Film comment: Children of Men (2006)  

Posted by Denis Haack in ,

If you haven’t seen this film directed by Alfonso Cuarón, or read the novel of the same name by P. D. James, please do so. The story is simple but compelling. Imagine a world in which no babies are born, and all hope for the future has been lost. As despair grows, government becomes increasingly authoritarian. Now imagine what would happen if a young woman became pregnant. I’ve already written about this on Ransom’s web site—which you can read here—so I won’t repeat myself.


My friend Steve Froehlich, pastor of New Life Presbyterian Church (Ithaca, NY), led a discussion on Children of Men and afterwards recorded some of his reflections on the film in an email. Steve has insight into the narrative of the film I did not see, and which, I suspect, the film makers did not intend. He was kind enough to let me post them here:


I’ve been thinking more about the film, especially in light of PD James’ comment that she wrote the story as a Christian fable.


My appreciation for and understanding of Children of Men has shifted in focus a bit. While I think the birth of the baby into the lifelessness and hostility of the world certainly points to Christ’s coming into the world to bring us life and hope, I think what I see more clearly now is how the film captures God’s coming to us to see us safely born into the hope of the world made new.


Theo says to Jasper: “If I lived here with you, what would I have to look forward to?” That sets up two underlying questions, I think. First, the more obvious: What are we looking forward to? What is our hope? But, second, a bit less obvious: How is that hope realized? By what means in this life do we actually experience hope?


The answer the film offers is that God comes to us to shepherd us safely home. God with us is our hope in the present.


Theo, suggestive of the Greek word for “god,” is God who comes to us and gives his life for us that we be given new life and the hope of tomorrow. Julian persuades Kee to trust no one but Theo—Theo is the one who secures the transit papers and safe passage to the boat. The animals, the burned “sacrificial” heaps of dead cattle, do not suffice. Rather, God in Christ must give his own life. In order for us to get to the new life and the hope of tomorrow, we have to leave the world in which we don’t think about the future (Nigel), the world in which the best we can do is escape the present by the Quietus, the world in which we are so desperately trying to control and manage the chaos as best we can. Instead, we have to enter the world of the outcast, the refugee (as God enters our world in the Incarnation), as one who has no hope in the visible scheme of things, whose only hope is deliverance. Real hope comes not by military victory, by an uprising, by greater physical strength, but by a new birth, by new life.


Four images in the closing chapter of the film (in the Bexhill refugee camp) seem to support this idea. (1.) the herd of sheep parading down the street, sheep without a shepherd; (2.) the color red of Marichka’s jacket, being covered by the blood of another, the one who provides the boat, lodging, protection, and always finds a way—Theo and Kee are always accompanied by this lone and quietly conspicuous splash of red; (3.) the parallel of the physical birth of the child and the existential birth of Kee and the baby through the water canal to the light in the ocean; and (4.) the fighter jets passing over and bringing destruction on those who have not been delivered—here Theo is like Moses leading God’s people in the Exodus


The great message of the fable is that the ground of our hope is that God himself will see us safely through. We are the child entrusted to his care. We are that new life brought safely to the hope of a new tomorrow. God, in Christ, sheds his blood that we might be delivered from the horror of sin and judgment of God. God, in Christ, gives his life that we might live. And in the end the new born child (a girl, the bride) is given the name of the Son, lost by the One who has given his all that we might be saved.


Ironically, this is not the message of the book, but the film is (I think) a strongly Christian retelling of a story that draws heavily from the book.


Good films are always carefully constructed, with every detail communicating something the director and screenwriter intends. Good stories, however, sometimes reflect something of reality and life more deeply than even the storytellers knew. Such is the wonder of art.


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