Film Club / Hard Won Though That Hope May Be

Jennifers BodyChildren of Men
Directed by Alfonso Cuarón

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Brain Teeth

First time I watched it I wasn’t really feeling Children of Men until that scene in the car. Clive Owen and Julianne Moore messing around in a car and doing that thing with the ping pong ball and then wait what the fuck is that in the road and then HOLY SHIT HOLY SHIT HOLY SHIT.

The thing that I really love about the scene is that even tho on the page it’s quite a simple scene and by the standards of a typical Hollywood action movie nothing too crazy really takes place when you’re watching it you kinda realise more and more as it keeps on unspooling that what you’re watching is actually impossible. As in – there’s no way that they could have actually done that without killing all the people in the car. As in the the only way to have done it would have actually been to do it for real. But not only that – the fucking camera keeps moving through places where the fucking camera shouldn’t be able to go (this is a thought that’s not really conscious when you’re watching it but you can feel it swimming away somewhere in the back of your head – how exactly is it that I’m watching this thing that doesn’t seem like it’s possible? Hmmmm).

It’s funny – but in a sense it’s the diametrically opposite to the typical camera move so popular at the start of this Century where (thanks to the latest advanced special effects) cameras would float and swoop and do loop the loops in a way that felt completely fake and weightless which instantly broke the spell of disbelief (for some reason I’m thinking of The Lord of the Rings movies? But lol there’s no way I’m gonna watch them to check). You know what I mean tho right?

Looking back at the films that we’ve done for the Film Club so far I realise that this is very much one of the things I go to the movies for. Cloverfield, Fight Club and Speed Racer and even to an extent 2001 A Space Odyssey tickle that deep buried lizard part of my brain because they do things with the camera that don’t quite seem possible by the laws of science. Watching Godzilla from the perspective of the humans on the ground, dropping it down the side of a building, flinging it around a race-track until reality starts to melt and dropping headfirst into the space between realities all give me that sick sweet junkie high. While it seems as if the majority of western civilisation are demanding to see their lives reflecting on the screen I’d much rather the screen reflected something wider and more crazy beyond the limits of what human beings can do. Representation makes me want to fall asleep – you have the biggest screens in the world and you just want to look at yourself? Instead I’m hungry for Expressionism or Maximalism or Abstraction or some crazy combination of all three.


I’m guessing most people who talk about Children of Men will want to talk about it as social prophecy (sorry but my friend Malcolm already stole the best line: “It’s basically a documentary now”) but I always tend to think that that line of thinking sells stuff short. If you think that people write books about the future because they want to get down their best guesses of what’s going to happen next then I’m sorry but I’m not sure you’ve really understood the nature of the game. But yes – hats off to Alfonso Cuarón for possibly the best production design you’ve ever seen in your life. I mean: people talk about comic book movies a lot but Children of Men is one of the few films out there that I wish I could actually read like a comic – taking my time over ever frame just so I had enough time to properly soak in all of the little details and flourishes. Compared to other films it’s like the difference between a blue piece of paper and an aquarium. Watching it I can feel my eyes swimming around – trying their best to drink it all in.

And well yeah something something Brexit something something Johnson something something the end of the world.

What do you think?

Weekend at Arnie’s

Maya Deren called them ‘vertical moments’ (though I’m confident I’m not using that correctly) – moments of poetry that slice through the normal linear progression of the drama and stop you in your tracks, little pieces of transcendence. When I think about Children of Men, I always think about these moments. A deer ambling through an abandoned school. Mounted guards in red coats trotting merrily along through Hyde Park as if all were right with the world. Most of all I think of the scene where Theo (Owen) and Kee (Clare-Hope Ashitey) bring the baby out of the tower block where the guerillas are holed up. For a moment as they make their way through the building, the sounds of battle are muted, and then they almost cease altogether. The people inside, civilians and soldiers, crowd around the child, reach out their hands. The way the three guerillas they pass on the stairs have to pause to look at the baby, to touch it – they can’t not. People are shot down leaving their hiding places, but they have to see the child. Then they get outside and the entire war machine, soldiers in battlegear, jeeps, tanks, firepower, everything, just… stops.

Then someone fires a shot, and it all begins again. But for a moment…

Children of Men is in many ways a war film, the way The Pianist is a war film – a film about living in war rather than fighting it. The very first thing that happens to Theo is that the coffee shop he left seconds before explodes behind him; even as he goes about his daily life, tries to pretend it isn’t happening, the war has already reached him. The decision he makes is not to go in to war but to stop avoiding it.

The point about weightless versus (for lack of a better word) weighted cinematography is an interesting one. I wonder if, in films where the camera seems more ethereal, there is in some ways a refusal to acknowledge that you’re making a film. The camera can glide down right into where the action is, but the camera is never affected by the action. There is always that invisible wall. Emmanuel Lubezki, the cinematographer for Children of Men, films instead in almost documentary style. The camera shakes as it moves, blood and dirt is allowed to spatter the lens, the angles more like an observer on the ground – it feels rooted because it is rooted. Look at the most famous of the film’s long takes: the camera moves with Owen and looks over his shoulder. At one point, when he moves through the bus, someone actually gestures at the camera to get down (he’s probably meant to be gesturing at the people at the other end of the bus – but the effect is the same). At the same time, the camera is allowed to do what a real observer couldn’t, like the scene in the car Joel describes, like swinging around in front of Theo as he enters the tower block, like the sounds of battle suddenly dropping to background noise as soon as you hear the baby crying. It’s a movie with an incredible attention to detail: in that long sequence alone there all these little human touches; Theo’s limp as he pushes the wheelchair, the Romanian woman who will not put down her little dog even when the shooting starts, the sheep bleating in their pen, the guy who gets gunned down going back for his friend, the way Theo grabs the hand of the dying man in the lobby as he passes. Human touches that root you in the film, that give it texture. Theo is not indifferent to the world – even the camera is not above it all – it’s so much easier for us to get swept up in it as well.

Those human touches stand out so much more because there are no real heroics in this war. You can sympathise with the Fishes, with their cause, but their struggle is bitter and brutal and ugly. The few people who could be said to act heroically are not those who mete out violence but those who put their bodies in the way. The heroism of Jasper or Marichka or Theo is simply to help others, to protect Kee and her child; to extend a hand when it would be so much easier not to.

