Monday, January 29, 2007

Children of Men

We saw Alfonso Cuarón’s harrowing thriller, Children of Men, last night, and although I was thoroughly engrossed (OK, so I spent a good 10th of the film with my hands partially covering my eyes, unable to deal with the potentiality of the storyline), I find myself this morning unable to reconnect to it emotionally. Perhaps it's just not one of those films that will stay with me, but, I suspect, it's probably one of those films that will haunt my dreams for many years to come and at the moment my mind is simply working overtime to think of other things.

In a nutshell, the film's about a not-to-distant dystopian future in which mankind is no longer able to reproduce. Women can't have babies. The pockets of protected parts of the world creepily celebrate the youngest living person on the planet (who is now over 18 when the film begins), but most places on earth have descended into violent chaos and miserably squalid conditions.

In Britain, thanks to its geography one supposes, things are generally better for most people than elsewhere (except for illegal immigrants who are brutally rounded up and sent to camps for deportation), permitting our protagonist (named "Theo," no less) to call upon his powerful and well-protected cousin, Nigel, who's involved in saving the world's masterpieces from the rampaging mobs in other parts of the world. Not all of the masterpieces were saved in time though, such as Michaelangelo's David, which clearly took a beating before being whisked off to Britain. (Sidebar: read this awesome commentary on the symbolism of this presentation of the broken David on The Naked Gaze.)

In a surreally funny, yet poignant scene (with a Led Zeppelin Pink Floyd-inspired levitating pig over the Battersea Power Station, where Nigel lives/works), Theo asks his cousin why he bothers collecting these things that no one will be around in 100 years to see. Nigel responds that he just doesn't think about it, right before popping another pill.

Among the works of art Nigel had rescued was Picasso's Guernica, which hung in his dining room (sweet job if you can get it, eh?). It wasn't clear how many works he had managed to save, but given the state of David, it didn't appear all that many were salvagable. I found the scenario intriguing though. What works of art would it be worth taking extreme risks to try and rescue? More than that, what does art mean if there's no future generation to view it (i.e., no hope)? A distraction, sure. A way to fill one's day while waiting for the the end to come...why not.

What the film didn't touch upon is whether there were still any working artists in this hopeless place. There's a great scene near the end where the survivors are descending into an underground canal in one of the bombed out refugee camps, and they pass graffiti on the staircase that looked like nothing so much as the Lascaux cave drawings (only rather than buffalo and other animals, the images were of airplanes and such). Those drawings seemed to represent a desperate need to record their final hours, for someone. But there didn't seem to be anyone making studio art (for whom? I suppose is the question).

Cheerful start to the week, this, eh?

Labels: Children of God, Film, Masterpieces


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Isn't the Flying Pig is a Pink Floyd prop? ...

1/29/2007 08:53:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Isn't the Flying Pig is a Pink Floyd prop?

grrrrr...yes, of course it is...

blogging pree-caffiene has its hazards

thanks anon...

1/29/2007 09:03:00 AM  
Blogger Marc Snyder said...

In some ways studio artists confront this idea to a lesser degree all the time - do I still keep making stuff if I might turn out to be the only audience for it? It's a fear in the back of your mind, anyway, unless the work is already lined up for an upcoming exhibition, I guess.

But looking at the scenario described, isn't there a value in making art that might help people in the here and now make sense of or deal with the present, even if it didn't end up a document of the time for some future audience? The transient could be useful, even if it was only for the next few hours, if it was "used" by the people in that horrific present.

It's a funny start to my morning, as I just posted an absurd video entitled "Solid Potato Salad", a dance routine advertising potato salad from 1944, on my FIMP blog. Hopping from there to here provided me with my own little personal jaunt in surrealist juxtaposition. I hope the rest of my day stays as strange.

1/29/2007 10:06:00 AM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

Another absolutely brilliant take on the post-apocalyptic story is The Road by Cormac McCarthy. Instead of covering the time just before and just after the apocalypse, it takes place ten years later. It's a very dark, very unpleasant, very painful book, and much better than, for example, Stephen King's Cell, which rather cheerfully destroys civilization for like the hundredth time. Has any author wiped out the world more than Stephen King?

At one point in The Road, the protagonist finds some old books in the remains of a library.

He picked up one of the books and thumbed through the heavy bloated pages. He'd not have thought the value of the smallest thing predicated on a world to come. It surprised him. That the space which these things occupied was itself an expectation.

And that's it: Everything we do, we do with expectation. Artists especially. I don't paint for today or yesterday; I paint for five hundred years from now.

1/29/2007 10:51:00 AM  
Blogger Howard said...

Back in high school I had an oddball English teacher who asked us a simillar question. Over a long enough period of time all the great works of mankind, from the Mona Lisa to the Pryamids, will turn to dust and be forgotten. Do these works have any real value if at the very end noone will remember them? It's kind of "If a tree falls in a forest..." type question. We spent most of the class discussing this question and I've spent a good part of my artistic life ingoring the answers.

