Children of Men
Dreaming the Future in ‘Children of Men’
Alfonso Cuarón’s 2006 film ‘Children of Men’ is a text that explores the interplay of past, present and future on both personal and societal levels. Many characters in the film are obsessed with reiterating the past in an endless cycle of stagnation. In the case of Jasper’s character, this is limiting and pointless but can become dangerous and destructive, as in the case the British government who use nostalgia to maintain a level of control over a revolting populace and maintain the past at the expense of the future. In contrast, the fugitive characters who act in opposition to the government seem utterly destructive and disregard the ability of the past to inform and influence the future. They ultimately seem groundless and impotent rather than a genuine case of political activism. In the end, the film privileges the sacrificial characters who willingly choose to use their lives to further the cause of the human race as a whole, rather than maintain a comfortable status quo. The characters thus use their past to create a moment of presence wherein they are able to better mankind and enable the possibility of hope and future.The film continually raises issues of nostalgia in the face of a future-less present. Many characters throughout the film insist on holding onto antiquated habits and traditions as a reaction to the traumatic violence of the film. Ultimately, their attempts to hold onto the past are represented as at best circular and pointless and at best, dangerous and oppressive. This is because the future-less world of the film offers no space for development and change; everything becomes stagnant. This is perhaps most apparent in the British government who consistently reinforce the importance of the past and attempt to create security through a sense of historical solidarity. Through the various newsreels and advertisements depicted in the film, the government repeatedly refers to England’s national pride and history in an attempt to justify their actions. At one point, Theo witness a horse-mounted guard in full uniform parading down the city streets, contrasting sharply with the images of chaos and violence in the subsequent scene at the ‘Fish’ headquarters. The aim of this nostalgia is ultimately to preserve the past and maintain it when it is under threat of decay. The character of Jasper provides and interesting counterpoint to the government’s nostalgia. Jasper’s character is an amalgamation of various ‘hippy’ character tropes: his costuming, musical taste, political attitudes and penchant for psychotropic drugs are little more than clichés. While both he and his wife were politically active in the past, at the time of film, Jasper seems to have little aim or motivation apart from caring for his catatonic wife and metaphorically for his nostalgic image. It is perhaps appropriate then, that most of the exhibition in the film is delivered through his character. The most iconic emblem of the film’s nostalgia, however, is perhaps The Human Ark project, which aims to locate and preserve culturally significant human achievements for some unstated purpose. Like Jasper and the government, The Human Ark project seems to have little motivation beyond preservation of what exists. When asked for an explanation of this apparently pointless project, Theo’s brother says, “I just don’t think about it.” In the end, these three entities all rely on this weak logic. Divested of their ability to change and develop, they revert to maintenance and preservation, usually to their detriment.In contrast, those entities which do seem to seek positive change are represented as being dangerous and violent. Activism is a recurring motif in the film. This aspect of the film is primarily explored through the Fishes, who advocate for the better treatment of fugitive immigrants (fugees), in Britain. In contrast to the nostalgia-envoking campaigns of the national government, the fugitives represent a homogenous instability. The group is ethnically diverse, containing members of various national and racial backgrounds and is initially controlled by a woman. While the government represents an adherence to the past in minute detail, the fugitives are primarily pastless subjects, without much exhibition given about the background or character of any Fish character. As a result, they seem devoid of a clear motivation both in terms of their political objectives and their handling of Kee’s pregnancy. That is, they are directed towards the future without consideration for a consolidating past. The actions of the Fishes serve as a counterpoint to Theo’s apathetic disaffection. Theo’s past serves the opposite function of the aforementioned nostalgia. Julian claims that he carried the memory of his deceased son Dylan “like a ball and chain” and that he considers himself to have “a monopoly on suffering”. His past paralyses him from developing any kind of future.This reflects more generally on the idea of conceiving a child in the setting of film. The cause of the infertility crisis is never directly explained. Theo is of the opinion that infertility crisis was and remains incidental to the state of the world. The film opens with a series of voice-overs by a newsreader: “Day 1,000 of the Siege of Seattle.The Muslim community demands an end to the Army’s occupation of mosques.The Homeland Security bill is ratified. After eight years, British borders will remain closed. The deportation of illegal immigrants will continue. Good morning. Our lead story. Here, the film explicitly connections the action of the film to contemporary political issues: Islamic culture’s interaction with the West, questions of national security and personal liberty, fugitive immigrants. At one point a radio announcer introduces a ‘classic’ song from 2004, “a time when people refused to accept that the future was just around the corner”. The film deliberately indexes the trauma of the film’s