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Brain Teeth

There’s this from Alfonso Cuarón: “There’s a kind of cinema I detest, which is a cinema that is about exposition and explanations… It’s become a medium for lazy readers. Cinema is a hostage of narrative.”

I agree with this. But I think it’s a bit rich coming from him and especially in terms of how Children of Men ends.

Having rewatched it last night I think I’d love the film a whole lot more if it had been better edited. I mean yeah of course the action sequences are amazing and the film is basically one of those cool non-stop rollercoaster rides that I can’t get enough of (hello Cloverfield!) but it would have been a hell of a lot better if it has been smart enough to cut the very last few minutes.

Basically I would have had Clive Owen and Clare-Hope Ashitey on the boat. They do the whole thing about burping the baby and then Clive leans forward and dies.

Cut to this shot: Clare-Hope Ashitey all alone in a boat in the middle of nowhere.


Cut to black. Roll credits.

Because let’s face it: everything that happens after that is as schmaltzy as fuck and almost feels like it comes from a completely different film. I mean seriously: The Human Project? Arriving on a boat called Tomorrow? Let me guess – they’re led by a guy called Captain Jesus right?

I mean I’m not saying that I needed to see the boat with Clare-Hope Ashitey slowly sinking beneath the waves or anything like that (altho in terms of cinematic cross-overs I agree that it would have been cool if the Jaws theme had started to play). But seeing how most of the film manages to be quietly ambivalent about whether or not The Human Project even exists (it’s pretty good when you first hear them it’s in the middle of a joke) it feels like a bum note to actually seeing them coming to the rescue. In a film that at least (going on Michael Caine’s little speech) partly is about the idea of faith and partly about the idea of chance would it not have been a little more fitting to leave it to the audience to decide if everything was going to be ok?

Even if the idea of The Human Project kinda annoys me. Like when they’re a semi-mythical organisation that exist just got out sight I actually think they’re kinda cool. It’s like the prospect of a Second Referendum or something. This invisible unicorn that’s just out of sight – but if only they’d appear then everything would be alright again and go back to normal. In this context I guess Clare-Hope Ashitey’s baby is like erm democracy or something? I don’t know.

Altho I’ve gotta say that in light of the present moment and the mindset of a certain type of person that thinks that the London Olympics was the last time that things were good in this country (spoiler alert: they really weren’t) it’s funny how Clive Owen’s sartorial choices takes on an interesting new resonance…


I do realise that this is akin to asking what is that Santa Claus really wants (“He just gives all those presents to all those kids and asks for nothing in return? Nah. I don’t believe it. He’s obviously mining their data and seeing it to toy manufacturers or something…”) but in light of a film that’s all about rubbing your nose into the cold hard reality of things and preoccupied with the tough political realities of everything from Terrorism and Homeland Security (what do you mean they’re the same thing?) I think it’s worth saying: what exactly is that the Human Project stands for?

I mean yeah ok “The Human Project” is a lovely name and all. But that just makes me even more suspicious. I don’t know how many people reading this are Community fans but there’s a good early episode when they’re trying to create the most neural school mascot possible that wouldn’t run the risk of offending anyone / making anyone feel excluded and so ended up with something called “The Human Being.”

Human Being

Obviously “The Human Project” is kinda the same thing. In fact it’s such a value-neutral bit of branding it kinda reminds me of the short-lived The Independent Group for Change or Change UK or whatever. I mean – it’s the most unobjectionable name ever right? No one sensible to going to stand up and saying that they’re against humans. But how exactly do they work? Who’s funding them? What are their goals? And what do they believe in? If life has taught me one thing it’s always be suspect of those people who claim that they don’t have any ideology and see themselves as just being on the side of good old common sense or whatever. Maybe I spoke too soon about Captain Jesus. Maybe when Clare-Hope Ashitey gets onboard she’ll be greeted by Richard Branson or Elon Musk or Mark Zuckerberg or… Tony Blair.



After all. They’re likely to be the only ones who’d be able to afford such luxuries in a world where everything else has gone to shit. And also they’re also exactly the type of people that would decide to name their boat “Tomorrow.” (I would have called it “Nostromo” or “Orca” lol).

Also it’s worth mentioning in 2019 that it’s pretty interesting that it looks like everyone on board in a white guy…

I mean I don’t know if I blame the movie for going for a happy ending. And I don’t think that the only “serious” ending is a bleak one. I just – hoped for something that fit a little bit more with everything that went before. Seven doesn’t end with Gwyneth Paltrow going “It’s ok! I’m still alive!” you know? But then I guess there’s something about Children of Men that feels a little bit off to me. I mean yeah it’s exhilarating to watch and the production design is everything you’ve ever wanted but I suspect that it’s not as smart as it wants to be. Like: what exactly is this movie saying anyway? Babies are good and war is bad? If people stopped having babies then that would be sad face emoji? Ok. Cool. Good to know.

In terms of personal taste I prefer the idea of hope where it’s something that hasn’t happened yet. There’s the old chestnut about how if God announced his/her/its presence to the Earth you wouldn’t have faith anymore.

There’s a line from Alfonso Cuarón where he says that he “didn’t want to make a film that ends when the credits roll.” Instead he wanted to make a film that, when the final credits roll… “that’s really the beginning of the film.” In which case I’d argue – the ending is exactly the opposite of what it should be.

Also – just for the record – I’d like to say that “Bazooka” is definitely a better name for a kid than “Dylan.”

You know I’m right.

Weekend at Arnie’s

Yes, Captain Jesus! Who do you think the baby is, Charlie Chaplin?

Well, I have to disagree with nearly all of that. To see Children of Men as a bleak film that’s about rubbing your face in misery, and to see the Human Project as coming out of nowhere, is I think to miss the heart of the movie. Or perhaps it’s the glass half empty. When the baby is carried out of the tower block, is it more important that the fighting stops, or that it starts again? Is the death more important, or the life that’s saved?

I said above this is a film without heroes. I think it’s also, for the most part, a film without villains. There are deeply unpleasant people, but they’re footsoldiers – immigration police, revolutionary hitmen, crooked cops. The only people we meet who could plausibly be called the architects of anything that happens are Julianne Moore and Chiwetel Ejiofor, and I wouldn’t call either of them evil. On the other hand this is a film where people are divided sharply between whether they try to control the world, or whether they nurture the good in it, and that dividing line is thrown into the starkest possible relief by the certainty of human extinction. It isn’t just a bit sad that people can’t have children anymore – it is the complete and total loss of any possible future. Unlike climate change or nuclear war, there is not even the slimmest hope that humanity could survive the catastrophe; and, literally deprived of any creative power, all that remains is the machinery of death.

