Revisiting "Children of Men" Ten Years On
December 26, 2016 9:49 AM   Subscribe

An in-depth retrospective of the troubled production of Alfonso Cuaron's bleak modern masterpiece of speculative fiction, Children of Men, a decade after it bombed in theaters.
posted by killdevil (121 comments total) 46 users marked this as a favorite
 
a decade after it bombed in theaters

Perhaps, in this context, not the best choice of phrasing.
posted by Bromius at 9:50 AM on December 26, 2016 [9 favorites]


I find it fascinating that Children of Men and Shoot ’Em Up, came out within a year of each other, have the same lead actor, and the same plot, and one of those films is one of the best films of the 00s, and one... isn’t.
posted by 1970s Antihero at 10:00 AM on December 26, 2016 [8 favorites]


Bomb or not, still one of my favourite movies. Couldn't leave my chair for like 10 minutes after the closing credits.
posted by Popular Ethics at 10:00 AM on December 26, 2016 [37 favorites]


The only things I remember about this:

* The nice hippie lady is abducted by the evil army men or whatever and IMMEDIATELY put in the torture pose with the sheet over the head and the jumper cables in the hands, which made me laugh. We're talking on the nose in a way that would make Oliver Stone say, "Shit, can you dial it back a little"

* Clive Owen clocks a dude with a car battery
posted by kittens for breakfast at 10:02 AM on December 26, 2016 [11 favorites]


I saw it in the theater! That was 10 years ago? Wow.
posted by thelonius at 10:02 AM on December 26, 2016 [5 favorites]


I loved Children of Men, but reading this article makes me hate it a little now. I mean it's a great movie. I liked the bleak story. The subtle world-building is done well. The action scene cinematography is, indeed, phenomenal.

But the movie has problems too. As an entertaining action movie it's a failure. As a social commentary it's a bit too simplistic and preachy. It lacks character development. The whole film is strangely static, almost passive. Don't get me wrong, I really do love the film, but I think it wasn't unpopular just because Universal didn't know how to market it. It's a film for film critics, not popcorn audiences.

Then again I'd make much the same criticisms of Gravity. And that film did just amazingly well. I think the difference is Gravity was much more simple and hopeful, approachable. Marketable stars certainly didn't hurt it. It passed the popcorn test.
posted by Nelson at 10:17 AM on December 26, 2016 [12 favorites]


kittens for breakfast: pull my finger
posted by Auden at 10:21 AM on December 26, 2016 [8 favorites]


I quite like the movie, and rewatched it this past year. It really resonated with me, especially the themes of terrorism, refugees, and putting up walls.
posted by My Dad at 10:21 AM on December 26, 2016 [3 favorites]


I loved the techno-minimalism and worldbuilding.

I've always wondered if there was like, a secret screening at Davos. You know the folks who think in decades and the inflows and outflows of Trillions. We're like the algae growing on the back of a whale, in the ecosystem of money, compared to them.

So they screen it, and there's like polite applause. 'That's it. That's exactly what we're working towards. Those guys get it!' someone exclaims.
posted by mrdaneri at 10:30 AM on December 26, 2016 [39 favorites]


One of my favorite movies of all time. I went into the theater a few minutes late and missed the opening expository scene where Clive Owen and Michael Caine (over) explain what society has come to, so I had to figure out the whole story from background context, which was fantastically done. The other most realistic and hopeful parts of the movie are how random strangers offer aid and play a role.

It does have hints of future tech (the hand wire interface) which were downplayed, but prescient.

Sad to hear it didn't do well commercially, but not a surprise.
posted by benzenedream at 10:35 AM on December 26, 2016 [3 favorites]


I loved the movie and loved the book. I read the book first (and, if you've never read the book OR seen the movie but want to do both, I'd recommend the book first). They were so different from each other...the book was more of a character study of Theo, the movie was so...overwhelming. I can't think of another book/movie combo that complement each other so well.
posted by Elly Vortex at 10:37 AM on December 26, 2016 [6 favorites]


I was a teenager busily plowing through my library's sci-fi collection when this came out, so I went in thinking that this would would just be an adaptation of the novel (which I found somewhat meh). Hoo boy. This movie blew the top of my head off, and by the end I felt like I just had to go sit alone in a quiet room for a little while. It was the first movie I watched that made me feel something so strongly; before it I had no idea that movies could even do that.

I've only ever watched it the one time. Once in a while it comes up on one of the specialty movie channels on TV, but I don't think I can bear to watch it again, it was just so overwhelming I don't know if I'd want to either a) experience it again (now with increased emotional resonance due to more awareness of current events!) or b) find out that it has somehow diminished over the years.
posted by btfreek at 10:40 AM on December 26, 2016 [9 favorites]


Oh, wow, I had no idea it was a 70+ million dollar studio movie. I guess I just wasn't paying attention, but I think at the time I assumed it was an indie movie hitting way above its budget weight, in which case its ~70M worldwide box office would have been a big success...
posted by nobody at 10:43 AM on December 26, 2016 [2 favorites]


The book was very Christian-themed, right? The film, not so much.
posted by thelonius at 10:45 AM on December 26, 2016


One of the best, most thoughtful science fiction movies ever made. Although... I wish they didn't hadn't shown [SPOILERS] the arrival of The Human Project's ship The Tomorrow at the end, and instead just pulled back on Kee, her son softly crying, and Theo slumped over, alone in a rickety rowboat in the fog, their fates unknown
posted by Auden at 10:47 AM on December 26, 2016 [12 favorites]


One of the best, most thoughtful science fiction movies ever made (...duh). Although... I wish they didn't hadn't shown [SPOILERS] the arrival of The Human Project's ship The Tomorrow at the end, and instead just pulled back on Kee, her son softly crying, and Theo slumped over, alone in a rickety rowboat in the fog, their fates unknown

That might have actually been very great, but man, so bleak. The movie already bothered me more than a little, that would probably have kept me up at night.
posted by RustyBrooks at 10:49 AM on December 26, 2016 [3 favorites]


* The nice hippie lady is abducted by the evil army men or whatever and IMMEDIATELY put in the torture pose with the sheet over the head and the jumper cables in the hands, which made me laugh. We're talking on the nose in a way that would make Oliver Stone say, "Shit, can you dial it back a little"

As I recall while they hood the hippie lady she's not the one shown with the jumper cables. As the bus pulls away from her, we see recreations of a few scenes from Abu Ghraib, including hooded jumper cable man and a line of naked men cowering from a military dog. Very much intentionally on the nose.
posted by schoolgirl report at 10:55 AM on December 26, 2016 [4 favorites]


(oops - Kee had a baby girl.)
posted by Auden at 11:02 AM on December 26, 2016


I'll admit that I've neither read the book nor seen the movie, but I've read synopses of both, and the premise just doesn't make sense to me. How does global infertility lead to a societal collapse, and why are certain agencies so determined to reverse it? It seems like the reader/audience is just assumed to agree that global infertility and the inevitable extinction of humanity is an intrinsically bad thing. Am I reading this right?
posted by Faint of Butt at 11:05 AM on December 26, 2016 [4 favorites]


I'll try to be vague for spoiler-ish reasons, but PD James takes the 1st-world demographic shift, ecologic collapse and the resulting refugee crisis as her starting points. There's some rather pointed social and religious critique in the book; The movie is different.

I'd say that it's less 'The Extinction of Humanity is a bad thing' but rather, 'We can absolutely trust that first world governments will mismanage any sort of global crisis,' with all that implies downstream. There are some rather heartbreaking attempts to preserve culture in the UK, for example, that ring very true to some current projects, like the global seed bank.
posted by mrdaneri at 11:11 AM on December 26, 2016 [11 favorites]


"Humans suck, it's probably fine if we all die" fatalism is not nearly as prevalent as it would have to be for our impending extinction to bring anything but widespread societal breakdown.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 11:12 AM on December 26, 2016 [27 favorites]


I remember reading at the time that they made a conscious choice to never have the main character use a gun, which was a nice little bit of intentionality.

