Tuesday, January 30, 2007

More on Children of Men

In my last post, I'd meant to include links to some other interesting responses to Children of Men. I'm glad I didn't; it gives me the opportunity to do so here, and say a little about them without overloading the original post.

At I Cite, Jodi Dean actually posted first about P.D. James' novel:
No more playgrounds or toy stores. The last generation moving through schools which are then boarded up or repurposed. Initial efforts to solve the problem as well as initial warfare, chaos, and espionage, are ultimately abandoned in the wake of an overwhelming global ennui. In a way, it's a strange sort of big Other--a big Other that knows that it is dying, that it will not exist. This makes me think differently again about the non-existence of the big Other today--it may not exist, but it posits its existence in the future.

Commerce, it seems, grinds slowly to a stop. The last cars are made about 15 years after the last generation is born. There is a geriatric science and various evangelists appear from time to time offering if not hope then at least momentary respite from the gray present. Academics give courses for adults. Apparently, the state sponsors pornography--people have lost interest in sex. Adults from less privileged countries are shipped in as guest workers and treated horribly. People become even more involved with their pets. Anglicans argue over whether pets can be christened. Could there be a stock market, a bond market, without a future? Mortgages? Is this a variation of the only way to imagine a[n] end to capitalism? Imagining only a lack?

This addresses, I think, some of the complaints some have had about the logic of the movie. Also, it occurred to me after writing my post, that one of the reasons Britain would have to restrict immigration--given the downward pressure on population worldwide--is that we are told that the rest of the world has more or less collapsed, while "only Britain soldiers on". If this is true, then Britain would be overloaded with immigrants--or, at least, anxieties . Jodi also posted a passage quoting Žižek talking about the movie; he will be featured on the dvd release. In another post, Jodie talked about Žižek and the movie again:
To imagine the world of Children of Men is to imagine an end to capitalism--no borrowing against the future. But it is also to imagine an end of meaning, the impossibility of sense insofar as the horizon that structures a world, that makes meaning possible, is missing.
The question of immigration and migration is also discussed at this excellent post about the movie at the naked gaze, and in the comment thread there.

k-punk's post about the film touches on, much more eloquently than I did, what I was trying to say about youth and culture. For him, the question the film asks is "how long can a culture persist without the new? What happens if the young are no longer capable of producing surprises?" Also from k-punk's post:

. . . the film is dominated by the sense that the damage has been done. The catastrophe is neither waiting down the road, nor has it already happened. Rather, it is being lived through. There is no punctual moment of disaster; the world doesn't end with a bang, it winks out, unravels, gradually falls apart.

[. . .] Children of Men is a dystopia that is specific to late capitalism. This isn't the familiar totalitarian scenario routinely trotted out in cinematic dystopias

[. . . ] public space is abandoned, given over to uncollected garbage and to stalking animals (one especially resonant scene takes place inside a derelict school, through which a deer runs). But, contrary to neo-liberal fantasy, there is no withering away of the State, only a stripping back of the State to its core military and police functions. In this world, as in ours, ultra-authoritarianism and Capital are by no means incompatible: internment camps and franchise coffee bars co-exist.

alas, a blog also has a thoughtful response to the film.

Many of these posts have discussed, sometimes in great length, an aspect of the film that I did not address at all, its pretty overt Christian symbolism and imagery. It's not difficult to see the birth of a baby, symbolically, in terms of humanity's salvation, and Clive Owen's Theo plays something of a Joseph to Kee's Mary. Apparently, James' novel is a much more reactionary Christian work, which is not in as much evidence in the film. Žižek , in the item quoted in Jodi's post cited above, aside from saying that the film "gives the best diagnosis of the ideological despair of late capitalism. Of a society without history", praises the movie for subverting its reactionary source:
. . . Children of Men is a model of a kind of materialist subversion of a reactionary classic, because the novel is obviously a spiritualist Christian parable of resuscitation, bringing new life and so on. The novel ends with baptizing. It’s clear Christian parable. The film is a model of how you can take a reactionary text, change some details here and there and you get a totally, a totally different story. I would say that it’s a realist film, but in what sense? Hegel in his esthetics says that a good portrayal looks more like the person who is portrayed than the person itself. A good portrayal is more you than you are yourself. And I think this is what the film does with our reality. The changes that the film introduces do not point toward alternate reality, they simply make reality more what it already is.
Or, as the naked gaze put it:
through the use of Nativity and other Biblical iconography Cuarón performs a double inversion: sublating historical specificity in favor of quasi-ahistorical biblical iconography, but then taking that same iconography and reinvesting it with historically specific connotations from the recent past (thereby re-anchoring the film in contemporary political concerns inspired by not only the conflict in the Balkans, but also 9/11, the Iraq War, global immigration debates, etc.).

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