Theo asks a question in the Ark of the Arts (and how significant is it that the only art we see is old, ruined, and mothballed): why preserve these artefacts if nobody will be alive to see them? That question could just as easily apply to the entire British government. Why are they bothering to keep immigrants out? Why bother running a police state? Why bother governing at all? As far as anyone knows this is humanity’s last century (and in the film, too), but still they tighten their grip on a tiny kingdom growing smaller by the day, a miser on his last gasp clinging to the bedsheets. When Ejiofor’s character learns about Kee’s baby, his instinct is to control it, to turn it into a symbol – but again, for what? Another Baby Diego to die at 18 in a world without a future? Most of those characters survive the film. Most of the ‘good’ people die. You could read that as a bleak dose of reality, man, a reminder the house always wins, but I don’t see it. No matter how random or cruel, their deaths are not in vain, because each sacrifice brings Kee and her child closer to deliverance; by following her and guiding her and helping her, by putting their bodies in the way, by in the end getting her out, they reveal the world as one profoundly hopeful, hard won though that hope may be. They suggest that even in a world where the future of the human race is no more than a single fluttering candle flame, there will be people who give up everything to make sure tomorrow comes – even if they never get to see it.

I think you can certainly pick apart the slight vagueness of what these characters stand for, and Children of Men is in some ways guilty of a tendency I’ve criticised elsewhere, for the rebels to become more villainous the more specific their beliefs (though given that this was made in the post-ideological wasteland of the early 2000s, I don’t think it comes off too badly). But do you want a cinema without explanations and expositions, or do you want a political lecture? The Britain of Children of Men is a country where even though the world has ended most people still work shitty jobs in grey offices and live shitty lives of fear, indifference, and despair; where a tiny elite are able to ignore it all and carry on picnicking in Hyde Park with their zebras; where immigrants and refugees and foreigners are disposable. The main opposition, the Fishes and the rebels, are fighting for equal rights for immigrants and the disenfranchised. Most of that we don’t have to hear directly; we pick it up in the first twenty minutes. As for the Human Project – a bunch of dissident scientists and humanitarians on a fishing boat trying to save humankind? You could read that as more Greenpeace than the Bezos Yacht. God knows there’s plenty to criticise about groups like that in real life, and perhaps there’s a valid point to be made that the film implies the Human Project is where the real good is done while the Uprising is just a sideshow (I don’t agree, but it has merit). I don’t think ‘but what if those guys are Zuckerburg?’ is it.

Also, Elon Musk would definitely have called the ship Nostromno or some other nerd crap. Got to own our monsters!

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Brain Teeth

Aha! Ok. Interesting…

Re: But do you want a cinema without explanations and expositions, or do you want a political lecture?

This is a very good question. But I think the fact that you’re asking it means that I didn’t make myself anywhere clear enough… Because in terms of what I’m looking for when it comes to films I’m way more of the Wirehead School of Thought – just hook my pleasure centers directly into screen and turn the power all the way up. If I wanted a political lecture then I’d listen to a politician and that’s just crazy talk. And my issue with Children of Men is not that it doesn’t have explanations and expositions: but rather that it has too much.


In the Joel Cut™ of the movie you’d be left hanging and unresolved with the hope of all of humanity alone on a boat and any hope you’d find would have to come from inside yourself. Or to put it another way: having a big massive boat with “TOMORROW” written across it is it’s own sort of explanation. It’s like when you get a good look at the monster in Cloverfield or something. There are some things that it’s better not knowing and being left to your imagination. I think I heard a Quentin Tarantino line once that said something like: the best thing to do is to make a full sandwich and then only give the audience half. I would have preferred The Human Project to exist in the no man’s hand between reality and fantasy – trapped in the status of a joke.

It’s funny because my stance is the same with Alfonso Cuarón’s follow up – Gravity. Which is a film I love about a thousand times more (I saw it in IMAX 3D twice and my only regret in life is that I didn’t see it three times). I mean in terms of pure uncut Wirehead thrills it’s basically the most gorgeous thing ever. That bit when the spacestation crashes into the other spacestation? I think the first time I saw that (did I mention in IMAX 3D?) might have been one of the very few single most perfect moments of my life. Not even lying or anything.


And yeah a bit like the Children of Men thing – I kinda find myself on the opposite side of where the debate is happening. To wit: lots of people complained with Gravity that it didn’t have enough explanation and exposition and you never really got a proper sense of who Sandra Bullock really was because it was mostly just shots of her floating around in space (god I love space) while I’m more sitting there with a confusing look on my face going: oh my god – the problem with the movie is that there’s too much explanation and exposition.

Or in other words – just put a big red line through all of this stuff:

Hey, Matt, since I had to listen to endless hours of your storytelling this week, I need you to do me a favor. You are going to see a little girl with brown hair, very messy, lots of knots. She doesn’t like to brush it. That’s okay. Her name is Sarah. Can you please tell her that mama found her red shoe? She was so worried about that shoe, Matt. But it was right under the bed. Give her a big hug and a big kiss for me and tell her that mama misses her. You tell her that she is my angel. And she makes me so proud. So, so proud. And you tell her that I’m not quitting. You tell her that I love her, Matt. You tell her that I love her so much. Can you do that for me? Roger that. Here we go.

You’ve got Sandra Bullock fighting for her life in space and doing her best to try to get back to planet Earth in one piece. Seriously: you really don’t need anything else on top of that.

Just cut the sandwich in half already you know?

Weekend at Arnie’s

I can respect the lizard brain thing, but it’s not my scene. I mean, if I can replace watching the movie with jamming a wire into my amygdala why not just cut out the middle man?The point I’m trying to get at is that you could make Joel Cut and it might be a perfectly fine movie, but it wouldn’t be this movie. The big boat named Tomorrow is just as much a part of what Children of Men is about as the immigrants in cages. I don’t see it as an answer, because I don’t see the Human Project as a question. The question is Theo’s despair – and he never makes it to the boat. As much as we’re embedded with him throughout the film, we’re not him. We’re allowed to know the boat exists.