But I'm not too surprised it didn't do all that well financially, it was in a weird space between low(ish) budget weird arthouse movie and action blockbuster, too expensive to succeed as the former and too dull to the masses for the latter.
posted by Candleman at 11:13 AM on December 26, 2016 [5 favorites]


It's amazing to me people are talking about the problems with this movie and they're all forgetting the biggest, most glaring problem in the film.

The god-awful ugly-creepy uncanny-valley CGI baby. For whatever reason that I don't recall now, someone got the bright idea that using CGI instead of, you know, a real baby, was somehow the right answer for this movie.

It was not. I love so much about this movie but every scene with that damn baby just pulls me out of the movie because is so obviously fake.

I honestly think the fake baby is a big reason it tanked. It creeped too many people out, and word about its creepiness spread fast.
posted by deadaluspark at 11:14 AM on December 26, 2016 [7 favorites]


I'll admit that I've neither read the book nor seen the movie, but I've read synopses

You've... read the synopses? Jesus, just watch the movie. $3 on Itunes or YouTube. Free if you use BitTorrent or Usenet (shhhh!)
posted by Auden at 11:16 AM on December 26, 2016 [13 favorites]


It should have won awards, not bombed, imo. It was a fantastic, brilliantly realized work of cinematic art.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:20 AM on December 26, 2016 [28 favorites]


I never realized it was a flop. I can't remember if I saw it in the theater or at home, but I do remember the emotional impact it had on me. It was absolutely gutting, but in a really beautiful way. It really stayed with me for a long time, too.

As for why this was causing the breakdown of society, I mean - the world is literally ending. I don't think it's far-fetched to think this would lead to a breakdown.
posted by lunasol at 11:20 AM on December 26, 2016 [16 favorites]


Childhood's End has a similar denouement to the premise of Children of Men. So if you've read it, you'll understand the mindset of humanity living in a final generation.
posted by Apocryphon at 11:28 AM on December 26, 2016 [5 favorites]


I honestly think the fake baby is a big reason it tanked. It creeped too many people out, and word about its creepiness spread fast.

I literally never noticed the baby being CGI, and I've seen the film probably six or seven times.
posted by Token Meme at 11:35 AM on December 26, 2016 [33 favorites]


I find it interesting that in the article they just come out and admit that they kept very little of PD James's original book. Under normal circumstances that is a recipe for utter, abysmal failure.

In this case, I think Cuaron ended up making a movie that was one of the few I can think of that was better than the book it's adapted from. The book is an excellent book, but the film is a stunning classic of its genre that, at least to me, makes broadly similar points to the book, only more forcefully.
posted by tclark at 11:37 AM on December 26, 2016 [10 favorites]


I had no idea this was considered a flop, either.

I saw it in theaters and from the opening moments I was absolutely gripped by it. That shocking, visceral opening scene: I'm a writer and something just clicked for me when I saw that. This model for storytelling with intense and devastating stakes. It made me want to be a much better writer.

I only saw it the once, but years later -- a decade, I guess -- there are still bits of atmosphere and scene-building I think about. Those scenes with the elderly couple in their house, particularly.

A lot of it was terribly on the nose, but it still felt very true to me. Now that the bleak days of a society in breakdown feel much closer, I'm beginning to think that "on the nose" is exactly how the end of all things will most likely be. It seems that reality never had much intention of being subtle.
posted by the turtle's teeth at 11:38 AM on December 26, 2016 [15 favorites]


one of my favorite movies ever
posted by Vic Morrow's Personal Vietnam at 11:41 AM on December 26, 2016 [2 favorites]


"I haven't read the book or seen the movie but I don't understand why people would be upset at the end of humanity?" is pretty remarkable commentary. The tortoise lays on its back, its belly baking in the hot sun, beating its legs trying to turn itself over. But it can't. Not with out your help. But you're not helping. Why is that, Leon?

Like Token Meme, I never noticed the CGI baby either. Here's a behind-the-post-pro-studio treatment of it, should you want to see a baby being born with white and black placeholder textures.

The $70M box office is only a "flop" because the film's budget was $76M. By Wikipedia numbers, at least. This ranking site puts it at $35M box office which makes it #89 for the year. Just a bit behind Pan's Labyrinth, and well behind a bunch of crappy horror movie remakes.
posted by Nelson at 11:42 AM on December 26, 2016 [12 favorites]


Don't Ignore The Background. What a masterpiece in worldbuilding.
posted by Apocryphon at 11:54 AM on December 26, 2016 [18 favorites]


I can't find it online at the moment, but the behind-the-scenes documentary video (I suppose it is an "extra" from the bluray) showing how that incredible car scene was shot is completely fascinating.
posted by Auden at 11:56 AM on December 26, 2016 [5 favorites]


As the bus pulls away from her, we see recreations of a few scenes from Abu Ghraib, including hooded jumper cable man and a line of naked men cowering from a military dog. Very much intentionally on the nose.

No question, but -- and I say this as someone who stands a little to the left of Dennis Kucinich -- this scene made me roll my eyes so hard that for a second I could see my frontal lobe. It's like, I fucking get it; by virtue of the fact that I'm sitting here watching this movie, the filmmakers must know I probably get it, so why hit me over the head with it? FWIW, I had very similar problems with Gravity, which I found to be about the most exhilarating cinematic experience I've had so long as Sandra Bullock wasn't talking to herself and literally explaining the themes of the film out loud.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 12:02 PM on December 26, 2016 [6 favorites]


God yes about Sandra Bullock in Gravity. For one second, please stop assuming I am so stupid that I need her to tell me everything she is thinking and doing, because for the most part that movie was super-fun and puzzling out what a character is doing is also fun.
posted by nushustu at 12:08 PM on December 26, 2016 [5 favorites]


I had never heard of it until seeing late one night on HBO, and then was gobsmacked by the film. I've seen it at least five times since. I strongly doubt I'm alone there. Why would anyone doubt that the next-to-nonexistent marketing was not a problem or didn't hurt the film?
posted by raysmj at 12:08 PM on December 26, 2016 [5 favorites]


Right. I had a fascinating conversation once with a colleague about this film, whos take on it was less flattering. He was an immigrant from the former Soviet Union, who moved his whole family here, seeking brighter shores, better futures, etc. His take was entirely different than mine.

In that, here, stateside, our El Pollo Loco runs out of mango salsa and immediately we jump to 'Children of Men' mode. People who lived through the collapse and disintegration of Communism know that's not exactly so.
posted by mrdaneri at 12:10 PM on December 26, 2016 [7 favorites]


One of the best, most thoughtful science fiction movies ever made. Although... I wish they didn't hadn't shown [SPOILERS] the arrival of The Human Project's ship The Tomorrow at the end, and instead just pulled back on Kee, her son softly crying, and Theo slumped over, alone in a rickety rowboat in the fog, their fates unknown

I saw that as the end of Theo's story, but hardly a guaranteed happy ending for Kee and her baby. That boat's going to have some good people on it and some horrible people, and her struggles are just beginning. He knows it and all he can do is warn her to "keep her close".

I remember reading at the time that they made a conscious choice to never have the main character use a gun, which was a nice little bit of intentionality.

This was so conspicuous the first time I watched it. There were several points where all my internalized movie and video-game logic insisted that he grab one of the discarded guns of a dead body or where ever. He's such a decent guy that it doesn't even enter his mind. (Fortunately Owen got to balance that out with Shoot 'Em Up later.)
posted by paper chromatographologist at 12:13 PM on December 26, 2016 [4 favorites]


Also, there must have been hype somewhere when it came out, because I caught wind of it somehow. I rarely see movies at the theater, but there was some buzz about it being that decade's Blade Runner, and so I saw it opening weekend.
posted by paper chromatographologist at 12:15 PM on December 26, 2016 [2 favorites]


I saw it directly as a result of a friend being obsessed with Y Tu Mama Tambien and then us jointly loving Prisoner of Azkaban. A speculative fiction movie from the same director? Yes please.

