Idol Chatter

A young mother gives birth to a miracle child destined to save humanity but then must flee with her child to safety or be killed. No, I am not describing the plot of “The Nativity Story,” but the plot of the futuristic thriller “Children of Men.” Director Alfonso Cuaron (“The Prisoner of Azkaban“) takes the premise of mystery author P.D. James’s novel of the same name and gives the audience a jarring, emotional journey through a dystopian society not too far into the future. The result is a film that is one of the best directed movies of the year, filled with images that are by turns disturbing, depressing, inspiring, and, occasionally, even humorous. And while the movie in its own way clearly celebrates the value of life, it’s too bad that it doesn’t stay true to the theology of the novel.

“Children of Men” takes place only two decades into the future and follows a burned-out political activist, Theo (Clive Owen), as he becomes an unlikely hero. Theo lives in war-torn, plague-ravaged England, where people walk through the city streets like zombies because their society is dying out, literally. There hasn’t been a birth of a child in this society in 18 years. The women are sterile–for reasons the movie deosn’t exactly explain–and because there are no children, there is no future and no hope.

Theo is enlisted by his ex-wife, Julian ( Julianne Moore), to join her undergound group of rebels, only to soon discover the real reason she came to him–her allies have been hiding a woman who is about to give birth.The possibility of this miracle of new life gives Theo hope, and he is suddenly swept up into a battle–both the rebels and the existing governement will take the child from the mother to be used for political gain–to keep the woman alive at all costs.

I admire Cuaron’s handling of this complicated material becuase his choices are always unexpected and often unexplained. Every time I thought I knew what was happening next, I was wrong. This gave me much more of a sense of an impending apocalypse than Mel Gibson’s “Apocalypto” ever did. Cuaron also refuses to explain much of the narrative of the story–the “whys” and the “hows,” which I also think adds to the chaotic, dangerous feel of the action. Cuaron also deftly creates images that serve as warnings to the audince about our own current cutlure regarding the treatment of immigrants and the disenfranchised and the dangers of apathy.

My problem with “Children” is that the conclusion Cuaron seems to draw is strictly humanistic in nature, which is not what P.D. James had in mind at all. James meant the story to have an implicit Christian vision, one which is not evidenced in the movie. There is one discussion in the film in which Theo’s mentor and friend explains that everyone has to decide to let their lives be run by faith or by chance, but that is about as far as the theological discussion goes. Many characters look up to heaven for help in this movie, but they get no answers. The implication seems to be that we are on our own to help ourselves and the next generation; God isn’t there or isn’t interested–take your pick.

Cuaron has said in interviews that he deliberately stayed away from trying to adapt the novel, instead choosing to use the premise and charaacters as a launching point. However, his movie falls a tad short at the end simply because he probed some very deep questions about life and our future existence without looking for answers that may lie outside of human capabilities. If he had done that, “Children of Men” would have easily become a great, memorable film, not just a good one.

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