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Brain Teeth

Well – that’s an interesting thing to say. I was going to write a big thing about how much I hate Theo Faron but before I get to that just wanted to unpick this idea of “it might be a perfectly fine movie, but it wouldn’t be this movie.” I mean: obviously I understand that that’s true – but I’m not quite sure where it gets you? Especially as we’ve already mentioned politics and political projects – I’m kinda a big believer in the idea that in order to create a better world / more harmoniousness society (it must be possible right?) you need to be able to think about possibilities that don’t yet exist. That’s kind of what creativity is all about anyway right? And yeah maybe this is a little bit overboard – but I kinda feel like that creative act is in some sense at the basis of what I think of as my morality: “ok – the world is how it is: but how could it be different?” And maybe this is a stretch too far – but I kinda feel it’s the best approach to understanding how a movie works as well. Yeah – ok they’ve made these decisions: but what would happen if they did things differently? What are the effects and ramifications of these choices that the film makers have made? It’s like pulling apart a machine to understand how it works. And yeah at the end maybe it produces a fart noise – but let’s imagine how much better it could be if maybe it said nothing at all. And isn’t it interesting how if you cut off – what? – 1 minute of film right at the end the feeling and philosophy of the whole movie changes? Yes I agree it wouldn’t be the same movie – but if cinema is about anything then isn’t it about moving beyond the restrictions of reality?

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Alister nailed it with his line about the movie being about being in a war rather than at war. Theo is a small part of a much larger story and it’s only right at the end that it’s clear whether the character of Kee, while special, is particularly important. Contrast with Brad Pitt’s character in World War Z where it just so happens he exactly the right guy with a specific set of skills to run, jump, diagnose and tiptoe his way to victory as required. There may be a World War but it’s Brad Pitt’s world and Brad Pitt’s war which everyone else just inhabits, which is just much less interesting.


But, by having the characters as mainly useless idiots it helps the chaos seem more real. The incredibly slow car chase, is an excellent example, where no one’s knows what is going on, where people just can’t run at 20 miles an hour for very long. This is why having the U.K. as the setting for the apocalypse rather than New York for example is ideal. America always seems on the verge of apocalypse with race wars, natural disasters, and radioactive lizards round every corner, and so you know that every American hero has a car, a gun, and maybe a secret cave somewhere. Also because it’s a military industrial ethnic-state it feels plausible that every other character was in the marines at some stage.

But in movie world the U.K, and it’s people are so boring and uninspiring that it’s a post-apocalyptic dystopia maintains some sort of verisimilitude. Wandering round South London even prior to looming apocalypse it’s hard to imagine struggling too hard to preserve that way of life. In other words in the US everyone is ready to be Rambo fighting for freedom in the wilderness, in the U.K. we’re all Rimmer, still obeying the No Smoking signs long after authority has disappeared.


28 Days Later, Girl with All the Gifts, Shaun of the Dead and Day of the Triffids are creepy precisely because not all social interaction is up for grabs, instead life is just twisted and ugly with a bunch sad-sacks foolishly seeking some sort of “normal” life. Which brings us back to Children of Men. It’s clear all the way through that both sides are completely stupid, fighting over nothing except the ashes of a rapidly decaying society. But at every stage it still manages to increase the jeopardy with expert rug-pulls. [extreme that’s a paddling voice] What’s that? Having a coffee, lol the coffee shop exploded. Walking down the road? Nope kidnapped. Driving down the road? Big mistake, the love of your life is brutally murdered. Running away from terrorists? Doh Best friend murdered. Going to Bexhill on Sea? Nah mate, Bexhill is Palestine now and you are carrying the only baby in the world. You have to give it to the director for pulling off that final urban warfare coup de grace. Its sort the same structure as Infinity War which is maybe why Joel is dissatisfied with the best ending because, the best bit about Infinity War is the way it leaves you agog, desperately scrabbling for some sort of bright side. Children of Men, having ingeniously taken you in an odyssey from a coffee shop in London all the way to hell, it suddenly undercuts all of that and I get why that is disappointing.

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Brain Teeth

Theo Faron can fuck right off.

Yeah – I said it.I mean I guess if you really wanted to you could gloss over everything I’m about to say as “toxic masculinity” but it’s maybe a little bit more complicated than that or maybe actually a whole lot more simple: he’s just really really boring. Jonathan kinda put his finger right on it talking about World War Z: “It may be the end of civilization as we know it but it’s Theo’s world and Theo’s war which everyone else just inhabits, which is just much less interesting.” I don’t know if it’s just that he’s a point of view character (I mean yeah that’s alright ok if you like that sort of thing) or if it’s more than well – the collapse of society and it’s only hope is all there as a backdrop to him feeling all sad and stuff and then slowly rediscovering his purpose in life until – hooray! – at the end he can nobly sacrifice himself for the greater good. Like: hasn’t this shit been kinda been played out enough already?


Yeah. I get it. You’re sad.

I watched Destroyer last night (from the director of Jennifer’s Body!) and it’s basically the exact same story. Nicole Kidman is all sad and depressed and stuff and gets to do lots of acting and breaking down and crying. She’s a reluctant hero but in the end it turns out that redemption through violence / sacrifice is the thing that saves the day.

Here’s the other side of the “Representation debate” that you don’t often hear: I mean if anyone was going to make a movie of my life Clive Owen wouldn’t be the worst choice in the world for the lead role because we look kinda similar maybe (altho I’m much more attractive obviously). By the rules of the game that we’ve been taught this must mean that I’m an instant fan right? He looks like me which means I can experience the movie through his eyes or whatever? Except he’s even more of a cardboard cutout than a Marvel superhero. There’s like this running motif throughout the film that all the animals that he meets kinda fall in love with him (the dogs in Battersea Power Station, the kitten crawling up leg in the little cottage etc) and yeah I get that it’s a handy shortcut to show you what an amazing and special person he is but all I could think was: “seriously?” Am I watching a serious thought-provoking mediation on erm whatever or is this a Disney movie? I’ve seen Children of Men get compared to Blade Runner a lot which is interesting – but the thing with Blade Runner is that Harrison Ford plays a guy who’s a bit of a dick (maybe killing replicants is… bad?) which is what part of makes it into a good movie (if you like that sort of thing). As opposed to Children of Men where every shot of Theo is a hero shot – Clive Owen battling his big Bambi eyes at every single possible moment so you know he’s trying his best to do what’s right.