The thing that I love the most was the subtle world building--I've only seen the movie itself maybe twice, but I've spent a lot of time looking at screenshots of things like the newspapers plastered on the wall.

Also when the London Olympics happened, there was the eerie feeling of remembering seeing Theo wearing a sweater with a logo for them, and thinking "Oh cool, they're incorporating what's currently an event that will happen in the future as something that happened years ago". (And now those were 4 years ago, compounding the feeling...)
posted by damayanti at 12:28 PM on December 26, 2016 [4 favorites]


I mustn't watch movies properly. My revelation from this is that it's considered good, I watched it in the cinema and walked out thinking it had no plot. I'm not sure I've thought about it since.

But then I hated kill bill for the same reason and in pretty much the same way (although much more vehemently) so it really could be me.
posted by deadwax at 12:31 PM on December 26, 2016 [2 favorites]


I love this film, although I can only handle a viewing every 12-18 months, especially now. At the time it felt very much like the path we were heading down, as a planet. There were so many small details that felt as though the filmmakers had looked around them and said 'what if that, but a lot worse.' In many ways it pushes the same buttons for me as Black Mirror. Hopeless, terrifying buttons.

Think I'm about due for another rewatch, actually.

Fun fact - the Geordie dude with the dreads in this is played by Charlie Hunnam, now far better known for Sons of Anarchy and Queer as Folk.
posted by Happy Dave at 12:36 PM on December 26, 2016 [2 favorites]


I saw this with my dad and really liked it, except the camera work made me so nauseous I actually threw up in the movie theater bathroom.
posted by ChuraChura at 12:39 PM on December 26, 2016


I remember walking home from the movie theatre in stunned silence. Eventually I turned to my friend (incidentally, who was also a director) and said to her that when I think of the future, this is what I actually think it will look like. Damn, if I wasn't right. I think about this movie pretty often (mostly when I'm watching the news) but I can't ever bring myself to see it again.
posted by Jubey at 12:40 PM on December 26, 2016 [2 favorites]


Huh, I had no idea this was a flop, thank god I never used to pay attention to reviews or ticket sales or anything and would just see a movie cold. I would have missed so many good things. I need to start doing that again. Last year due to some strange movie scheduling I found myself watching "A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night", and then walking out knowing I had seen one of the best films made in a generation. But I probably wouldn't have seen it had I read anything about it beforehand.
posted by nanook at 12:41 PM on December 26, 2016 [3 favorites]


I'd argue for the idea, Happy Dave insofar that Science Fiction has a 'project' or 'unifying conceit' that it's just that: 'Take the tensions and fears of the present around science and or technology and make them clear by cranking up the volume to 11.'

What's kind of a bummer about 'Children of Men' is that 2006's 11 is sort of like 2016's 5. Sort of like if there were actually people reanimating corpses and being cool with it in 1833 after Frankenstein.
posted by mrdaneri at 12:43 PM on December 26, 2016 [10 favorites]


I love so much about this movie but every scene with that damn baby just pulls me out of the movie because is so obviously fake.

It's the CGI ping pong ball in the car scene that does this for me. I understand why they did it (how many hundreds of takes would they need to get it right?), but it distracts/detracts from what is otherwise a brilliant scene.
posted by schoolgirl report at 12:44 PM on December 26, 2016 [2 favorites]


This is my favorite movie. When I tell people about it they look at me blankly. I'm not sure they believe that such a good movie can both exist and not be talked about more.
posted by ethansr at 12:56 PM on December 26, 2016 [4 favorites]


How does global infertility lead to a societal collapse

It didn't. Infertility was just one part of the collapse.

This movie is so good. I agree it has its faults, but it was still a total gut-punch when I saw it in the theater and again when I watched it a few years later. Now that I have my own kid I don't think I can see it again.
posted by not_the_water at 1:39 PM on December 26, 2016


The book was very Christian-themed, right? The film, not so much.

Except for the main character playing Joseph to the mother of the savior of mankind.
posted by octothorpe at 1:42 PM on December 26, 2016 [15 favorites]


I've only seen this once but it's up there as one of my top three favourite movies. I had no idea it was a 'failure'. Seriously, who pays attention to that? A film is a failure if it doesn't get made. Scenes from it frequently just come back into my mind and hit me hard.
posted by Jimbob at 1:44 PM on December 26, 2016 [7 favorites]


The scene that sticks with me the most all this time later is the nurse/midwife talking about how she realized that there was a problem with women's fertility in the wider society. She said she was flipping through her appointment book, and saw that she had only one appointment for March, and none for April, none for May . . . She just so perfectly describes the dawning horror of a slowly developing problem that has stuck with me. When we think of Apocalypse scenarios, we think of a meteor strike or a war or a zombie infection, but the slowly dawning realization of something being very, very wrong is way scarier and more realistic to me.
posted by chainsofreedom at 1:44 PM on December 26, 2016 [45 favorites]


I found the movie fantastically well-made but when it ended, I was left wondering why they'd bothered with such an intriguing concept of (at least seemingly) global infertility and then didn't really address what caused the situation or what good extricating the woman would do. It almost felt like they'd pulled a LOST and created some great cliffhangers and ideas and mysteries to draw audiences in, then hadn't bothered to come up with explanations for them and let them ride for far too long. Of course it's just a movie, it doesn't owe me anything. But I feel like having a movie with a big leading premise kind of obligates actually delivering something on that for the viewer.

In fact I remember reading a blog article sometime in 2007 or 2008 written specifically explaining the viewpoint of people who were disappointed with Children of Men, and there were some insights there about viewers who were concept-driven rather than...something else? Having trouble finding the article now. Ah well. This from the guy who loved the Speed Racer movie remake.
posted by Phyltre at 2:16 PM on December 26, 2016 [3 favorites]


I watched it in the cinema and walked out thinking it had no plot.

From my perspective, it's a plot-driven narrative that explores themes about indifference, despair, hope, faith, violence and redemption.

Every time someone on social mentions that "2016 was a shitty year blah blah blah" I just want to say: WATCH THIS MOVIE. It's about the importance of hope, and how you can make a difference. But you might also die.
posted by My Dad at 2:21 PM on December 26, 2016 [7 favorites]


I found the movie fantastically well-made but when it ended, I was left wondering why they'd bothered with such an intriguing concept ... and then didn't really address what caused the situation

This is my problem with "The Road" but not "Children of Men" where I assumed the cause was something man-made, pollution, or too-effective birth-control (see also, Mockingbird by Walter Tevis). Never realized the baby was CGI (do we even see it? Mostly I remember it crying) but now I understand why that ping-pong ball in the car looked fake.
posted by Rash at 2:51 PM on December 26, 2016


I liked that they didn't feel compelled to discuss the science of the infertility problem. I mean, it's simply a placeholder, or punctuation for the central theme -- the collapse of society is happening right now, and there's no longer a question of whether things might work out ok on this path we've been on. If refugee camps, and everyday acts of terrorism, and torture aren't enough for you, let's just put a fine point on it and make the human race face actual extinction. Because there are fools out there that think 9/11 and Syria, and Donald Trump, and Duterte, and Brexit are just bad luck blips in the human continuum or "the pendulum just swinging right for a bit." But for this piece of speculative fiction, let's accept that we're really fucked. Now, how do humans act when we realize that we are the cause of our own destruction, and are still powerless to change things? When things are this bleak, is it better to cocoon in the woods and smoke pot till the soldiers come and gun you down? Be grateful for your cubicle job while shits blowing up around you? Slowly starve in a refugee camp? Or commit acts of almost futile heroism to resist.

