272. Approach (IV)
Children of Men (2006) depicts a 2027 world where mankind has been struck infertile by a global pandemic. Britain soldiers on, besieged by refugees from a world in collapse and subject to severe restrictions on material goods. In a childless world, the elderly are encouraged to commit euthanasia, a process carried out via a drug called “Quietus”—a reference to Hamlet, “…might his quietus make with a bare bodkin?” Cannabis is semi-legal as a means to stave off depression and keep the population under control.
The film’s main protagonist—played by Clive Owen—is contacted by his estranged wife, who works for “the Fishes”. This pro-refugee terror group has acquired a prize: the first pregnant woman in years, a black African refugee. Over the film’s course, Owen delivers the woman—the second Mary, really—through post-apocalyptic Britain to a scientific research ship anchored off the coast. Baby and mother are whisked away by a secret scientific research group, “the Human Project”, in order to cure the plague.
Owen’s character is mortally wounded just as he delivers the mother to the scientists; and the Fishes prove to be selfishly interested in their revolution against the British state and not in the child’s safety. The film’s final moral is clear and in line with contemporary state ideology: white men must sacrifice their lives to deliver black African women and refugees—the new Madonna and child—up to the safe haven that is science. The film is, of course, an accurate description of the current West: besieged by migrant flows—half supported by internal subversives—and largely sterile, inured to reality by drugs and materialism.
The film was based on P.D. James’s 1992 novel The Children of Men; and the plot differences between the two reveal much. The basic dystopian scenario is the same and James was, if anything, more acute: her novel features women who put dogs in prams and christen them—she perfectly anticipated the contemporary “fur baby” found among sterile women in their 30s in the 2010s. Yet James’s sensibility is very different; her “Fishes” are not a subversive pro-refugee group; they are a traditionalist Christian group that resists techno-scientific tyranny—the allusion to Christian fish imagery is obvious. In her novel one of the Fishes is called “Luke”; the film retains a character of the same name, but makes him a villain. Here we see the typical Hollywood inversion: the Christian organisation and the character named after an apostle become “evil”, even though the original novel portrayed them as good. While the basic structure from James’s work is maintained, the specific details are inverted to serve the West’s hegemonic ideology.
In James’s version, the first baby born since the pandemic is born to a British woman, the character “Julian”—a character killed in the Hollywood version. The solution is local, unlike the film’s global scientific “Human Project”. It is also suggested that the sterility has been induced because an evil relative has ascended to the throne—the enchantment is lifted when the rightful king takes up the Coronation Ring at the novel’s end. In short, James’s salvation from global sterility is spiritual, Christian, and organic. Hollywood inverts her message, so that the solution to sterility lies in international scientists, foreign refugees, white men killing themselves, and revolution against organic societies; further, it presents James’s Christian symbolism—Luke and the Fishes—as evil, not good.
The central character in both stories is called “Theo”—“Theodore”, a gift from God; he is the hand that facilitates man’s rebirth. In the film, he is a “former activist”—we could say a former monk for our state religion—and in the novel he is an Oxford don concerned with the old things. In the film, we never learn the baby’s sex; but in the novel it is a boy, and this is significant because it is initially assumed the baby is a girl—for James salvation is the kingly male, for Hollywood it is the black Madonna and science.