present with the actions of the film’s past; that is, contemporary politics. If we as the audience are to accept Theo’s suggest that the infertility crisis was not the cause of global decline, it is perhaps inferred that the causal relationship can be reversed. That is, it is possible that the infertility crisis in a cause of global decline. In a literal sense, it is speculated that the crisis has come about due to some human failing: genetic manipulation gone awry, a world-wide contagion or something similar. Metaphorically, if the children of the world represent a hope for the future, than it seems appropriate that a world with a questionable future such as that presented in the film should be divested of its symbol. In other words, the film might be implicitly positing that the childbirth in the world of the film as it is would be a pointless exercise, since human civilization is collapsing upon itself anyway.The film also seems to depict a fascination with the cultural significance of death, with many characters dying or philosophizing about death over the course of the film. Heidegger suggests that human life is given meaning as a consequence of mortality – the very finity of life grants dignity to what would otherwise be a trivial and existential life.# The philosophy of the film seems to be offering a re-reading of Heidegger. While human death can bestow dignity and imbue the human existence with a meaning it would not otherwise possess, this can only be true in the case of a death that progresses the present towards a future. The character of Jasper, for example while generally caught up in regressive nostalgia is able to work towards the future through his death. When he realizes that Kee’s child is “the miracle the world has been waiting for”, he willing sacrifices himself to allow her the chance to escape. His euthanisation of his catatonic wife becomes a symbolic gesture of his willingness to forsake the past. Similarly, Julian’s activism becomes vindicated by her willingness to sacrifice herself for the future of humanity. When she is shot, she is not concerned with her own safety but is instead looking backwards towards Kee and placing the child’s safety above her own. It is perhaps appropriate therefore that her makeshift funeral is accompanied by the chanting of “shanti, shanti, shanti” – meaning, ‘hope’. Of course, the overarching narrative thrust of the film progresses towards Theo’s sacrifice on the behalf of Kee and her child. In the end, he is able to overcome his apathy and sacrifice himself for the good of humanity as a whole.The infant then, acts both literally as a source of hope for humanity as well as a metaphor for the idea of hope. This is reinforced by the film’s use of religious symbolism with reference to Kee and her child. When asked about the father of her child, Kee jokingly compares herself to the Madonna – “I’m a virgin!”. Moreover, when confronted with Kee’s unexpected pregnancy, characters in the film almost always react by exclaiming, “Jesus Christ” or by making the sign of the cross. In fact, the narrative of the film acts as a parallel to the biblical story of Mary and Joseph and their journey to Bethlehem – all the more appropriate considering the film’s release date in the US falling on December 25th. In spite of the rather heavy-handed use of religious metaphor, the film’s use of these symbols is ultimately ironic and playful rather than dogmatic. Kee’s comparison to the Virgin is immediately followed by exclamations of her sexual promiscuity, fear of venereal disease and consideration of abortion – ideas that seem completely incongruous with a traditional understanding of the Christian faith.However, like the Kee’s child, for the greater part of the film, hope remains nascent. It is always the potential for hope rather than unequivocal redemption. There are many possibilities considered for the child. As previously mentioned, Kee considered aborting the child – an attempt to preserve the present and deny the possibility for an alternative future. Moreover, the child is also grants political power to any party that controls her. The Fishes want to use the child as an emblem of the ‘fugee’ cause and to unify the disparate subversive movements in England. It is also suggested that the government would abduct the child and claim she was the child of English citizens, presumably in order to reinforce English superiority over the fugitive groups. At the end of the film, the child progresses towards tomorrow. In a literal sense, she boards the boat, “Tomorrow” in order to escape to the Human Project and metaphorically, the safety of the child acts as a promise of hope to restore the human race. The child is not only born but removed from the violence and political strife of England. Moreover, Kee’s choice to name the child Dylan grants the child a connection with the past that both embraces what has come before and refigures it into a new and promising future.In summation, the film ‘Children of Men’ is one concerned with the use of the present as an intersection of past and future. The film destabilises the distinction between the two and denies agencies to those characters that privilege one over the other. Those characters that cling to the past are shown to be ineffectual and stagnant at best while the most extreme manifestation of this attitude in the British government is oppressive and violent. Similarly, those characters who think only about the future are ultimately unable to affect change because of their groundless philosophical starting point. Ultimately, it is those characters like Theo and Julian who are able to use their past as a sacrifice to benefit the human races as a whole that are vindicated as the past becomes refigured in the present to meet the demands of the future.BIBLIOGRAPHYCuarón, A. (2006). Children of Men. UK, Strike Entertainment.Dreyfus, H. and H. Hall, Eds. (1992). Heidegger: a critical reader. Oxford, B. Blackwell.