I remember it being difficult to watch at the time, not just because it was bleak, but that Cuaron was so obviously right, this is exactly what is going to happen. And it's good to be taking stock ten years later because it remains incredibly relevant and we have moved even more rapidly toward this dystopia than I would have feared.

as someone who has delivered hundreds of babies, I thought the birth scene was far more accurate than your typical movie birth, in fact I had no idea it was CGI, I assumed it was animatronic puppetry
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 3:01 PM on December 26, 2016 [41 favorites]


Such fun watching Michael Caine play John Lennon. "I say, isn't this stork delicious?"
posted by valkane at 3:09 PM on December 26, 2016 [4 favorites]


Also, Clive Owen's trouble finding adequate footware.
posted by valkane at 3:11 PM on December 26, 2016 [5 favorites]


concept of (at least seemingly) global infertility and then didn't really address what caused the situation or what good extricating the woman would do.

This is one of the things I was MOST thankful for. Would the movie really have been improved by a few minutes in front of a computer screen muttering technobabble about "her genotype is able to resist the vasectovirus!"? None of the characters are scientists, that is why they are trying to get her to the boat rendezvous. I am a scientist, and technobabble explanations give me a fucking headache, but audiences are conditioned to expect them from decades of Star Trek.

LOST is a low blow. LOST frayed more plot ends in one episode than all of Children of Men, and was written by a group of people who did not believe in story.
posted by benzenedream at 3:17 PM on December 26, 2016 [35 favorites]


For two years I had a chance to teach an elective on science fiction for EFL English Lit students in Japan. We used this film as part of the course, and students responded to it thoughtfully. And, I had to watch it repeatedly for prep and discussion; it was a good choice because it really stood up well. Most definitely not a flop for us.
posted by Gotanda at 3:20 PM on December 26, 2016 [3 favorites]


Also, Clive Owen's trouble finding adequate footware.

I love this. His whole kit follows him in detail through the movie to the point where he's using his coat and (refilled) flask of whiskey to perform an improvised delivery.
posted by paper chromatographologist at 4:03 PM on December 26, 2016 [4 favorites]


That long crane shot where he brings the baby out of the building, while the soldiers cease their firing and stare in amazement? The memory of it brings chills. And the use of the Crimson King tune when he's en route to visit his cousin is pure brilliance. Then there's the insane attack sequence in the car, another impossibly long, unbroken shot with some of the most technically meticulous cinematography I've ever seen. I recently bought the bluray version and immediately watched it twice in a row. It's what intelligent cinema _should_ be, nothing candy-coated about it, yet still delivers an ending that gives one a ray of hope, a necessary conclusion to a deeply dark tale. Genius moviemaking which will withstand the test of time.
posted by dbiedny at 4:36 PM on December 26, 2016 [14 favorites]


This is the crane shot I'm talking about. Actually not a crane shot, my bad, but an amazing hand/Steadycam sequence. Still miraculously intense.
posted by dbiedny at 4:44 PM on December 26, 2016 [4 favorites]


I always wondered if the quest for footwear plot point was a subtle nod to John Mclean in Die Hard - they're both unlikely heroes who are thrust into something way over their head.
posted by mannequito at 5:05 PM on December 26, 2016 [1 favorite]


I think this is my all time favorite movie. I'm a sucker for dystopian sci-fi, and most of those movies aren't very good, so when a really intelligent one like this comes along it's worth watching. And yeah, this isn't an emotionally easy movie to watch.

One of the things this movie gets so amazingly right is the world building. The refuse and detritus in the background make the world of the story feel very real and very plausible. The broken baby carriage lying in an alleyway, the chickens and sheep in Bexhill, and car battery Theo uses to hit Syd, all these details make this world so tangible. I remember watching the 2012 Judge Dredd remake (which was a fun romp, but obviously not on the same intellectual level as Children of Men) and thinking it needed Alfonso Cuaron to come by and help with the set dressing and scenery. Dredd's City Block was too clean. It needed more market bazaar, more garbage, open fires, graffiti, chicken coops, more stuff lying around.

As far as the Abu Ghraib stuff being too on the nose, I mean this is a move where the main characters are named Theo and Kee. Cuaron isn't holding back any symbolism, it's all very much in your face.

Oh, and also this movie has one of my favorite stealth puns. Theo helps the survival of the human race by bringing the girl to the buoy.
posted by Loudmax at 5:29 PM on December 26, 2016 [8 favorites]


"I liked that they didn't feel compelled to discuss the science of the infertility problem. I mean, it's simply a placeholder, or punctuation for the central theme -- the collapse of society is happening right now, and there's no longer a question of whether things might work out ok on this path we've been on."

I was really bothered when I saw the movie -- which I thought was very good! -- by the fact that it was FEMALE infertility, which they implied was from environmental pollution, when in fact male fertility is far more fragile and prone to problems when faced with pollutants/toxins/etc. (especially having to constantly freshly generate sperm). Then I saw in a review that in the book it was male infertility and that was changed for the movie (it didn't say why), but just knowing it had been the far more likely male infertility in the book I was like, "Well, that's okay then, I don't mind that they changed it for the movie, as long as it made sense at one point." It's so odd the things that throw us out of our suspension of disbelief, or allow us to maintain it.

(Later I read that Cuaron was interested in the single matriarch theory of human origins and that was part of why he wanted it to be one fertile woman.)

"That long crane shot where he brings the baby out of the building, while the soldiers cease their firing and stare in amazement? The memory of it brings chills."

^^^This.

But I don't think I want to see it again.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:30 PM on December 26, 2016 [3 favorites]


I think female infertility makes more sense as a plot point, sort of, because it's so fragile. If men were infertile and women were fine, then a single fertile male could almost instantly be of incredible use - harvest his sperm and you could get thousands of new babies going in no time. You don't really even necessarily need to hang on to the dude. Keep him safe for a few weeks and you'll have just a ton of genetic material to work with.

Because it's a woman, and she can only have one baby at a time*, she and the baby are a resource that must be protected and harbored for a long period of time. The stakes are much higher.

*this depends a little on why women are infertile. If it's just a lack of viable eggs then you could probably harvest eggs from Kee but even then you're limited to essentially a small number of possible new babies, all of whom may be infertile themselves.
posted by RustyBrooks at 6:04 PM on December 26, 2016 [8 favorites]


Also, because sexism: if it were a fertile man then he'd be Mr Demigod Stud rather than being Ms Madonna, and you'd probably end up with a sort of farce where women are chasing him so they can have sex with him.
posted by Joe in Australia at 6:38 PM on December 26, 2016 [3 favorites]


The part that sticks in my head is the adult son of his friend(?) that is sitting at the table with him while they are discussing, and the son is so infantilised, hopped up on stimulants and playing some super complex looking logic puzzle. Completely engrossed in his game while the adults talk about the world slowly ending around them.
posted by Joe Chip at 6:38 PM on December 26, 2016 [2 favorites]


Alex, take your pills

ALEX!

(And this decadent beneficiary family of fascist Britain is dining under Picasso's Guernica, of all things.)
posted by paper chromatographologist at 6:44 PM on December 26, 2016 [7 favorites]


Theo helps the survival of the human race by bringing the girl to the buoy.

Unfortunately a lot of people in North america say "boo-ee" for this, which I still take sort of personally, as I found this out after having one of my best timed off the cuff puns ever fall totally flat when a friend pointed to something bobbing out at sea and said "what's that? is that a man?"
posted by Jon Mitchell at 7:31 PM on December 26, 2016 [10 favorites]


I always confuse Cuaron with Alejandro Iñárritu and rewatched Children of Men for the first time in nearly a decade last month. I think I went to see it specifically for the long shots the first time I saw it and didn't really think much of the fascist/refugee storyline at the time, which is common to most dystopian futures, but seeing it again now it really hit home how prescient the mood would be post Brexit/Syrian Refugeee/Trump. It's only gotten better with time, and those long shots are not gimmicks either.
posted by furtive at 7:48 PM on December 26, 2016 [1 favorite]


So, I will admit to not having seen this film, but in reading the reviews/synopses of it, I found myself continually asking if it was in fact, coming at this idea from a sexist perspective, seeing women and their potential for childbearing as symbols or things, not people.