And I mean yeah ok maybe I’m being too harsh – but there’s a lot of talk around about how important it is to make sure that our films and TV don’t have negative messages about minorities because that’s the thing that will magically turn everyone into racists and sexists and homophobes etc (I erm don’t think that’s how it actually works but ok) but there’s rather less talk about people imbibing narratives that will turn them into narcissists who think that the whole world revolves around them and don’t see anything strange about a story about a woman having the first baby in 18 years is all framed as the redemption of some slubby white guy.

Coming soon: The Suffragette Movie starring Clive Owen! I Have A Dream starring Clive Owen! The Stonewall Riots starring Clive Owen!

The Gap between Panels
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Twitter / The Hot-Doll Pages

Just my two pence on the ending, which I think is open-ended enough for you to read in a cynical direction if you want to. The entire film primes you to distrust organisations that are supposedly there to protect you, so it’s entirely appropriate for the audience to be suspicious about a rescue boat with the word ‘Tomorrow’ on it, given how compromised the Fishes turn out to be. But then again the point of the film is that cynicism is in some ways the easy way out, and that in the immortal words of Samwise Gamgee, “there is some good in the world Mr Frodo, and it’s worth fighting for”. The whole point of Theo’s arc is that he starts out as a cynic who has given up the fight but gradually becomes invested in it again. The name isn’t an accident. Like JRR Tolkien, PD James (I believe) has a Catholic background, and there’s a similar emphasis on not giving up even when things feel hopeless analogous to the religious imperative that salvation requires you to look past the evils and absurdities of the world and make the leap of faith and trust in a higher power. Ultimately that trust might get you nowhere (the Lord works in mysterious ways), but without it and the sense of direction it provides, you would succumb to nihilism and suicide kits.

I get the sense that the makers of Rogue One may have watched Children of Men once or twice, given that it pretty much steals the structure wholesale – self-interested hero learns the value of self-sacrifice, a series of characters make a series of sacrifices in order to deliver the MacGuffin and restore hope to the universe. Both films kept me guessing to the end, while at the same time providing a satisfying shape to the narrative. I think it’s a nifty storytelling device, although the understated style in Children of Men I think is more impactful. Speaking of which, while the film does have quite a handheld documentary feel (probably inspired by footage of the concurrent wars in the Middle East), it surprised me on a rewatch how much of the soundtrack is non-diegetic, adding an operatic feel to the very technically complex action sequences. It’s another way of underlining the semi-religious undertone of the film.

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It’s 25 years since the Holy Bible by the Manic Street Preachers was released. Regardless of it’s unvarnished brilliance (your alternative opinions are not required) its messaging combines a rich and bleak tapestry of social decay, totalitarianism and angst. However it remains the case that of the Manics two Number 1 singles is neither the excoriating Faster from Holy Bible nor the more radio friendly Design for Life from Everything Must Go that made it. Instead it’s Masses Against the Classes, a song so on the nose it even has a Chomsky quote at the beginning, just in case you couldn’t keep up with the lyrics. Sometimes you just have to spell stuff out.


I hold Banksy at the same level as the Post-Richie Manics – a sort of social justice hype man who says what needs to be said when traditional media refuse. His work is to the point, effective and so obvious there’s no room for confusion. The famous stencil of two policemen kissing for example, which appears in the background Children of Men, may actually lose meaning the longer you consider it.

Somehow Children of Men fails to even make it to this level of subtlety. Like they have the Abu Graib torture scene of hooded person being electrocuted but that was in the news at the time the film was written, and what’s the point? That torture is bad? You wanna day off for that Alfonso Cuarón? The suicide kits, the terrorist infighting, and the dodgy authority figures, practically the whole movie is a sequence of set piece images which seem observant but are not supported by any structural critique – it’s just stuff you’ve seen like a teenage collage on their bedroom wall, and politically not much more than “lol the Government is evil”. Like I know that’s their point but you didn’t need the apocalypse if the only outcome is “what if the British Government were a bit fash?” How hard would it have been to come up with a simpler pretext for that?


A side effect of this is the no-children thing is basically unexamined. While Handmaid’s Tale seems like a parallel to draw from to confirm the prognosis of a childless, hopeless world gone to hell, I think something like Wall-E would be an equally legitimate analysis. People *might* go full Daily Mail, but it’s just as plausible that they would just become infantile, with no future to worry about it, and lots of disposable income, people would be self-medicating with fantasy worlds, consumption and surgery treats, much like they already do. That’s not to say being a parent makes you a grown up, it’s just that there is a sort of generational paying forward which leaches money and time from the economy. Following 30 years of the 1 child policy China has a term called “Little Emperor” which is about parents investing all their hopes, dreams and resources in to their one kid. The outcome is the kids are in some cases bizarrely spoiled, but at the same time carry the huge weight of expectation, because their parents see them as a vessel for all their forgone aspirations. This means for example that some students, after years of exams, who then find university to be too much pressure go into hiding because they are ashamed to go home with nothing.

But Children of Men is too busy losing for this sort of social critique and so these issues are all basically ignored. There is a short speech by the midwife, and even that feels like an attempt to build sympathy for her before she is arrested a few minutes later. Maybe there would be benefits to a world without children? What do children mean to us anyway, when not everyone even wants children? All interesting issues, but to return to the running theme of the clunky ending, in this movie children are just a signifier for Tomorrow, and if you didn’t quite get that they write it on a giant boat as pay off.

Weekend at Arnie’s

Yes, but did you enjoy the film?

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In all seriousness I did. I think the trap door structure makes it a hard film not to enjoy because it builds tension well. Although it is a series of set pieces they are done well and as a director Cuarón is great. That car chase seen, man it’s clever. The cinematography is also very evocative, especially if you live in the U.K. obviously. I remember watching it on my birthday and thinking this is a solid movie made by the good guys for overly sincere social justice warriors like myself.

But rewatching it, it’s not bringing new ideas to the table, so let’s say during the war scene with the crying baby. If that baby had just been a regular baby and there was no birth issues, that scene would still have been tense. No one would have been watching saying “Pah, who cares? Plenty more babies in the world.” The climax of the film just doesn’t mean anything.

Compare this to the end of Bladerunner where it’s like “yes, Han Solo’s caught the evil robot, victory for humanity” and the film’s response is “you idiot, this evil robot understands more about what it means to be human than you ever will. Put that in your fife and smoke it.”

Children of Men is just not as smart as it thinks it is.

Weekend at Arnie’s

So this is where we differ (apart from Banksy, which: you can keep him). I don’t think the film thinksit’s as smart as you think it’s trying to be. Even if it was – I don’t think it matters.

