I don’t get out much, but the other night I ventured out to a movie theatre
to see the film Children of Men.
I remember reading reviews of the P.D. James novel on which it is based in
the early 90s and making a mental note to read the book, which I never got
around to doing.
So I cannot compare the book to the film nor comment on how well it made
the transition from page to screen. I am told that some who read the book were
not pleased with the film, but I am here viewing the film as a thing unto
Children of Men is set a couple of decades in the future, in an
England gone to seed. The world is in chaos; "Britain soldiers on", in the
words of the propaganda broadcasts, but only as a brutal police state.
Immigrants are rounded up, caged and shipped out. Random violence – both
revolutionary and criminal- is endemic. Religious extremists, both Christian and
Muslim, have taken to the streets. The government heavily promotes a suicide
And the world is childless: the youngest person on the planet has just been
murdered, at the age of 18, as the film begins.
The protagonist, Theo, is a former radical, now a cynical hard-drinking
government bureaucrat. His sole escape from the drudgery is an occasional visit
to an old hippie friend who lives in a cabin in the woods.
Theo had had a child once, many years ago, who had died in an influenze
epidemic, and after the death of the child Theo and the child’s mother had split
She reappears, now the leader of the Fishes, a revolutionary group, and
prevails upon him by a mixture of bribery, memory and residual love to escort a
mysterious African woman to the coast, where a ship from the Human Project will
take her out of England to their refuge in the Azores.
The woman, Kee, is heavy with child, and as soon as this is revealed to
Theo something awakens in him and his transformation from world-weary cynic to
selfless saviour begins.
The overtly Christian themes are obvious: the child who is the hope of the
world, threatened on all sides, a journey to safety under the protection of a
just man, and the conversion of that man.
The grace at the heart of Children of Men is most vivid in the two
brief moments of stillness in an otherwise frenetic film.
The first of these occurs just after the child is born in the midst of the
chaos of a pitched street battle between rebels and government forces. As the
child’s cries pierce the sounds of war the gunfire begins to slow, then stop.
The woman carries her baby through the parting crowd of refugees and combatants.
Several people cross themselves and a woman’s voice is heard praying the Hail
In the second, a gypsy woman leads Theo and Kee to shelter, the home of
Eastern European refugee squatters, where Kee finally has a moment of joy,
holding her baby in peace. On the walls are a Slavic three-barred cross and
It is odd to say of a work that portrays so much that is ugly and squalid,
but Children of Men is a beautiful film.
That said, I must warn you that it is not for everyone. The pace is
relentless, the violence brutal and graphic, the peril constant. I left the
theatre emotionally exhausted, and I felt like I had been holding my breath from
the opening scenes until the final credits.
It is a film which can only be described as prophetic, not in the sense of
being a precise prediction of a future world, but rather in speaking truth to
this one. The death wish of the West, the failure to have children -especially
in Europe- is at the heart of an emerging crisis
P.D. James’ dystopia is recognizably this world, albeit exaggerated.
And like the outlook for this world, Children of Men offers us, in
the end, both tragedy and hope.