Women's attitudes towards their own fertility (especially given that it is commonly used to other and oppress them) being not monolithic, the premise of this story feels off to me. Surely some women, at least, would find their infertility a relief, and not care so much if the rest of humanity died out. Surely some women would embrace it and not just as an excuse to commit nihilistic violence.

I went looking for some feminist analysis and found this one from 2013 that addresses some of the same ideas.

In the novel version, it is the male sperm that becomes nonviable, causing the infertility pandemic. In the movie version, it’s the women who are suddenly infertile after repeated miscarriages. This puts the blame on women for the pandemic while identifying men (i.e. Theo) as the solution to the problem. It even makes me wonder if the way that the film depicts infertility as full of despair (as if civilization must collapse if we can’t make babies) is some sort of derailment of a masculine ideal, wherein reproduction and the passing on of one’s genes is a vital component of manhood.

Is there any of this at all in the book or movie? Or are women still mostly-mute seed-carriers, once again?
posted by emjaybee at 8:08 PM on December 26, 2016 [4 favorites]


Y the Last Man handled "The Last man" concept (mostly) without becoming a sex farce. Honestly though, I don't think it could be made into a movie yet. Still too recent
posted by NiteMayr at 8:15 PM on December 26, 2016


Is there any of this at all in the book or movie? Or are women still mostly-mute seed-carriers, once again?

there is indeed one mute woman in the movie, so maybe you wouldn't like it
posted by thelonius at 8:17 PM on December 26, 2016 [2 favorites]


the premise of this story feels off to me. Surely some women, at least, would find their infertility a relief, and not care so much if the rest of humanity died out. Surely some women would embrace it and not just as an excuse to commit nihilistic violence.

In the movie, it's pretty obvious that the infertility is just the last straw that is causing extinction. It's implied that there have been food famines, killer plagues, horrendous refugee crises, and economic collapse. The "average person" is not living a comfortable lifestyle. Imagine what would happen in all the societies which depend on kids as a form of social security for the elderly. Most of our economics assumes continual growth.

Watch it and check back in! I'd be interested what you think.
posted by benzenedream at 8:29 PM on December 26, 2016 [8 favorites]


I just rewatched it tonight for the first time since seeing it in the theatre. The contemporary resonance is really eerie. Like, _really_ eerie. I mean, the movie wasn't a jaunty romp to begin with and now... woof.

I haven't yet read the 2013 article emjaybee linked to, but my (quick, probably unqualified) take on em's question is that throughout the film, women are the primary vehicle to salvation while the men are almost universally acting out of self-interest, pushing their agenda, or are actively combative. Pam Ferris plays a hippie nurse who is Kee's caretaker and the role she plays is incredibly important, both in the world of the movie and to the mechanics of the plot. Kee herself is...well, she's a scared teenager, but she's not exactly passive and she's definitely not mute. She's a pretty decently drawn character with a brain and a sense of humor and, while vulnerable, isn't helpless. She's really pretty extraordinary--in a world that has so clearly fallen almost completely apart, she never seems mired in it. She's cool.

Okay, so that's two. Plus Julianne Moore and if you've made it this far down in the thread, you probably know what happens to her. There really aren't a lot of "main characters" in the story.

There's a lot there in the movie and I'd recommend you watch it--I'd be interested in your thoughts as well. I want to watch it again, but as we head back into the week, I'm not sure I'll be able to take it. Like, I've been meaning to watch this for weeks and I think the only reason I was able to take it tonight was a) this article and b) the four day holiday weekend filling me with excess goodwill to burn.
posted by Maaik at 10:31 PM on December 26, 2016 [4 favorites]


As far as the Abu Ghraib stuff being too on the nose, I mean this is a move where the main characters are named Theo and Kee. Cuaron isn't holding back any symbolism, it's all very much in your face.

@Loudmax: What's the significance of their names? I don't get it.
posted by mpark at 11:17 PM on December 26, 2016 [1 favorite]


Theo = God(/Christ); Kee = Key
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 11:20 PM on December 26, 2016 [1 favorite]


(Doubting) Thomas Anderson [Son of Man]: "Whoa."
posted by Apocryphon at 11:37 PM on December 26, 2016


I just rewatched it tonight for the first time since seeing it in the theatre. The contemporary resonance is really eerie. Like, _really_ eerie. I mean, the movie wasn't a jaunty romp to begin with and now... woof.

Yup. I rewatched for the first time in 10 years also, and it's definitely gone from being wounding to very close to the bone. The British Nationalism stuff seemed like bog standard SF window dressing, now it's flat out terrifying.

Not only that, but I didn't remember this film at all for some reason while playing The Last Of Us, but it's clearly one of that game's touchstones.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 11:46 PM on December 26, 2016 [1 favorite]


As I recall while they hood the hippie lady she's not the one shown with the jumper cables. As the bus pulls away from her, we see recreations of a few scenes from Abu Ghraib, including hooded jumper cable man and a line of naked men cowering from a military dog. Very much intentionally on the nose.

The part that stood out in this scene for me was that as the bus travels along, just 20m down from where she has left the frame, we see sheeted corpses. She has just entered a very short assembly line, and there is no question about her imminent fate.
posted by Meatbomb at 1:49 AM on December 27, 2016 [2 favorites]


Okay, so that's two. Plus Julianne Moore and if you've made it this far down in the thread, you probably know what happens to her. There really aren't a lot of "main characters" in the story.

there's also Marichka there at the end, popping up as an unexpected wildcard shepardess through the fugee zone to the boat, and the last image they see as they exit the horror show world out to the buoy - her and her little dog

(personal favourite character - she beats the fascist pig with a pipe)
posted by mannequito at 3:30 AM on December 27, 2016


I don't know why the title of this movie makes me think of "The Lives of Others." I liked TLoO slightly more...
posted by bendy at 3:42 AM on December 27, 2016


In the movie, it's pretty obvious that the infertility is just the last straw that is causing extinction. It's implied that there have been food famines, killer plagues, horrendous refugee crises, and economic collapse. The "average person" is not living a comfortable lifestyle. Imagine what would happen in all the societies which depend on kids as a form of social security for the elderly. Most of our economics assumes continual growth.

This just makes it worse! You've painted a picture of a world that has gone universally, irrevocably to shit. Surely in this setting there would be people who perceive infertility and inevitable extinction (caused, I might add, by no evident human agency or blamable source) as a blessing, as salvation, as a guarantee that no human will ever have to suffer again. Where are their viewpoints in the narrative?
posted by Faint of Butt at 4:10 AM on December 27, 2016 [2 favorites]


This story isn't about them.
posted by h00py at 4:23 AM on December 27, 2016 [18 favorites]


I think everyone in the movie is focused on surviving too intently to see any of it as a blessing.
Although that does sound like something one of them would say in the little side conversations that take place.
posted by bleep at 4:51 AM on December 27, 2016


It scares the hell out of me how eager so many of us are to sell out all of humanity and call ourselves garbage and vermin. That is not a healthy way to identify or think about oneself. It's self-loathing at best, and narcissistic and anti-social at worst. Either you see yourself as human, too, when you think that way, in which case how in the hell is it healthy to want your own kind to go extinct or to believe you deserve constant punishment on a personal level for past collective failures ? Or, implicitly, it suggests such a degree of social alienation that the speaker isn't identifying with their own humanity, but defining themselves in active opposition to it--a perverse form of anti-humanism. This is exactly the kind of reflexive nihilism that's rotting us from the inside out.

