So reads the Book of Common Prayer’s Order for Morning Prayer.
I’ve read most of PD James’s books over the years and if memory serves me, all of her books’ titles are from the Book of Common Prayer. The movie Children of Men, very loosely based on her novel of the same title, is no exception.
(Please note that if you have read the novel there are only a few, very few, similarities between it and the film. I had read the novel years ago and didn’t remember anything in the movie; after I looked it up on line I realized why.)
I saw this movie in the afternoon of January 5, the eve of the Feast of the Epiphany, which celebrates the adoration of the Magi, the Three Wise Men. In the Gospel According to Matthew, it was the Magi who told King Herod of the birth of the King of the Jews. Herod then decreed the killing of all children under the age of two. An angel had alerted Joseph, and he took his family to Egypt, where they lived until Herod’s death.
In the movie it’s the year 2027 and mankind has reached the point where there is nothing to live for, as all women are barren and no children have been born for eighteen years. In that world there are no children of men left to praise the Lord and bless Him. Mankind debauches itself into a cataclysmic spasm of violence, ecological disaster, war, anarchy, totalitarianism, and despair. The biggest billboards constantly advertise Quietus, a drug for self-euthanasia – to borrow Peter Singer‘s euphemism for suicide – so “you decide when”.
The movie’s protagonist, Theo (from the Greek name Theodoros, which meant “gift of god”) played by Clive Owen, lives a life of quiet despair and low-grade alcoholism in the middle of a London that has descended to Third-World filth and chaos. He’s then recruited by his former wife(?)/girlfriend(?) (Julianne Moore), the mother of their only child (who died during the flu epidemic of 2009) to bring to safety the only pregnant woman in the world, a teenager named Kee (Claire-Hope Ashitey). Along with them comes a new-age midwife, played by Rita Davis.
Theo is Joseph to Kee’s Mary. There the resemblance ends. While Mary conceived through a miracle, Kee conceived while indulging in unprotected sex with many men.
I’m not over stressing the symbolism and religious imagery because they are an integral part of this plot.
The original soundtrack music written by contemporary religious music composer John Tavener further underlines that.
In addition, there are dozens of cultural points of reference (I’m sure viewers more familiar with London and the other locations will find even more) along the way – from Michelangelo’s David and Pink Floyd’s pig on the wing
You know that I care what happens to you
And I know that you care for me
So I don’t feel alone
Of the weight of the stone
Now that I’ve found somewhere safe
To bury my bone
And any fool knows a dog needs a home
A shelter from pigs on the wing
to concentration camps and Bosnia-like war-scarred streets. Bosnia comes to mind also because of the illegal aliens helping Theo at that locale.
The overall effect is quite powerful. At times, however, it’s excessive and farcical – one moment you have jihadists marching down the street carrying machine guns and chanting Allah Akbar, and a minute or so later a herd of bleating sheep roll down the same street. Director/screenwriter Alfonso Cuaron really did throw in everything and the bullet-ridden kitchen sink, and then some – Theo’s destination is the good ship TOMORROW, just in case you don’t get it.
The only relief in this apocalyptic scenario is Theo’s friend Jasper (Michael Caine, brilliant as always), a former cartoonist. Michael Caine’s hairdo looks suspiciously like Tavener’s. Jasper, a throwback to the 1960s, lives in a secluded idyllic setting in a house which even today is an anachronism, outdated solar panels and all, with his catatonic wife who apparently became so from being tortured by MI5. Jasper loves his homegrown pot, but keeps a box of Quietus handy.
One gets the feeling that Jasper and the midwife (Rita Davis) would have participated in the Global Orgasm – Jasper for the fun, and the midwife for the peace. These two New Age characters are the only ones not corrupted by the state of their society.
Theo embarks into a mission fraught with peril and hope – hope being what he had lost years ago. Clive Owen successfully brings the character to life. His Theo is overwhelmed and beaten, but he still presses on to the very end. He will not be defeated.
I won’t explain the plot further, but the overall effect on me was one of bafflement and mild exhaustion. The movie got really good reviews, but except for Clive Owen and Michael Caine, I would have preferred if they had spared me a current-event issue or two, along with the sheep.