Analyzing the Cinematography in Children of Men
Within Children of Men, the implementation of various stylistic elements from a cinematography standpoint allows Alfonso Cuarón to iterate subtle messages throughout the film. More specifically, the usage of combined camera angles and extended on-screen visuals adds together to encapsulate several themes including infertility, overpopulation, and global capitalism. This essay will seek to establish and describe the extent to which certain directorial and cinematographic decisions affect the communication of these themes. The essay will also investigate the modes of both primary and secondary analysis regarding the film’s cinematic inclusions as a way of developing an independent argument. These sources include direct statements from Cuarón, interviews with scholars on the themes portrayed within the film, as well as analysis attributed to members of the New York Film Academy. Furthermore, Cuarón’s usage of an anamorphic technique when shooting on a standard 35mm lens will be discussed in relation to how it supports the central argument. Through the combination of analysis from distinguished scholars and self-created inductions supported by evidence, this essay will clearly explain how specific cinematic inclusions work to support the previously addressed themes.
Filling in as a narrative device and precise visual aid, the camerawork within Children of Men drives the audience to concentrate on the fundamental characters of the film. This includes the ability to demonstrate empathy towards what they are encountering, as well as the ability to state objectively what is transpiring within the moment of action. Inside the established story, the visual effects allow everything related to the plot to be accounted for. Whether it be the inside of a moving vehicle, or a slither of light that is viewable through a seemingly obscure compartment, the audience is never left unsatiated with the amount of subject matter they receive through the film’s camera work. Several literary and cinematic scholars, including Slavoj Žižek, have commented on the survey-esque ability of the camera and how it’s supported both character and environmental development throughout the film. Žižek notices how “visual aesthetics play with the tension between foreground and background, in order to reveal grim truths about real-world life under contemporary capitalism that otherwise would not be representable to viewers in a more “direct” fashion” (Leow). Even the subtleties that exist within the encompassing environment, such as the the imagery of burning livestock that exists in the foreground, serves a purpose as to the holistic understanding of the film’s message. Cuarón’s ability to utilize these precise details when developing his protagonist is exactly what’s necessary towards defining the film’s purpose.
Children of Men plays cautiously with the inclusion of subtleties that relate to reality, and actual science fiction. This is observable with the way that Cuarón exhibits the foci of characters while juxtaposing them with their interactions within their environment. At several key moments, the films frontal qualities can tell less than what the overall camera captures. This not only affects the chain of importance surrounding each character, but it also makes their actions within their setting more significant. Through Theo’s perspective, an audience is able to act omnisciently, and witness clearly the statement that Cuarón is making regarding the potential demise of contemporary society. The film isn’t inherently selfish with its depiction of Theo as its protagonist, though. It’s able to establish a narrative that spans through various character arcs. Through this, the film surprises with its camerawork – a formal viewpoint that has been very much archived, however, often under-speculated with regards to the film’s narrative progression. Analyzing solely the methods of visual portrayal tells much more than the characters themselves know. This is Cuarón’s way of making sure that his camera action develops an inclination of pressure among both its characters and film-watchers (Cuarón). Both are encapsulated through this experience, which in essence, creates a balance between trope-expectation and genuine alteration to a predictable genre and narrative arc.One of the most recognizable and consistent styles seen throughout Children of Men is the presence of long, direct shots as the camera constantly pursues Theo as he navigates through the universe. This cinematic style develops a singular based lens in which the audience is able to observe this dystopian society
From the opening scene, the audience is able to witness Theo, singularly as an immediate character of the cast, leave a coffeehouse that explodes and causes great panic and controversy. With conventional Hollywood cinematography, the film could potentially depict various wide shots to set up the area outside of the café, yet with this single-shot style, the camera and its perspective are isolated (Dickerson). This allows the audience to witness the distinctive subtleties of the world without constraining themselves to solely what Theo is doing. Through eliminating continuous cuts, the audience is given a feeling that the occasions occurring on screen are totally unscripted and, luckily enough, the camera simply happens to be there as they are going on. Additionally, Hollywood’s traditional cinematic limits prevent a lot of holistic capturing of scenes. This, however, appears all throughout the film, especially through explicit segments of a room or road; the camera cuts between a several set points but also highlights 360 degrees of a situation. This anamorphic technique creates a universality within the film. Supplanting the cuts with a consistent shot that swivels through a whole scene creates a feeling of transparency; the world exists wherever the camera happens to turn and it is anything but difficult to trust that the world exists even past what is appeared or what is simply out of the picture.