Here’s the thing about counter-factuals: you can take them anywhere. What if Children of Men was about the inner lives of the childless elite? What if Jaws was about the trials and tribulations of a sharktrying to make it in a human world? Surely there is some merit in taking the film on its own terms rather than pontificating about the completely different film you wish it was. A lot of the perfectly interesting ideas Jonathan brings up about what effect universal sterility might have are actually in the film: the rich turn to juvenile hedonism and treat their expensive pets like babies, the youngest people like Baby Diego (the kid who dies in the opening newscast) are spoiled brats treated like celebrities for their youth. It’s just all that stuff is in the background, because it isn’t what the film is about. And while I get why you might want the film to be about that, I find it a little like walking into Die Hard and asking why it doesn’t adequately portray the complexities and pressures of hostage negotiation. Cuaron wanted to make a war movie or a survival movie or an action movie or whatever you want to call this; he set it in a future without hope to tell the story of this journey from hope to despair, not a political drama about Britain’s descent (slight droop?) into fascism. There is that undercurrent, there are these elements of refugees versus government, but I think it’s a mistake to look at that as the main attraction.

Joel mentioned the idea that Children of Men is held by boring people to be “prophetic” – but as he rightly points out, what a pointless way to look at a film. I think it can be just as limiting, or frustrating, to approach it as primarily a political messaging service. Maybe I’ve missed something, and Children of Men is regarded as the pinnacle of political art even by people who don’town a Guardian tote bag, but I think if you go into it looking for searing commentary, sure! You might be disappointed, just as you’d be disappointed looking for it in Spielberg. I think it does something interesting (almost entirely without words) by so thoroughly placing the tropes of the Third World on First World streets – an undermining of the supposed exceptionalism and stability on which Western ideas of itself are based – but it’s texture, not the story itself. That it has a clear point of view is not to say that its point of view is its central purpose.

I don’t necessarily disagree with the points about its political shortcomings. It’s true that it’s not doing anything particularly complex or challenging in that regard (though again, I think it does it with infinitely more style than most). Joel’s rant about Theo is not wholly unfair; I like Theo, but it’s noticeable that most characters who aren’t white are little more than a backdrop. I just think that to complain that Children of Men’s frankly incredible set pieces aren’t sufficiently ‘observant’ because what they’re observing is not the structural problems of 21st century capitalism is… a little off base.

Spielberg is a useful point of comparison for Cuaron. He may not be boldest storyteller, he may be frequently sentimental and politically limited, but he can achieve things with that screen that are simply unbelievable. Children of Men is among his best work – God-boat and all.

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Brain Teeth

“Maybe I’ve missed something, and Children of Men is regarded as the pinnacle of political art even by people who don’town a Guardian tote bag, but I think if you go into it looking for searing commentary, sure! You might be disappointed, just as you’d be disappointed looking for it in Spielberg”


This is all very good stuff and colour me intrigued. But it’s funny how reading what Alister writes is very comparable to watching Children of Men: when I read it I’m kinda nodding my head and going well yeah that makes total sense and it’s only when I step away and think it over that I can’t help thinking that it’s not quite right… I mean: yeah I get that in a sense a lot of the stuff we’re doing here is just playing with signifiers and holding them up to the light (“What does the shark mean?” and all that). But here’s the thing: if you want to talk about the political significance of Jaws then it’s going to be a bit of a stretch – you can say that the Shark is Capitalism or the Refugee Crisis or whatever and you might up saying something interesting but it’s most probably going to be a bit of a stretch. Jaws isn’t really about those things – it’s about sharks and Men being Men and oh yeah – Corporate Capitalism placing the pursuit of profit before human life (who would have thunk it?).Children of Men tho as Jonathan points out is absolutely stuffed to the gills with what we might deem political signifiers – “The suicide kits, the terrorist infighting, and the dodgy authority figures” and that’s only just scratching the surface to be honest. Pretty much every scene is built in such a way that it seems to be wanting to say something political about something. I think it’s fair to say that if you watch (for example) Citizen Kane then you can come away thinking it’s saying stuff about politics and power and the newspaper industry and all the rest of it. I agree that yes films are not political treatises and if you want real complex insight then you’re better off reading a book (remember those?) but films can still impart all sorts of interesting ideas.

Like credit where it’s due – this is a very cool scene:


Like I could practically hear Zizek in my head nattering on about the power dynamics of humour and human relationship as Syd decides to take a joke a little bit too far whilst very much getting off on the idea of Theo being completely at his mercy. And – ha – look at me I can’t even quite put it into words which I think is what makes it so good and rich and interesting. There’s things happening in a way that’s just a little bit beyond my ability to put into words and goddamnit – that’s what a good film does (or one of the things anyway). While yeah – there’s lots of other parts of the film (cough boat called Tomorrow cough) that just makes me want to roll my eyes. Which means that yeah – I didn’t enjoy it as much as I could have.

I rewatched Gravity in non-IMAX non-3D (sigh) on the weekend and as much as l love it (and I do love it quite a lot) I kinda get the feeling that it wouldn’t make much of a good film for the Film Club because there’s not much that you can say about it apart from – oh my god it’s so beautiful it’s all just so beautiful – did you see that bit? wasn’t it beautiful? and isn’t the whole thing just so beautiful? yes it’s all so incredibly beautiful – it’s beautiful. And yeah maybe I was a bit too harsh about the dead daughter thing? I don’t know. But then there are a few parts where much like Children of Men I just wish that Alfonso Cuarón would get out of his own damn way. Mainly the “fetus scene” where erm Sandra Bullock curls up like a fetus for erm – some reason?


I mean to steal a line from Jonathan this is Banksy level. Oh yeah – being in space is like being a baby. And at the end of the film it makes a big thing about her standing up sure and something something evolution? But there’s no real insight here. It’s like an A Level student’s understanding of theme: “Sandra Bullock looks like a fetus which means that the theme is being like a fetus. One of the themes of the film is – fetus.”

And it’s these same kinda instinct that lead you to boats called Tomorrow and having Theo work in the “Ministry of Energy” because erm something something 1984?

Also just to clarify the thing I wrote before: I don’t really dislike Theo because he’s a white guy or whatever. It’s more it’s just that the story of the survival of the human race is reflecting through his own concerns and personal and spiritual awakening / sacrifice (yawn). You could recast him as (to borrow a phrase) a black lesbian in a wheelchair and I’d still think it was a bit strange / unsatisfying aka – why isn’t Clare-Hope Ashitey the main character? And wouldn’t the film be more interesting if she was? (whoops there I go with the counter-factuals again).

