The gardener plants an evergreen
Whilst trampling on a flower.
I chase the wind of a prism ship
To taste the sweet and sour.
In the Court of the Crimson King – King Crimson
Clothing. That’s an odd way to begin a Children of Men analysis, right? Except with all the metaphysical talk, the dark depressing atmosphere and all kinds of ripe material to talk about I sort of figure that something more simple may be the best territory to carry on with. Last week was about Theo’s place in the biblical themes and the very heart of the whole existentialist drama. This week is about something completely different. It’s about a simple question. What are you wearing right now?
Obviously this is odd talk but I’d like to use it to launch an entire essay dedicated to clothing in Children of Men, particularly Theo’s. Throughout the film, which takes place over a series of a few days, Theo’s wardrobe shifts and changes alongside the story beats. In some ways the wool that he carries can tell us more about the film’s mental state than the actual cinematography. Really, though, Children of Men is one giant cohesive yarn of a storytelling experience; all elements are in cahoots with each other to maximize the events at play.
We begin seeing Theo clad in typical work suit jacket and tie, removed completely of color. It’s nothing that special and seems almost ‘Winston Smith’ in its vibe. It’s quite generic, he floats alongside all the other robotic humans. He looks just like fodder, even when he’s almost blown up in the film’s opener. As we discussed last week, however, this is a hero’s journey. The events of the film re-awaken Theo’s faith in humanity and, at the start, his clothes no faith at all. If anything they show flat obedience to the government identity; removed of humor, heart, soul or any identifiable ‘human’ trait. Theo dresses simply to work, not for himself.
What happens after his ‘kidnapping’ is a test of mental metal. Theo finds the world slowly shaping him towards a foreign goal, and seems to take one small step forward. He wears a different suit for the occasion with his cousin. It’s a very smart dinner jacket, correct and black and white. It’s all incredibly formal, arguably a natural evolution from his work clothes. Theo is however evolving both in wardrobe and mind, becoming more comfortable with the idea of being more involved in the ‘Human Project’ escapade.
What radically changes his wardrobe is Julian’s death. Following this he’s told “I don’t think those bloodstains will wash off” after he changes. Theo still however dresses for the thematic occasion. His new wardrobe is a dead shirt and some trousers, far removed from the ‘formal’ Theo that we’re used to seeing. This is the slow, steady descent of Theo into the madness of his hero’s journey, this is where he slowly falls (mentally). One of my favorite shots of the entire picture is the little kitten clawing up at Theo’s trousers. Life is literally clinging on to him.
After leaving the Fishes farm and going to Jasper’s there’s another change in wardrobe. Quite a detour from formality altogether. The iconic ‘London 2012’ Olympics shirt is put on here, drab black background too. ‘London 2012’ represents a false future and an unnerving prophecy, where once the very bastion of entertainment shone bright now there lies just death and decay. What’s the point in the hundred metre run if babies can’t be born? The film was made before the ‘London 2012’ bid was actually successful, and Theo wears this shirt of disturbing coincidence all throughout the film. Even covered in blood by the picture’s end, showing a twisted future that’s just a little Butterfly Effect away. The clothing most definitely backs up the film’s core thesis on the decay of humanity and the truth behind an apocalypse.
It’s also worth pointing out that Theo’s coat, which travels with him throughout most of the film, is oddly reminiscent of a trenchcoat. He uses it to help give birth to Dylan, before getting a much more bulkier version. Arguably he’s putting on his war armor for the final stretch, but it’s probably worth pointing out it may be something more of a genre salute. Rick Deckard, that name ring a bell? The trench-coated hero who’s given a chance at humanity. Kinda reminds you of a certain masterpiece dunnit?
All of these clothing changes are consistent with the film’s changing thematic atmosphere. Theo puts on clothes at every turning point in the narrative, layering on prophecy and showing how his very surface appearance has changed in line with his commitment to saving humanity. Like a Knight in shining armor. What may be the strongest and most predominant costume change is his footwear. He puts on sandals at Jaspers, it’s somewhat hilarious to think of a hero running about in them. The sandals probably have biblical resonances, as well as showing how naked and vulnerable that Theo’s mind is slowly becoming. The second change in footwear happens with nary a word about the shoes, Theo doesn’t ask for them at all, but some migrant soldier just gives him a pair of trainers. This is likely for him to be able to run about, to gain some confidence in his final fight. In reality I think both changes in footwear are completely in line with the plot points of escape. At Jasper’s he is escaping from the Fishes (and embodying the full Joseph role in the Christian allegory) and in the second change the boat has just been secured, hence why he’s given new footwear to take the final steps.
Clothing in Children of Men means just as much as camera movements. As Theo sheds the years of built up misanthropic pessimism, so too does he layer on new pieces of faith in humanity. He adapts and gains confidence in both his morals and his footwear, whilst also finding touches of Rick Deckard slowly slide into the sci-fi mixture. Clothes can tell us a lot about characters and, in Children of Men‘s case, can help us chart the very narrative journey of the film.