1/29/2007 11:36:00 AM  
Anonymous David said...

EW, we just saw this over the weekend too. I thought the world the filmmakers constructed was very compelling, in a frightening way, but I also had trouble connecting with it emotionally for some reason. I think it's because they didn't allow us to really bond with the characters much before they killed them off. And most of them seemed to be more symbolic than real, in any sort of complex human sense.

In Britain, thanks to its geography one supposes, things are generally better for most people than elsewhere...

I wonder about this, actually. It was presented that way to the British public, but I wonder to what extent, like in 1984, people we re being fed only propaganda by the government. When the Tomorrow boat shows up, you wonder where it came from and what life is like there.

Don't know which artworks I'd save. Maybe like in Fahrenheit 451, people would have to preserve them internally in some way.

1/29/2007 12:23:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

I wonder about this, actually. It was presented that way to the British public, but I wonder to what extent, like in 1984, people we re being fed only propaganda by the government.

Good point. I too thought, damn, that's a nice boat for a world too anarchic to travel through so easily.

Wasn't that the final twist on another dystopian British film recently, i.e., that the outside world was fine actually. Might be a particularly British paranoia at work there, methinks.

1/29/2007 12:51:00 PM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

Ed sez:
Wasn't that the final twist on another dystopian British film recently, i.e., that the outside world was fine actually.

That was the end of 28 Days.

1/29/2007 03:14:00 PM  
Anonymous Oriane Stender said...

I loved this movie! I did emotionally connect to it, even though I rarely see violent movies. Without giving away too much of the plot, I could see the Michael Caine character, who has a love of life and a gift for making himself and other people happy, making art (writing poetry, composing music, etc.).

But I think that when life, and not only your life, but the life of everyone on the planet, is on the line, not very many people would make art. If you might be blown or up or shot any minute walking down the street, I think you are in full adrenaline-pumping survival mode. Even though I'm an artist, I say this. Let's be honest here. Art really does come after the basic necessities (like breathing, eating, sleeping, continuing to live). I could see the caged up immigrants making some type of art (while your whiling away the hours, days or months in captivity you might think about making art, not necessarily for the "future" if there doesn't seem like there is going to be a future, but to keep your own spirit alive) but the people in the "underground" (the fishes?) in that movie, no, I don't think they would make art.

Incidentally, in the book, by P.D. James, the ending is darker (or at the very least, more ambiguous). The boat doesn't come (or the book ends before it comes, so who knows what happens?)

I found this film very moving and can't quite explain why.

1/29/2007 04:56:00 PM  
Anonymous bambino said...

I loved it, and I think it should win an Oscar.

1/29/2007 05:03:00 PM  
Anonymous eleventh hour said...

the flying pig may actually be a reference to Fellini. in 'Children of Men,' the image of christ is replaced by a bloated pig flying over a power plant-- instead of saint peters.

an imdb summary describes 'La Dolce vita' as

". . . a chronicle of a decadent society where there is no more values except alcohol and sex, and no solutions but suicide."

1/29/2007 05:16:00 PM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

Given that the pig in Children of Men is shown (in the photo here) as hovering over the same factory as it does on the cover of Pink Floyd's Animals, I'm thinking it's a Pink Floyd reference. The Floyd album cover might be a reference to La Dolce Vita, but I can't be sure, since I've never seen the film.

1/29/2007 05:26:00 PM  
Anonymous eleventh hour said...

that's true but, you can't make a film with something dangling from the sky and not think of 'La Doce vita.'

i think the reference is still valid.

1/29/2007 06:11:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric Caspesyan said...

I deduct that yound cineasts have heard about Pink Floyd but they haven't seen a Fellini.

Seen The Departed last week. I thought it was homophobic. That's really the only thing that remains about it.

Oscars are a joke, they don't remember movies from past 4 months, and it's always the same cliche actors who get nominated.

I think people are not aware that there is actually much more films being made than what hollywood blockbusters represent.


Cedric Caspesyan

1/29/2007 06:31:00 PM  
Blogger ondine-nyc said...

The reference is definitely Pink Floyd primarily but leave it to Cuaron to pack as many references as possible. Also love all the animals response to Theo (love that name as a reference too) and also the bare feet motif.

What an outstanding film, I highly recommend Children of Men, easily one of the year's best.

1/29/2007 09:51:00 PM  
Anonymous eleventh hour said...

i don't know, i just find the inclusion of so many clever references so superficial. the audience is given just enough that they get to congratulate themselves for "figuring it out," while the director pats himself on the back for being so thought-provoking.

as soon as you realize that people like Doug Aitken, Andrew Bujalski, Caveh Zahedi, and Milton Moses Ginsberg are actually working in the same field with the same materials as hollywood people like martin scorsese and whoever the hell made 'dreamgirls,' things just start to make so much more sense from a creative standpoint.

1/29/2007 10:57:00 PM  

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