On soft gray mornings widows cry
The wise men share a joke;
I run to grasp divining signs
To satisfy the hoax.
In the Court of the Crimson King – King Crimson
Children of Men, as we’ve discussed, is a film that’s about more than a world on the fringe of the post-apocalypse. It’s a social treatise, biblical allegory, greater metaphor for the hero’s journey and also a warning about ideology. Children of Men sets up a world in which ‘ONLY BRITAIN SOLDIERS ON’. The exact truth behind the propaganda, that peppers the picture, is something we’re unable to calculate. There are pieces of a wider Orwellian scheme and in this police state theory we’ll find this week’s Weekly Analysis.
The film actually begins with the loss of a last drop of hope. Baby Diego dies as Theo grabs a coffee, before the entire shop explodes. He’ll letter ask the Fishes about the bombings, who’ll tell him that it’s the “government” who are responsible. This back and forth persecution soon starts to revolve around Kee’s baby, about using her as a keystone of the ‘uprising’. All such language is oddly reminiscent of 1984‘s Brotherhood which, by the end of that novel, we’re not sure in what form it entirely exists. We’re also not sure in which ways the Fishes operate (are they international or just national?) or even how the Human Project works. It’s all based on whispers, something Theo points out.
As Theo walks around his office we see all of his colleagues adorning union jack paraphenallia to their desks. This bout of nationalist symbolism floods the film’s background noise, even invading Theo’s own shirt. By the time the iconic ‘London’ is plastered on Theo, however, the nation state has been revealed as a dead dusty ruse. All the grander references to British history (Battersea Power Station, Buckingham Palace road, the Union Jack etc.) are all shown to be some kind of pathetic ledge to which all humanity seems to cling on to.
1984 also detailed a world in which language and literature are being constantly rewritten. He who controls the present controls the past. He who controls the past controls the future. We’re not sure if the entire ‘WORLD HAS COLLAPSED’, if indeed Britain could be the last bastion of humanity. All the iconography and blind worship to falsehoods may be a slight reference to the grander ‘Party’ in 1984. The police state and its hateful control, migrants are rounded up in cages to be (eventually) slaughtered, is also a bit of a point toward’s the Thoughtpolice and the brutal realities of Winston Smith’s world.
Language, ‘newspeak’ in 1984, also crops up in Children of Men. A sign of a great science-fiction universe is when words are created that feel fluid and real. Children of Men has its Fishes, “fugees” and “cod”s. All of the new lexicon of Children of Men can be traced back to the real world. There’s a sense that the language and literature of this world is indeed slowly dying, but there’s a bit of grim humor – “cod” – in the final breaths.
More apparent is, as Theo says, “a hundred years from now there won’t be one sad fuck to look at any of this”. All the classical arts and fancy words will soon dissolve into nothing. Michelangelo’s David stands in Battersea Power Station, there’s a blimp of a pig flying above London and all remnants of the arts seem to lose their places in history. This is a twisted, near impossible vision of a world just a drop away from ours. Even love, such as the one shared between Julia (a name derived, perhaps, from the central female protagonist of 1984) and Theo. Julia will die and Theo, even though he is “one [in] hundreds” will die too.
Children of Men is something of a salute to inevitability and its turning tides, but underneath its existentialist and socialist fingernails there’s the grit of Orwellianism to be found. A lot of the police state is background noise of hidden behind windows, still lurching in plain sight. Much like the dog and woman, “Jesus Christ” and other instances, Theo’s journey is full of symmetry. In the Orwell case there are two dogs that guard Michelangelo’s David at the start, just as the two policemen die following Julia’s death. The last vanguards of the old worlds.
There’s a lot more to be said. Surveillance, the protests, the military response to the uprising and the obvious press censorship. The propaganda that flushes into Theo’s world is worth some talk too. All of this, however, is a testament to the true beauty behind Children of Men. It honestly is probably the best science-fiction film since Blade Runner, and the best film of the last ten years. Children of Men is about the collapse of a society and it covers the political struggle, the death of the classical world, the evolution of heroism and the final beats of hopelessness. It really is a monumental achievement in storytelling. From the experimental long-takes, which perpetually ramp up the intensity, to the grandiose philosophies all at play.
I could probably write a lot more about the cinematography, the tertiary characters, the presentation of love, the Freudian and Jungian psychological dynamics and all kinds of different topics. Children of Men is a film best remembered. I prefer to keep an image of it in my head; the image of the end. Mankind’s last mother sitting lonely on a rowing boat waiting for Tomorrow as the last hero of the apocalypse succumbs to a bullet wound by the man who murdered his loves and friends. The lifeless lump of Theo, however, still marches on. Still marches on, crowned a hero… in the court of the crimson king.