These days, you often hear people say, "I like animals better than humans." But humans are animals, too. And besides, "animal" versus "human" or "vegetable" or "mineral" isn't really a distinction nature cares about, but a set of human constructs we adopted because they were useful ways to organize information. So to waste even a second pondering nonsense questions that frame those distinctions as independently meaningful, or to imagine it's some revolutionary insight to take a stand against humanity as distinct from the rest of nature is so confused and logically incoherent it's so far off the mark it's not even wrong. It's more like a pathological self esteem disorder than a useful or defensible way of thinking. That emotional urge to say let's just ball humanity up and toss it in a waste basket is the problem, not the solution.
posted by saulgoodman at 5:41 AM on December 27, 2016 [19 favorites]


I saw this in the theater with a friend and we spent hours lying in a park after, talking about it - partly just to decompress so we could get to sleep, but partly because we felt there were a few perspectives missing from the film - people who would be relieved by infertility or who wouldn't care about it on a personal level and people whose response to social collapse would be hedonistic - and we wanted to think through how those played out for ourselves. We didn't see it as a major flaw, possibly because we're both used to not seeing ourselves reflected in movies, but it was an absence that we noted.
posted by EvaDestruction at 5:51 AM on December 27, 2016 [2 favorites]


It's self-loathing at best, and narcissistic and anti-social at worst.

If one's self is loathsome, self-loathing is the only justifiable response.
posted by Faint of Butt at 5:54 AM on December 27, 2016 [1 favorite]


It scares the hell out of me how eager so many of us are to sell out all of humanity and call ourselves garbage and vermin. That is not a healthy way to identify or think about oneself. It's self-loathing at best, and narcissistic and anti-social at worst. Either you see yourself as human, too, when you think that way, in which case how in the hell is it healthy to want your own kind to go extinct or to believe you deserve constant punishment on a personal level for past collective failures ? Or, implicitly, it suggests such a degree of social alienation that the speaker isn't identifying with their own humanity, but defining themselves in active opposition to it--a perverse form of anti-humanism. This is exactly the kind of reflexive nihilism that's rotting us from the inside out.


There's a big psychological difference between actively wanting human's to go extinct or actively desiring punishment consciously or unconsciously verses living in a state of acceptance of the inevitability of it happening due to consequence of collective choice. Make the best of it of what you have sort of thing. Some things are very much beyond an individual control or small collective control and some form of acceptance (once things have gone so far) is one way of dealing with it.
posted by Jalliah at 6:02 AM on December 27, 2016 [6 favorites]


I saw Children of Men the year I graduated from college. Alone, in an empty theater. I'm not entirely sure how to say what effect the movie had on me without writing several thousand words about my life and experience up to that point (nobody wants that).

The best way to say it, I guess, is that it's the first movie that made me seriously question all of the truths I had been taught in my conservative, right wing, fundamentalists upbringing.

I often think about the Quietus ads, and whether or not they're even in the top ten most horrifying fixtures of that film's world.
posted by Tevin at 6:32 AM on December 27, 2016 [5 favorites]


the premise of this story feels off to me

Seriously, if you're engaged so much with the idea of this movie that you'd read synopses of it and read this thread and comment... Do yourself, and us, a favor and just watch the damn movie already. There's a lot going on in it, and some of it is subtle, and as the fine article we're all here discussing notes it's a very carefully crafted movie that deserves the respect to at least, you know, watch it.

are women still mostly-mute seed-carriers

If you watch the movie you will find there are many women in the movie with different roles. From a bad-ass revolutionary to a stalwart hippy woman to an amoral black marketeer who ends up saving the day.

That being said... I need to watch the movie again to firm this opinion up, but I remember cringing a bit at how Kee is so passive in the movie. She's hapless and lost, the pregnant woman of color, the refugee. And she's sort of dragged along by all the well meaning people trying to help her while also advancing their own agendas.

But Cuaron isn't a clueless sexist filmmaker. Her dependence on others is deliberate in her character and believable in the story. She has enough agency at various points in the film to be reasonable. Still I'm discomforted a bit at how helpless she played. OTOH she's 38 weeks pregnant in a war zone, of course she needs some help! That's a sort of basic fact of humanity, that pregnant women should be helped and protected when needed.
posted by Nelson at 6:40 AM on December 27, 2016 [7 favorites]


So maybe learned helplessness is better than active self loathing, but it's still not a positive belief or even a fact. Extinction isn't an inevitability. There are species that have been around and thriving since practically as long as the geological record provides evidence of life at all. It's not a better or more realistic point of view, it's an article of faith for some, and a wish fulfillment fantasy for others, but in both cases, it's rooted in contempt for other people.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:13 AM on December 27, 2016 [5 favorites]


In the movie, it's pretty obvious that the infertility is just the last straw that is causing extinction. It's implied that there have been food famines, killer plagues, horrendous refugee crises, and economic collapse.

I read the movie as implying that those things happened because of the infertility, which makes sense to me.

There's no next generation to sell stuff to or to vote, so why bother doing anything that won't show a return for 10 years? Likewise, here's a choice for you, Mr. 58 year old decision maker, that will bring some profit now but make a plague more likely in 15 years. Fuck it, why not?

Refugees are to be expected as countries go to war with no higher aim than to orphan lots of kids in their neighboring countries so they can steal them for their own citizens to raise.

And of course the economy is going to collapse. Big chunks are just disappearing -- primary and secondary education are gone by the time of the movie, and higher ed disappearing. Construction and manufacture of capital goods are surely savaged by the population drop.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:35 AM on December 27, 2016 [6 favorites]


Tevin--That's actually one of my favorite bits in the film: Where Theo and Jasper are cracking wise about the government-dispensed Quietus kit, wondering if it will even work as advertised.

I honestly, sincerely wonder if I will not find myself in similar straights one of these years, opening my US-government mailed 'Official Queitus Kit' and laughing out loud, knowing it's such a load of BS, and unlikely to work as advertised unless I take all four doses at once.
posted by mrdaneri at 8:12 AM on December 27, 2016 [2 favorites]


So maybe learned helplessness is better than active self loathing,

It's not learned helplessness. Nor is it necessarily some sort of wish fullfillment. Granted there are people that fall into this category but hardly everyone. It's actually quite insulting to say so.

I get what you're after here but looking at other species as an example doesn't work in relation to humans. It may offer some comfort and hope but it's far from 'fact'. We, as much as we are of the animal persuasion do not act like any other animal that exists or has ever existed. Human's have knowingly and willing created 'tools' that if used will destroy the majority of life, not just us on the entire planet. We knowingly and willingly do crazy ass things like put people in positions of authority who seem to think these tools are awesome. We knowingly and willingly put this sort of power in the hands of maybe a dozen people (at best) out of billions. These people quite literally in less then an hour make us all extinct. I'm sorry to be so blunt here but this is the reality and there is absolutely nothing in the entire history of animal life on earth that even compares to this.

Human's, unlike other animals, willingly follow belief systems that put control of the world outside of themselves and willingly use it over and over to justify human and physical destruction.
Human's knowingly and willingly, unlike other animals, kill members of their own species in numbers and for reasons that no other animal species matches. Yes there are animals that kill their own kind but not anywhere close to how human's do it. You don't find a whole lot of animals (besides possibly a few ape specifies) consistently destroying not only each other but the actual means of survival out of emotion like jealousy, spite and revenge.

