I’ve just finished watching a movie called Children of Men on HBO (yes, I participate in all the sins of this century, HBO, AOL, Microsoft Office, mea culpa). It stars Clive Owen and Julianne Moore, among others, and is based loosely (very loosely, IMO) on the novel by P.D. James, not her usual since she’s best known as a mystery writer, and this is definitely in the realm of science or “speculative” fiction.
The basic story is this: for some unexplained reason, the women of the world have become infertile, and no children have been born for eighteen years (in the book, it was the men who were infertile). A woman gets pregnant, the usual way of course because we’re not talking supernatural miracles here, only ordinary natural ones, and the protagonist Theo is tapped to get her out of the country (still England in both book and movie, the last “functioning” society, although it doesn’t very well) to a supposed sanctuary called “The Human Project”. Of course Theo has lots of baggage and doesn’t want to do it, but he signs on when he realizes what’s at stake. There’s war and repression, escape and betrayal, noble self-sacrifice (lots of that), complete self-interest, and an ending that is meant to be ambiguous, but isn’t depending on your point of view. Alfonso Cuarón , co-writer of the screenplay, and director, had this to say:
“We wanted the end to be a glimpse of a possibility of hope, for the audience to invest their own sense of hope into that ending. So if you’re a hopeful person you’ll see a lot of hope, and if you’re a bleak person you’ll see a complete hopelessness at the end.”
The book was called a “Christian fable” by James herself, and concerned itself with the end of humanity, and what might happen if a woman got pregnant, thus providing hope that humanity might not end after all. But Cuarón crams all kinds of contemporary PC imagery and references into it. For instance, the mother is an African woman (who wasn’t even in the book); the government has collapsed into a dictatorship bent on deporting all immigrants, and torturing and murdering those who won’t go, and those non-immigrants who dissent; there are pointed scenes illustrating the damage to the environment by pollution; casual drug use and homosexuality are given their usual approving nod (not that I object to homosexuals, but I’m really tired of the entertainment industry hammering it home in movie after movie); the detention scenes are meant to recall the Holocaust; and the war scenes remind of nothing so much as the seige of Sarajevo. There are many other visual and verbal references, some I’ve forgotten, and some I haven’t figured out quite.
Despite all that, it’s a well-written and well-paced movie, and the acting is superb. Taken on its face, I watched spellbound, and would recommend it to anyone who isn’t squeamish and enjoys war/action movies.
Which brings me to the point of all this: If my grandchildren, God forbid, all died, I think my stake in humanity would be over. There would be nothing left to feel or do, which was an underlying theme in the movie. Some might consider that they have more to contribute than just progeny, and that’s certainly true. I’m not one of those who believe that your life is “unfulfilled” if you never have children, and I wouldn’t urge procreation on everyone, because it’s a dirty, sometimes heartbreaking, job that you can, if you aren’t careful, screw up tragically. But my children and grandchildren are the latest in a long, long line of survivors of everything that has tried to wipe out mankind. If they were gone, I feel in my heart my own personal reason for being would have been wasted. I’m not a great artist, or scientist, or teacher. When I go, few outside my family will notice my passing. Beyond any inadvertent inspiration I might have given by word or deed, I’ve already made the most important contribution I can make to the future of mankind. And I’m okay with that.
So, since I saw hope at the end of the movie, I must be one of those hopeful people. That’s kind of comforting.