Oh and yes for the record I would totally be there for a version of Jaws about the trials and tribulations of a sharktrying to make it in a human world. Think the running joke should be that he keeps trying to hire a ship so he can go fishing and everyone laughs at him and says: “You’re gonna need a bigger boat.”

Weekend at Arnie’s

I dunno – maybe you’re super jazzed about his art style, but the difference between Banksy and Children of Men is that Banksy is not a good artist; is that Banksy is not a good artist; the joke about my roommate Banksy works because he is only the message, and without that all you’ve got is a shit picture. may have all the political depth of “the government is bad” written on a scrap of paper but because I’m reading not reading the politics as its central message, it just doesn’t bother me.

To take up your examples: is not really about the political scene or the news business, and it doesn’t have that much insight into either; it doesn’t need to have that, because it’s about Kane’s pursuit of power, and it tells that very well. It’s not as important that it has something interesting to say about newspapers than if it was, say, . Nor is about the details of the bioengineering economy (despite a wealth of exposition by background detail) – Deckard’s discomforting inhumanity and Batty’s surprising liveliness are explored because a central question of the film is what it is to be human.

What I’m trying to express – and perhaps the point is nonsense anyway – is that when you ask “What if Kee was the main character?”, I think that’s a question that takes the film on its own terms and asks whether it fulfills what it sets out to do. If this is a film about hope in the face of despair, about the heroism of survival, it would make just as much sense (if not more) for Kee to be our focus rather than Theo, so why isn’t she? If the film is going to make refugees vs the government part of the conflict, why don’t more refugees have speaking roles? We see something different. I don’t see a film where every scene is “trying to say something political” – I see a film where every scene serves a theme of life in face of certain death, hope in the face of certain despair. A signifier always carries politics, but signifying politics may not be its primary purpose.

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Brain Teeth

Seeing Children of Men as a film where “scene serves a theme of life in face of certain death, hope in the face of certain despair” actually helps me a lot in trying to understand what it is that the movie is trying to do and another one of my nagging unsatisfactory feelings about the whole thing… Namely: the whole “all the women have become infertile” thing.

To be clear here I mean no disrespect and obviously infertility is a hell of a thing and I don’t mean to make light of that but as a premise for a film can we all admit that when you hold it up to the light – it’s a little weird? And even a little (whisper it)… silly?

I mean: I’m a big fan of strange premises for films. Train to Busan (one of my most favourite films of all time and at some point I’m afraid we’re going to have to do a whole Film Club on it I’m sorry / not sorry) starts from the idea of: what if zombies – but on a train? Dawn of the Dead starts from the idea of… what if zombies – but in a shopping mall? And Shaun of the Dead (as Jonathan already mentioned) starts from the idea of what if zombies – but in North London? And yeah ok maybe those all sound as silly as hell but all of them take that crazy starting point to dig into something deeper. Train to Busan digs into the idea of family and survival and the costs you’re prepared to pay in terms of trying to stay ahead of ever-increasing and slowly moving in death. Dawn of the Dead gets into the idea of how Consumer Capitalism has gutted out our emotions, desires and responses until nothing is left until we become zombies ourselves. And Shaun of the Dead is about using zombies as a springboard for growing up and getting mature and taking responsibility for shit.


In contrast tho to all this zombie talk tho – would it be a step too far to say that the premise of Children of Men is kinda… silly? I mean: in terms of all the horrible things that could possible befall us as a country / civilization / whatever (and I don’t even have to make a list because come on at this point we already know all the bad things): but as far as I know all the women everywhere becoming infertile isn’t exactly one of them? And yeah I know it would be terrible if it did happen – but the disconnect between the strangeness of the premise and the seriousness that the film proceeds with kinda slightly… rankles?

Like (and maybe this is the best way to explain) it would kinda be like watching a film that dealt with the political fall out of what would happen if dogs and cats could talk. Would funny cat videos be outlawed because the cats hadn’t given their consent? Would dogs still need to wear leads or would they be allowed to walk themselves? Who would have to clean up the poop? And ha it’s funny but even in writing these crazy examples it still feels like I’m touching on other underlying issues about well – consent and self-determinism and the messy politics of human waste. But in Children of Men they take the notion of worldwide infertility and tie a whole bunch of politics stuff on to it. I mean yeah it’s kinda cool (if that’s the right word? lol) to think about what happen if the whole human race was going to die and how to that would feel and how people would react to it and etc etc but I’m not sure if you need to reach as far as No More Children Anymore in order to get to it you know? Especially when all the raw materials are already there… Like: watch Threads or something you know? Nuclear war will do the job much easier and you don’t need to get into all of this other stuff in order to get there… Authoritarian governments and hostile treatment of refugees and everything getting worse and worse / bleaker and bleaker is probably going to happen anyway – there’s no need to put this strange gloss on it you know?


But then like I said at the start maybe it’s what Alister said: the film is built to give us “hope in the face of certain despair.” Yes everything is falling to shit and we’re all going to die – but wait! A black woman has had a baby and there’s a boat called Tomorrow on it’s way… Ilia said before that the ending is “open-ended enough for you to read in a cynical direction if you want to” but yeah I’m very far from convinced. The whole movie is built for that final bit of uplift. Which is why I guess I’d rather they just cut it out lol.

Thinking about it a little bit deeper tho – the strange premise / silly idea is there for an important reason which both makes total sense from a storytelling point of view and but also explains what is it about the whole film that leaves me feeling so… unsatisfied.

Because of course all the cool / terrible “political” things that happen in the film come about because of the infertility thing. Women stop having babies so everything that’s bad in society gets ramped up by a factor of 11 and it’s not longer possible to have a cup of coffee without being blown up or going to Battersea Power station only it turns out it’s inside the Tate Modern or whatever. But the interesting mechanism of this is that it means that not only can you tie the end of the world on to this freak event happening (which as I said is already kinda silly – as you can look outside your window right now and see that we’re already doing a pretty good job at slowly setting the world on fire and there doesn’t seem to be any problem that I know about with women not being able to have babies) but – and this is the aha bit – it also means that you can happily reverse and undo all the bad things by having well… Clare-Hope Ashitey show up.