Human's have the capability unlike any other animal to knowingly and willingly change and manipulate their environment, while having the ability to overcome (in the short term) the destructive consequences and keep living. Animals that over use or destroy their local environments don't do so knowingly and when it does happen they don't survive. It also tends to happen in a more localized area. Humans are doing this on a global scale, knowingly and willingly. And in human's case we're already past a point of no return in taking the global environment out of the range where our modern civilizations developed and function in. We're also taking it beyond normal ranges that life can easily adapt to overarching changes because we're changing it to fast for the rest of life to keep up, or at least keep up at the levels we need to survive comfortably with.
Whether this will lead to full scale extinction is the question but we are past business as usual. Civilization as we know (so to speak) is done. This isn't nialism. This is the reality we find ourselves, collectively as a species right now. There is hope and there is false hope. There is realistic hope and their is illusionary type hope. Hope is good and necessary, but hope rooted in things that don't exists or no longer exist can be just as destructive and useless as no hope at all.

I don't see looking reality face on and being blunt about our collective situation as rooted in some sort of contempt for other people as a collective whole. It's just looking at people, human's as a whole, like everything, warts, foibles and all of the bad as well as the good and seeing it for what it is. We aren't some sort of special snowflakes that will somehow escape consequences from our collective actions when our collective actions effect the entire planet.

Do I think humans will become extinct? Possibly. Nukes are the wild card. Pre-nuke world the answer would be very different. Recent events unfortunately have shown that the previous few decades where the threat of this happening seemed way less may be an anomoly rather then practice. At least they've shown how fragile the threat level is and how easily it can swing back and forth. But really we as human's have only been dealing with this extinction level of power for a short period of time relative to all of human history and while it's nice to think that human's are stupid enough to use the damn things we may be kidding ourselves because again it only needs a miniscule number of people to be this stupid.

Climate change, since were are past a point of no return and firmly into the 'bad' territory is going to do something huge to human's as a whole. Question is about the extent. Not if, but how many. And since it looks like we have a very, very small window (4 - 10 years) for major action so we don't get into 'really bad suck ass' territory you tell me. Does it look like we're gonna do it no problem?'

I can see how this can look like it's contempt and yes contempt is definitely there but I more so feel that it's acceptance of what is right in front of our faces, without any blinders that there is some sort of inherent or instrinsic 'good' about humans (in the cosmic, geological time sense) that somehow will make us not experience the consequences of what we're collectively doing to ourselves right now.

I actually think that one of the reasons we're in this mess in the first place is because of the overarching belief which underpins a lot of human thought that we are special, good and important and above it all. Hubris.
posted by Jalliah at 8:14 AM on December 27, 2016 [13 favorites]


Coincidentally watched this for the third time last night and I was struck by all the humor that had gone way over my head during the previous viewings.

Jasper mentioning The Human Project and Theo goes into a long rant about them but Jasper was only trying to tell a joke. Delicious subtle exposition and character background.

Fleeing with the baby through the bombed out building while the armed forces are fighting the Fishes. Theo: "How is she?". Kee: "Annoyed".

Obviously it would behoove me to read the IMDB quotes at some point, since I'm not quick enough to pick up the humor on the fly.
posted by Wetterschneider at 8:21 AM on December 27, 2016 [1 favorite]


Well, this discussion has a lot of potentially politically charged directions it can go, so I won't touch those third rails.

The one that keeps coming up for me is this disappearance of the Navajo Pueblo people (aka 'Anasazi'), the folks who built the magnificent cliff dwellings.

I mean, all those people are still around, or more properly, their successful descendants are. And like that one newsroom climate change clip, I think our descendants probably will be. But they won't be casually popping into Metafilter over chai tea before work starts.
posted by mrdaneri at 8:34 AM on December 27, 2016


Not to belittle any of the current threats facing humanity, but eschatology is a constant across cultures. Envisioning the end of all things is a common belief humanity has held since civilization arose. Nuclear weapons are a major advance towards actually being able to realize the eschaton, but by the same token we have much advanced our abilities to halt things like the Black Death, which must have felt like the end of the world at the time.
posted by Existential Dread at 8:46 AM on December 27, 2016 [5 favorites]


I'm with you, 100% there, ED. The concern is more, (and let's keep it abstract and apolitical) there's a prominent 'There is no Black Death, and even if there was, let's let it advance to it's glorious fruition, as that is clearly God's will for humanity' faction vs. a 'Well, maybe we can stop the Black Death' vs. a 'Maybe we can save portions of humanity' vs. 'Maybe we can save all of humanity' type thing going on in some circles I have heard of, about a completely unrelated issue.
posted by mrdaneri at 8:53 AM on December 27, 2016 [2 favorites]


Nuclear weapons are a major advance towards actually being able to realize the eschaton, but by the same token we have much advanced our abilities to halt things like the Black Death, which must have felt like the end of the world at the time.
posted by Existential Dread at 11:46 AM on December 27 [2 favorites]


Eponysterical!
posted by LizBoBiz at 9:12 AM on December 27, 2016 [4 favorites]


How does global infertility lead to a societal collapse

I am sort of amazed that this question doesn't have an intuitively obvious answer, because really there's dozens of ways it's pretty clearly catastrophic almost immediately. The most general answer is because in any given year we bringing new humans into the world faster than we show them out. This has inevitable economic consequences, and reversing that means the number of people coming into the world to take up the jobs and purchasing will decline. Consistently. Every year.

Think about the amount of sturm un drang we get when there's an economic contraction in a given financial quarter. Well, now that's what we get every quarter, forever, with no prospect of it ever changing.

A quick google shows that the stats as they stand are we bring in 19 new people per thousand every year and lose 8. That's a net increase of 0.11%. Without the births it's a decrease of 0.08%. That's not so much, but the impact of no more babies will hit pretty quick. Every single economic activity that revolves around providing for the first year of folks now has to fold. Baby food, diapers, child care, kids clothing - done. Whether it happens sharply or slowly doesn't matter too much, though a slow decrease in birth rates could mean an extended recession based on this entire aisle of the grocery store as it shrinks.

Also, every one of those people whose contribution to the work force would have scaled back or stopped temporarily are now still competing for jobs. Here in the U.S. we're seeing the stark consequence of large numbers of people permanently unable to find employment. Every proceeding year more things go dark as the people who need it don't exist: playground manufacture and maintenance, schools, day cares, toy manufacture and sales, big chunks of the media, a wide variety of clothing, etc.

By the time of the movie, where nobody has been born is about two decades, you'd have a global population which would be 3/4th of what it used to be at best. Your economic contraction isn't going to go away, though now you're going to start getting into a place where the number of people able to do things that require youth and vitality are going to stop being there. An entire cadre of folks who wanted to have children are aging out of the range where it was ever possible, none of them having been able to spawn. Those tv reports on "housing starts," the number of new construction projects happening? That number is zero and has been zero for at least a decade at this point.

If you're not inclined to empathize with the ennui that would have come with going through all your child-rearing years without being able to have a kid if you wanted, well, then maybe the global-level dread that would set in here isn't totally obvious. But it seems clear to me that this is the point when it really tips permanently over. Few in the 40+ crowd have anyone they can see their achievements benefiting now. Everyone in their 20s and early 30s are looking at their lives, in an economy and with prospects that have been shrinking every year they have been alive and aware, and when they ask "what's the point?" not a single one of them can look to the next generation as an answer. They instead can look forward to being the last of the young who will have the older folks look to them to help them as they age and take on those tasks the older generation can no longer do... all with the full awareness that there will be nobody to do so for them.

The longer you think about it, I would assert, the more it seems like the level that they're keeping it together in CoM seems like it might be too optimistic.
posted by phearlez at 9:27 AM on December 27, 2016 [21 favorites]


I saw this no fewer than three times in the theater, and rewatch it, oh, once a year is so. I appreciate it on every level, from its politics (however mawkish) to the thoroughly worked-out media and information design in the background — the commercials and billboards and brandnames that are on-screen for a second or two at most and yet never fail to land. Cuarón's work could be a textbook lesson in sophisticated worldbuilding; as a matter of fact, the few elements it inherits directly from the source material are to a one the weakest notes in the film ("Fishes"? "fugees"?).