Through Cuarón’s lens, Theo is pursued and simultaneously scopes out the city like somebody venturing out of the blue would be occupied by the inconsequential subtleties of the city. This free development further solidifies the feeling that the world does indeed exist, and if the camera was to maneuver only somewhat more the audience is convinced that it wouldn’t see a motion picture set (Cuarón). Rather than curtailing to Theo within the opening scene, the camera turns and makes up for lost time with the spot he has halted at in the city. The absence of cutting in this scene further develops a feeling of suddenness; here exists a tendency of belief in the circumstances that have just occured, allowing the audience to feel as though they haven’t missed whatever has occurred and that the precise quantity of time that has passed since Theo left the shop is known. The audience doesn’t feel deceived by this notion however, as the literal running motion made by the cinematographers accurately reflects the heightened paranoia of the situation.Each scene within Children of Men leads into another scene tailing it and no time is discarded from the progression of the story. Moreover, flashbacks are not utilized, a traditional staple of apocalyptic fiction. Each time the film embarks on a new scene and inevitably then onto the next, it isn’t inferred that the situations that occurred in the middle of the scene are simply completed and the scene that s new venture is beginning. This style likewise adds to sentiments of the audience in believing that what is occurring is plausible; the film demonstrates an entire story from beginning to end and nothing is forgotten. Since nothing is excluded, the audience is additionally given a feeling that everything is occurring progressively and that a clear progression is defined with Theo’s narrative. The camera development throughout the course of the film develops the thought that everything is displayed in an extremely abstract way before the film’s conclusion.
A case of this abstract camera development occurs when the vehicle Theo is entering is assaulted and the group inside is forced to escape through driving in reverse. At the point when the vehicle grinds to a halt, the camera gets out with Theo as he leaves the vehicle. The camera then sweeps the street and a group of dead mercenaries are seen, which leads the audience to have to infer through their previous understanding of character motives. Here, a duality is established, in that Cuarón understands that he can give his audience a lot through previously developing characters omnisciently (Cuarón). A moving camera can outline the occurrences of a scene without much, assuming any, adjustment in the blocking of each actor. Additionally, a moving camera can catch an assortment of shots inside a singular shot, consequently separating explicitly seen content exclusively from the periphery (Dickerson). In fact, it’s any small deviation in a scene, whether an actor makes a turn or not, that is highlighted through Cuarón’s camera. While Cuarón shot his vehicle scene in one shot, he kept in mind about shooting the necessary components that would prevent the scene from consistently being cut up. The innovative camerawork that Children of Men utilizes holds validity in doing beyond what is naturalized in contemporary cinema. It reaches out to the authenticity and thrill of the action that’s taking place and sets specific arrangements all through the film, giving an altogether successive flow.Conventionally within motion pictures, action scenes are altered to heighten the pace of the situation, usually with some type of musical arrangement to bolster the ongoing drama (Dickerson). This film’s action sequences, however, are established in edginess, with the notions of death and crisis being consistently present just through the setting.