And yeah of course this is good storytelling – if you save this one person then you can also save the world and so you know exactly what the stakes are and what’s riding on the outcome (“Oh god I hope they can get to the boat!!”) but it also means that it feels less like you’re watching anything that has any real insight into the world and is more like well – a cartoon for Guardian readers (instead of calling her baby “Dylan” or “Bazooka” maybe it would have been more on point if she decided to go with: “Second Referendum” instead?). And well yeah I mean I don’t necessarily begrudge a film choosing a streamline structure that means that it has a clean line of focus – but to return to the zombie movies I mentioned previously: you know what’s really interesting about them? There’s never really a cure for the zombies. And so it’s never really about saving the world and getting to a boat called Tomorrow: instead it’s just about – trying to survive as best as you can which well yeah: seems a lot more level-headed and (in a sense) much more politically aware. I mean yeah of course Children of Men has better production values and Clive Owen’s bad sad Bambi eyes but for all of it’s glossiness and horrors of war style iconography – it’s more of a fairytale than anything that really manages to hit closer to home…

Which I guess is why I can’t help finding it all a little bit too silly to take too seriously.

I mean: it would be nice to one person could save the world.

I just don’t think it’s possible.

The Gap between Panels
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Fairytale is a very apt descriptor, in that the weighty iconography can distract from what is essentially quite a simple story. You can see that as a positive or a negative. I like the film and agree with Alistair that it succeeds on its own terms. If you want those incidental cues revealing the wider dystopia to do a little bit more work then you’re setting yourself up to be disappointed. But is cinema the right vehicle for a structural critique of society in the early 21st century anyway? I’m not sure I’d want to watch it if it were.

I keep coming back to the religious undertone to the film as a way to make sense of it. The title Children of Men is obviously a nod to the central (never explained) problem – which like the flood or the 12 plagues of Egypt feels like a supernatural mystery inflicted on humanity for the bad things it has done (and raises the prospect that the world was turning to shit even before the infertility pandemic hit). But I think the title might also be intended to echo the way the Bible refers to Christ as the Son of Man – a weird way to refer to the Messiah but one that emphasises his humanity as well as his divinity.

In the world of the film ultimate hope isn’t placed in an otherworldly deity but in other people. There are no messiahs but we are all ‘Children of Men’ that have to believe in the good intentions of others in order to build a better world. Arguably the reason for the concentration camps and bombings is that this trust in others has dissolved, and everyone has narrowed into themselves, as Theo has at the beginning of the film. But Theo does end up sacrificing himself for another person – he becomes messiah-like in the only way mortals can. And crucially he doesn’t have knowledge of whether his sacrifice will have succeeded. He doesn’t see the pearly gates or the big boat called Tomorrow, but he perseveres anyway because it is the right thing to do, and if enough people behave like he did then the boat might just survive, find land, a rainbow and establish a new covenant that will ensure the flowering of humanity.

OH DEAR GOD WHY Presentations
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Children of Men is a towering act of cinematic storytelling.

As an act of ideological discussion – its maybe two notches above Star Wars. Like, its a great thrilling film – but its not like this is a clever idea on how we go to pot.

It doesn’t have anything particularly interesting to say about how or why we implode – just – yeah we cant make babies so everything goes to shit. Not exactly the most intriguingly explored thought.

No, COM is an unforgettable sci fi classic because of the way it instantly and viscerally drops us into a dystopian near future without blinking. In a way no one has done since or before.

First we see black, then we hear a familiar newscaster recounting an unfamiliar but plausible world gone to shit, we follow Clive Owens dramatic coffee trip and a while after that we’re racing through chaos. Its unforgettable. Its cinema at its finest.

One big thing about COM that I focused on is the way it kills its characters – its brutal, hugely surprising and insanely influential on modern culture. Shows like Game of Thrones and Walking Dead became phenomena, partially, because of how they established a cold surprising logic for offing characters that films and tv normally never touched (sans a big final act climax on rare occasions). Children of Men was there first. Julianne Moore – no one saw that coming. Michael Caine? A hostage – come on he’s so nice– nope dead too. Clive Owen – when has a hollywood hero been killed off with that little fanfare?

The effect is that it trains us to expect death and tragedy at every turn – so when the soldier threatens Clive Owen with a stick – we think he might get beaten. It makes every minor moment and challenge pack a bolt of adrenaline – we’re left constantly feeling like we’re between life and death. COM becomes an act of thrills, not tension.

Those tracking shots too – I mean – their insane and revolutionary and holy fuck how did they manage to do that?! It’s not just a cool idea – its a delusionally bold, swaggering act of cinema. The one at the end is a swaggering, insane, incredible act of film making that no medium – even games – could replicate.

And its effect – for 20 minutes or so – you live the dystopia. Not its day to day detail or its nuanced political detail – you live in the dystopian hell of the unempowered and the abused. Relatively rich and privileged westerners sat and got to feel how, for a moment, a bare glimmering sense of what we’re complicit in letting everyone else live.

That is the power of cinema.

To feel another world – to feel it hijack and own every sense you have and not let go until the storyteller chooses to. Holy fuck.

And the ending? I’m sorry – sometimes I like hope.

There’s no hard and fast argument either way. I’d suggest – its a film that makes its point through how it makes you live and experience a dystopia – rather than engage in an intriguingly thought out dialogue about how a infertile world would work (here it is just no babies = everything on fire). After 2 hours of chaos and pain – its nice to experience a light at the end of the tunnel.

What does it mean? ……..Hope. And considering where the once broken cynic Clive Owen ends at the close of the story – I’m fine with it.

Its not like this is a story that has an axe to grind about dystopia or infertility to justify making you feel shit after all the chaos. I’m fine with a bitter ending or a tragedy – but there has to be a clear inescapable point. And this film doesn’t have that.

Ending on the boat – feels like a cheap gag. What is that convo?

“Aha I’m ending it on the boat without an answer!”


“People are shit?”

*slow clap*

COM never says it saves the world – but it does give you hope.

You don’t hear that this baby grows up to end trickle down economics or that everyone is happy.

It just says – there’s a chance. And those kids voices – maybe rather than reflecting a happy ending for everyone – reflects the innocent hope and relief we feel at that ending.

Okay lets all gang up on Joel’s cynicism till he breaks.

Also Alistair – your stuff on weight and weightless cinematography is gorgeous – definitely something that’ll tilt how I watch and describe things from now on.

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