The dance of the puppets
The rusted chains of prison moons
Are shattered by the sun.
I walk a road, horizons change
The tournament’s begun.
In the Court of the Crimson King – King Crimson
Where do we begin with Children of Men? Do we start in the depths of the science-fiction genre or in the floatings of the biblical thematics? Do we start with its theatrics and fine-tuned cinematography? Where do you begin with a film like this. Children of Men is probably the best film of the last ten years. Alfonso Cuarón’s career is, very recently, now jumping into Gravity and so I thought it fitting to perhaps take a long, three-parter look at (probably) the best film of his career. Let’s start this Weekly Analysis Special with a trip down protagonist lane…
Theo’s tumultuous journey into the heart of dark humanity is what truly sells the film. Off him splinters the film’s biblical resonances, its dark postmodernist thematics, its sexual themes and even its very atmosphere and score. Everything hangs underneath Theo’s journey to, as Jasper tells us later on, reclaim his “faith” from the hands of “chance”. Theo starts the journey thinking any hope of a cure is false anyway, “doesn’t matter, too late, world went to shit anyway”, and then by the end is peddling and ferrying to get the last grain of human future out into the lands of tomorrow. It is Theo’s reclamation of his faith in humanity to which the picture balances itself upon, his death translates to, essentially, a sacrifice for humanity.
One interesting thing to note is to where his death comes from. I understand I’m backpedalling through the film’s narrative but, bear with me, the bullet that kills Theo comes from Luke. The amount of Christian names also helps to sell the film’s biblical parallels, but it’s a harsher truth that Luke is practically the destroyer of Theo’s world. He, both directly and indirectly, has a hand in Julian’s death, Jasper’s death and the murder of all of Theo’s allies before Theo himself. Luke is practically the figurehead for a different corner of the film; its politics. Luke sees the baby as a prop, a flag, to be used to spill about the uprising against the Orwellian-tide. His pragmatism, that the Human Project is probably a sunken dream, is the third point of the “faith” and “chance” triangle that the film balances itself on; logic.
Theo orbits the idea of logic too. He argues with Miriam about the “mirrors”, he tries “not to think” about death, he gets dragged into the Kee job for only a “couple more grand” and when things grow tough he chooses to “go back” to London. It’s only the very sight of Kee’s pregnancy that stirs some sense of heroism, some sense of humanity, underneath the black canvas of hopelessness. The film takes us from the pits of a nihilistic apocalyptic dystopia, a social sludge that rests alongside Orwell and Huxley’s feverish nightmares, and slowly chips hope back into itself.
Luke, the fountain of all of Theo’s bloodshed, is practically the great temptation of the film. He is an image of a more pragmatic, the more logical, approach to the dilemma of Kee’s pregnancy. Both Syd and Theo mutter “Jesus Christ” when Kee is born, imbuing the baby with a different quality. There are elements of logic, Luke’s flag, elements of faith, “Jesus Christ” and (chance too) Kee “[doesn’t] know” how the baby happened in the first place. There’s tons of other biblical imagery too from Theo’s sandals to the waters to the “Fishes”. The film is practically one giant mish-mash of Christian allegory.
It’s also a film with a lot of soul and a sense of great history. I see the film as more of a journey through the past in search of a deeper truth about humanity; that it’s always survived. There are symbols of the present – ‘Protect Britain’, the omnipresent Union Jack flag and Battersea Power Station – and there are pieces of the past. Dylan is born from a black woman, whose ethnicity calls back the very origin of humanity. Theo wears sandals, cries in forests, hurries about Soviet bloc buildings and finally struggles through a tunnel of water adorned with cave painting iconography. The recurring surrealist art and architecture, both in his cousin’s apartment and the Soviet bloc building, the women with the dogs; Theo’s entire journey is looped with symmetry within itself. These pieces are constant but what changes is Theo’s faith, in his refusal of logic and escape of chance.
If we want to try and take the biblical allegory literally then we can see the entire film being about the birth of “Tomorrow” and the very origin of a Christendom. Theo is essentially Joseph in the Jesus equation. He is tasked by the Virgin Mary (a mysterious female whose memory he hangs to like a “ball and chain”) to deliver a child to a better future towards Bethlehem (the ‘Tomorrow’ at Bexhill) even at great cost. The child is revealed to him in a manger – “Jesus Christ” – (Kee shows her pregnancy in a barn) and, to make sure the child is safe must keep him hidden (against the conspiring forces). Eventually the myth is born (the refugee camp, the ‘last’ shelter could also be seen as the manger) and Joseph’s role is complete, he secures Christendom at the cost of his own masculinity (in Children of Men‘s world it is either in war or, in Theo’s case, death). The child will become a symbol, like Luke intended, but it is the inverse of the Christendom myth. Its very birth, not death, is the cleanser of humanity’s blood and sin ridden moral pores. The child, Dylan, is also a woman with a fairly androgynous name; this fully modernizes the birth of Jesus in neo-Christian allegory.
Theo is a protagonist faced with biblical responsibility and one at the center of a triangular grudge match between forces of logic, faith and chance. Ultimately he dies out of chance but manages to secure his life was one of faith. He is, in many ways, the film’s main device of prophecy. Even his very shirt, London 2012 and the Olympics flame, is a poignant ever present reminder of a possibly dead future. Children of Men is indeed a mirror of another time that just seems a breath away from a world like our own. The ‘Olympics’ shirt was actually just a good guess, the film made before the bid was successful, but it still stands as a greater image that slots into the dystopia prophetic metaphor.
Children of Men also has probably the greatest ‘hero’s journey’ ever captured on film. Much like Deckard and Luke Skywalker, Theo undergoes great change and greater tragedy. His entire mental milkshake is set against a backdrop of the fringe of the apocalypse, of a police-state and social machinery that seems devoid of meaning and reasoning. This is a world where ‘Last one to die please turn out the light’ adorns the graffiti, where “AVOIDING FERTILITY TESTS IS A CRIME” and where the classical arts dies a slow, agonizing death; “A one hundred years from now there won’t be one sad fuck to look at all this”. It’s also a world where Theo, the only “one of hundreds” is able to go from everyday Winston Smith to full-force Prophet.