A standout example of this, amongst the many scenes of action in Children of Men, occurs near the end of the film, in which Theo is escaping from the commotion of a firefight and advances up the stairs of a building to discover Kee with the infant. Again, here the absence of cuts in this arrangement makes the scene progressively powerful. Through observing this, the audience is centered totally around Theo and his survival as he evades an overwhelming flame. Cutting to various shots of battle or dramatic bursts of fire would draw consideration far from Theo and highlight the war itself, which holistically is irrelevant to the story. The absence of slices likewise enables the watcher to feel like they are going close by Theo progressively. Promptly following this scene, which is the longest shot in the film, is where altering is utilized to make importance between different pictures that wouldn’t exist in a solitary long take. With the broad utilization of long takes amid thrillingly poignant set pieces, the film makes a collection of juxtaposing cinematic decisions to convey the scenario at hand .The camera is essentially another performer here, transmitting data and responding to the occasions of the story similarly to how Theo must respond. It’s in the camera’s steady movement and looming dread, often in close spaces, where excitement builds up. The camera often winds up startled and displaced from the effect of a nearby, which encompasses focal point of progression previously iterated (and stays there all through the whole succession). Even blood on the camera is a decision that shakes the audience. It creates room for the question of “Did that really happen?” to be pondered. Each scene is intentional with both this individual touch and this abundance of detail.This is eventually one of the film’s persisting qualities; utilizing hyper-minute subtleties to establish the credibility of this critical reality for the audience. Within the film, capitalism is still thriving and the economy has only perpetuated the continuation of consumerism (Dickerson). For example, advertisements exists for clothing for animals, despite the widespread understanding of global population decline on the horizon. Another subtly that raises intrigue and suspicion can be observed when Theo calmly inquires as to whether Julian’s family was “in New York when it occurred”. “It” is never directly clarified, and it’s this substance, or lack thereof, that Cuarón uses to his advantage in creating suspense for his audience. Another notable scene in which the audience is left questioning what exactly happened occurs when an elderly, eastern European woman utilizes her native tongue to angrily sob and plead for her liberty. Once more, the audience does not comprehend everything, rather its feeling is emanated throughout. It’s through these simple moments of the unknown that allows the film to speak upon profound truths.
The camerawork of Children of Men, while expertly weaving through both what occurs within the imagination of the audience and what is displayed on screen, allows for room for discussion on the sociopolitical oddities of reality through the perspective of inspecting its own setting. A conundrum is thus created regarding the sociopolitical structure within reality. While free enterprise itself knows no outskirts, individuals and countries attempting to develop their own identities often must adopt a sectarian mindset. This involves confining and segregating people, especially through a unified mindset of discrimination of oppression. The outcasts within Children of Men are progressively uprooted by battle and are ready to face adversity together. This brings into question just how necessary actions like isolating groups within moments of international crisis is. In the film, these components are for the most part personally interconnected, which in turn has a lasting effect on the audience. It’s vital to distinguish this occurrence from what is front and center, which adds to Cuarón’s point. Is the audience actually observing what’s going on (detectable through the subtleties of cinematography) or do they think they know entirely what’s occurring? Children of Men acts more than just a cautionary tale: it makes its audience question the morality of the circumstances, especially if they occurred within reality.
The cinematography of Children of Men demonstrates the extent to which filmmaking can outline the fate of the world. This allows its audience to look inward and to speculate as to the choices and decisions made in a moment of crisis. Through the incorporation of an anamorphic lens, Cuarón gives the audience an omniscient understanding of what exactly is taking place. Cuarón leaves it up to the audience to notice the minutia and distinguish it as an imperative towards the narrative’s purpose. Through several long, unabrupted shots mixed in with expertly timed moments of realism and intrigue, Cuarón has created a contemporary masterpiece that calls all its spectators to have a moment of self-reflection.
Dickerson. William “The Moving Master: Deconstructing Children Of Men.” Student Resources. N. p., 2014. Web. 12 Dec.. 2018.Leow, Joanne et al. “Focalisation Realism And Narrative Asymmetry In Alfonso Cuarón’S Children Of Men.” Senses of Cinema. N. p., 2014. Web. 13 Dec. 2018.”The Vulture Transcript: Alfonso Cuarón On Children Of Men.” Vulture. N. p., 2018. Web. 12 Dec. 2018.