Even after all this time, there are still scenes and images that stop me dead in my tracks. You've already mentioned most of them, but the one that gets me every time is the brief glimpse of the blasted countryside you get on the way into Bexhill, with the toxic runoff and the corpses of farm animals strewn everywhere and the twin Chinooks chittering by. It's one of the many scenes Cuarón has effectively cobbled together from documentary footage — the abject pile of hooves-up deadstock is, if anything, less grim than the scenes from the BSE cull that were its obvious visual inspiration — and yet, when brought into a composition with the elements he's drawn from Abu Ghraib and Beirut and Dadaab, it tells a story about our future-becoming-present many of us still aren't quite ready to face up to.

The old Weather Underground had a slogan: "Bring the war [in Vietnam] back home." In a way, that's 90% of the horror of Children of Men. All Cuarón's really done (and not to minimize either the deftness of the move or the magnitude of the accomplishment) is show us in detail what everyday life looks like in the parts of the world we're generally happy to ignore. Dystopia happens everyday, to someone else.
posted by adamgreenfield at 9:49 AM on December 27, 2016 [13 favorites]


An additional wrinkle to consider is the first world demographic shift (e.g. The Idiocracy Argument). TL;DR: 'By the time you've completed that demanding post-secondary education track to acquire either the education or embedded business training to support a family economically, your fertility, either male or female, has declined substantially. This has societal impacts.

In a democracy, this has big societal impacts.

In a capitalist democracy, this has enormous societal impacts.

I am not personally on board with this line of thought, but you can see where the tension emerges from.
posted by mrdaneri at 9:53 AM on December 27, 2016 [1 favorite]


What a timely post. I had been feeling much more optimistic about the future of the species recently, but certain events in November really took that out me.

I've long wondered about how people who were already dealing with the permanent, untreatable inability to conceived reacted in the CoM universe. When I saw I thought, "Oh a world where nearly everyone knows how I feel everyday!"

Lately, though, I sometimes feel moderately relieved that it's not in my power to subject an unconsenting being to likely famine, mass forced migration, and violent resource wars initiated by greedy totalitarian organizations in reaction to the climate crisis. I doubt I could resist the call of biology, if I could--I like the little ones a great deal.

I feel sick for the infants of today, knowing that they will likely witness the full depravity of an increasingly desperate humanity, but I will do my best to ameliorate their suffering. If I'm wrong about the trajectory of humanity, I doubt I could be happier to be wrong.
posted by Excommunicated Cardinal at 10:46 AM on December 27, 2016 [2 favorites]


There were several points where all my internalized movie and video-game logic insisted that he grab one of the discarded guns of a dead body or where ever.

Kinda late in getting to this thread, but I have the same impulse and one thing I loved about the Battle of Bexhill scene was how clearly it showed that him having a gun in that situation would be useless - it wouldn't protect him from the crossfire and would even make him a target.
posted by gamera at 11:48 AM on December 27, 2016 [3 favorites]


I am not personally on board with this line of thought, but you can see where the tension emerges from.

When it breaks along class/education/race lines, I'm not on board with it either. But I think there is validity to the Idiocracy argument when we consider religious groups. Many people in the United States (for example) take instructions from their deity and from religious leaders to have as many children as possible. The same deity/religious leaders implore their faithful to eschew "elitism," expertise, and secular education. They've gotten in good with the ruling political class, so they impose these policies on all of us and these values pass down for a few generations.

So a large number of voters in the United States have these shared values, and we wind up with an incoming presidential administration that may well be driving us towards CoM territory: incompetent, contemptible, greedy for power and money, but--most importantly--faithful.
posted by witchen at 1:35 PM on December 27, 2016 [2 favorites]


I get what you're after here but looking at other species as an example doesn't work in relation to humans.

The whole idea of speciation, all these fine taxonomic distinctions, don't mean anything independent, though. They're just classification schemes. They have no content to engage with that we don't actively put in them. It's not meaningful to invest those arbitrary distinctions invented for utility only with emotional content, but we do it, and we think that means something.

Talk of wiping out humanity or how great extinction would be isn't offensive or insulting to a human? I don't get how my critique is possibly more insulting than contempt for all of humanity. I mean, I am one, and I'd rather not go extinct, thanks.
posted by saulgoodman at 3:05 PM on December 27, 2016 [2 favorites]


Froley.
posted by ikahime at 3:19 PM on December 27, 2016 [2 favorites]


'Children of Men' had interesting sound design. Rather low-key until the final act, then, woah.
posted by ovvl at 4:00 PM on December 27, 2016 [1 favorite]


Thanks, Eyebrows McGee!
posted by mpark at 7:08 PM on December 27, 2016


I recently watched Children of Men having remembered the themes of xenophobia and existential fear of 'outsiders' being relevant given the current political environment. However, as is often the case with such films, far too much of the plot is taken up with people running around and shooting at each other, and I was disappointed.
posted by anactualwolfe at 9:02 PM on December 27, 2016 [1 favorite]


All i could think, watching the movie, was that if i were Kee i would just kill myself before giving birth. I mean, she seems at best ambivalent about having this baby, and it totally doesn't matter to literally anyone else in the world what she thinks about it. Or what she thinks about having future babies, which she's going to be forced to do. Probably without much, or any, choice of partners. For the entire rest of her life, until she prolapses or hemorrhages or if she's lucky hits menopause. And her daughter - remember, her kid is a girl - is also going spend her entire life being forcibly impregnated, starting at menarche (so, age 13 or so)?

"Message of hope" at the end? Not for Kee and her daughter.
posted by adrienneleigh at 12:51 AM on December 28, 2016 [11 favorites]


I was struck by all the humor that had gone way over my head during the previous viewings

There is so much pitch black physical comedy:

The Battery

Doored.*

*ALSO DOGGIES
posted by ethansr at 10:10 AM on December 28, 2016 [1 favorite]


Message of hope" at the end? Not for Kee and her daughter.

Although this is a possible outcome that bears thought, it's not the *only* outcome or even the most likely one. Her value is probably more along the lines of "what makes her different" i.e. can we compare her to other women to find a cure.

A more realistic dark scenario is that she'll be experimented on for years, whether she likes it or not.
posted by RustyBrooks at 1:12 PM on December 28, 2016 [2 favorites]


One interesting aspect of the world-building they did not get right - the Arabic word "intifada" (meaning "uprising", more or less) is written on walls throughout Bexhill but misspelled.
posted by trotzdem_kunst at 1:12 PM on December 28, 2016


I don't recall that, but I was very distracted when I watched the movie on a plane. Maybe it's a deliberate bit of worldbuilding, consistent with the general drop in awareness that has come with the collapse?
posted by Joe in Australia at 1:51 PM on December 28, 2016


Not sure if it's been linked before, but Nerdwriter1's channel on Youtube has this interesting look - Children of Men: Don't Ignore The Background about the scene settings and the importance of the background characters and action in setting and manipulating the tone. Note - spoilers!!
posted by Zack_Replica at 2:14 PM on December 28, 2016 [1 favorite]


I think Kee's affect and ambivalence underscores the point that it's not the lack of children exactly that is fueling the bleakness, it's that everything is already shit, the way humans are steam rolled by political institutions. I don't think having a baby is going to do much to restore anyone's faith that humans can rise above the brutality they've inflicted on each other, not even Kee's. Her ambivalence is shared by Theo. We are totally fucked, and we really don't want to do what is required to unfuck things, yet here we are, unable to make ourselves do anything but the right thing.

How does global infertility lead to a societal collapse

If nothing else, the opening scene sets the tone. The very last child that was born was killed, and though it doesn't really make a huge material difference, strangers are gathered around TV screens around the world in tears. Powerfully and quickly, Cuaron gives us a punch in the gut while showing us humanity's state of mind about things.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 10:41 PM on December 30, 2016 [1 favorite]


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