Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Children of Men

A guest post by Denise Milliner

As some of you may know I am the designated fiction reader in the family. Poor millinerd just doesn't have time to read anything that falls outside the categories of "Art" or "Theology". So today I'm here to discuss the latest movie-based-on-a-book: Children of Men.

In P. D. James's 1992 novel a chilling but not-too-distant future is described: humans have inexplicably lost the ability to reproduce and must grapple with the problems unique to the end of civilization. The church has become irrelevant, democracy redundant, group suicide (voluntary and involuntary) a convenient solution. Around the world humanity is grappling with what it means to literally have no future. This is no futuristic science fiction scenario. James pointedly tackles the very questions we must concern ourselves with today - care for the elderly and end of life issues, the maternal instinct, rites of passage in a post-Christian society, the dissociation of sex from procreation and the role of government in guaranteeing quality and meaning in life.

I haven't seen the movie yet, but that's not going to keep me from commenting on it. And why should it? After all, as this interview makes clear, director Alfonso Cuaron didn't bother to read the book before making a movie based on it.
"I had a very clear vision of the movie I wanted to do. So I said to [screenwriter Tim Sexton], you read the book, and based on this movie I'm telling you, there are elements of the book which you will write into the movie."
In other words, Cuaron made a movie he thought up using an idea or two from James's masterwork and a screenwriter.

Based on most reports the story Cuaron tells bears little resemblance to the novel. The characters have been reorganized, assigned new and important human rights activism responsibilities and the Warden of England, the locus of power and evil and bureaucracy and hopelessness in James's tale has been entirely written out. The first child to be conceived in a quarter century is borne not by a devout (and deformed) woman but a persecuted refugee. I'm not surprised that the profoundly Christian nature of James's work has been jettisoned - all that Book of Common Prayer stuff isn't exactly current to today's moviegoing audience. But I am disappointed that the other powerful themes have been supplanted by Cuaron's desire to raise the alarm about U.S. policy.

The brooding and evocative power of Cuaron's work has drawn much praise so we will probably see the film, but I heartily encourage you to take time to read the book. And, of course, this would hardly be a post without an audio link, so for more on James and her work check out this program from Mars Hill Audio.