack is an English Literature student in his early Twenties (The Golden Age!) at the University of Leeds. He insists on saying that he’s originally from Slough, Berkshire which is the setting of Ricky Gervais’ comedy series The Office – and not a day goes by that he’s not reminded of that fact… Irrespective of being mocked for it, Jack still is, and will most likely remain, a big Gervais fan.

And he sure knows how to spend his time. Having subscribed to a well known DVD delivery service for the past three years, Jack spends half of his days watching DVDs – and the other half on catch-up websites watching TV programmes.

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