Hope in a child's birth

  • January 5, 2007

Children of MenWriter-director Alfonso Cuaron uses P.D. James's novel The Children of Men to show us a world worn out, spinning on the empty energy of caffeine, terrorism, anger, paranoia, suicide and the media's technology of mental chaos. He shows us the real culture of death. But then he shows us something more.

The climax of this completely different film is 60 seconds or so of silence, reverence and awe. It is an epiphany in no trivial sense of mere daydreams. It is the Epiphany at the heart of Apocalypse. It is Bethlehem in the middle of Baghdad.

The novel is a sort of restrained, near Jansenist, English Catholic dystopia which sketches out what the world might look like from the campus of Oxford University if the human race failed to reproduce for a generation. It is what one might expect from the English — an apocalypse in which all that survives of civilization are the small tyrannies of class, despair and dread.

Cuaron's Mexican sense of these internalized dictatorships is informed by the world we have been living in since Sept. 11, 2001. It's the world of homeland security and illegal immigrants rounded up and caged by a vast police state. The Earth's natural ecology is suffering post-traumatic stress disorder. It's a flight or fight response world in which the explanations for violence and catastrophe are entirely secondary to how fear infuses our lives.

In other words, this is the world we watch unfold on 24-hour news channels. It's the world we keep glancing at on the Internet. The film's near-future, science fiction premise is the flimsiest veil for a movie that looks more like a documentary.

Then unto us a child is born. This enfleshment of hope stops everything — bombs, tanks, machine-gun fire, madness disguised as religion, the false liberation of violent politics and the false security of mere oppression.

"Very odd what happens to the world without the sound of children's voices," declares the midwife Miriam as she recalls how her life changed when she noticed the absence of new maternity appointments on her hospital's books 19 years before the start of the movie. Nothing shows us better how odd than the following scene which shows armed men kneeling in deference to a baby's cry.

Peace on Earth and goodwill toward humanity is the most delicate, precious and unlikely conqueror of a savage world. And the second the baby is out of sight the violence flares again.

It's no accident this movie was released on Dec. 25. It's no accident the movie's rebels are called the Fishes, or that Picasso's Guernica and Michelangelo's David loom in the apartment of a government minister and war profiteer. It's no accident that the ship which will carry the baby into the future is called the Tomorrow. There's nothing haphazard about the one hope for escape from a world obsessed with death — it's called "The Human Project."

This is a far more Christian movie than any of the Hallmark-card attempts by Hollywood to exploit a Christian market. Those reductions of religious reality into warm, fuzzy history lessons do no justice to the present day reality of Christian prayers to a living God. The Children of Men insists that we find the incarnation in our real and fallen world.

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