Thursday, December 24, 2020

Advent Film Series Reflection | Children of Men

Holy Family Scene in "Children of Men"

A world spinning in political chaos and pandemics. Food and necessities are scarce. Immigrants and refugees subjugated, separated, and hated. Humanity attempting to hang on to hope through technology and the numbing of senses ... and then a shock to the system comes in the form of a miracle. 

"Children of Men" is tied for my favorite film of all time (alongside "Incendies"). The brilliance of the script adapted from British dame P.D. James' novel "The Children of Men" (one example, I think, of a film surpassing the book); the masterful direction by Mexican auteur Alfonso Cuarón; the seamless and stirring cinematography photographed almost entirely handheld with very little traditional film lighting by Mexican cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki (i.e. "El Chivo" or "G.O.A.T."); the authentic and surprising performances by the multi-ethnic and multi-generational cast with strong work by Clare-Hope Ashitey, Clive Owen, Julianne Moore, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Michael Caine; the gorgeously haunting soundtrack with original compositions by John Tavener, including "Fragments of a Prayer," and "Mother and Child," perfectly synced with the scenes over which they play; the prophetic glimpse into our current conflicts and conceptions of human progress as written about in BBC's "Why Children of Men has never been as shocking as it is now" ... all of the above and more come together in an unforgettable piece of cinema that Vulture once wrote in a sharp and incisive article that it "might be the most relevant film of our dark new century("Children of Men" is also frequently included in lists for the 21st century's greatest films) ... 

And I can't help but reflect on it again during Advent (i.e. which means, "arrival" or "coming') when the world is searching for hope at the end of a tumultuous year.

Cease Fire Scene in Children of Men on YouTube

" ... I can't really remember the last time I had any hope. And I certainly can't remember when anyone else did either ... what's left to hope for? ... "

Theo, one of the main characters of "Children of Men" utters this line soaked with the exhaustion and despair rippling through the world. In his time and place, women have stopped having babies, and if there's nothing more we can create, have we lost our image and purpose? If there will be no more generations, have all the promises of gods and men proved futile ...

" ... in remembrance of His mercy, according to the promise He made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever, God has brought help.” 
+ A fragment of Mary's Magnificat from Luke 1:54-55 during her own time of upheaval

It's apropos that this cinematic masterpiece came out on Christmas Day in 2006. To me, it was a profound revelation of the holy family in such a way that anyone I have talked to since I saw the film has most likely heard me say, "Here is the most powerful Nativity I've ever seen on film (or elsewhere really)."

Those many years ago, my young wife and I went to a classic old cinema house off Franklin Street in Chapel Hill, North Carolina on a dark winter's night to see "Children of Men" opening weekend, and when the lights went out in the theater, the room became pitch black in such a way that you could barely see the hand in front of you. This made all the ways this cinema masterpiece shined that much more searing.

The year is 2027 and humanity has stopped being able to reproduce. There is no explanation, but a culture of death (i.e. disease, war, xenophobia, misogyny, abortion, pollution, genocide) has finally reached an apex that creation's womb has died and grown cold. Yet no one wants to take responsibility. Everyone blame shifts, fights, kills, takes anti-depressants, and promotes (and commits) state-sanctioned suicide (i.e. Quietus) while creation rots around them. To turn away from the present, obsession with the young and the past is rampant as the film begins with the mourning of "Baby Diego," an 18-year-old idol who is killed, the youngest human being on earth.

Enter Theo Faron (whose name means "God's beautiful servant"), a divorced man whose ex-wife, Julian, works for an activist-terrorist group called the "Fishes." She asks him to transport an illegal immigrant named Kee (for key or "chi" the first letter for Christ in Greek?) to the Human Project ship, Tomorrow, which will transport her to a safe location away from the death knell that is tearing the United Kingdom (a name made meaningless by the current events) apart.

And then Theo discovers Kee is pregnant. Appropriately, the first words out of Theo's mouth when he witnesses the miracle are, "Jesus Christ!" Theo wants to spread this good news to everyone, but he is stifled by others' fear creeps. What if the government found out that an illegal immigrant produced this miracle? The public shame and outcry would force the powers that be to wrestle control away (or perhaps even kill the mother and child). And it seems everyone has their hidden purposes to use Kee and the baby. Then all hell breaks loose. And perhaps, a shock of heaven, too. The unfolding story could even sound like this:

The baby was miraculously born to an illegal immigrant teenage girl, Kee, before she was married to anyone. She didn't know when or how she got pregnant. A blue-collar worker, Theo, stood by her side once he discovered the news, exclaiming, "Jesus Christ!" 
Their station in life made them social outcasts. While Kee was still pregnant, they were forced to travel through disease-raddled communities to a town south of the capital city due to an unjust immigration law enforced by the ruling government.   
Along their journey, they were helped by hippies (seen as dirty and untrustworthy like shepherds were in the Ancient Near East) and sheltered by Russian immigrants (seen as foreign and dangerous like the magi to Israelites under oppression during the Roman Empire).  
As political refugees who were wanted eradicated by the people in power in the capital city, Kee, Theo, and the baby embodied civil disobedience by not allowing the little one to be a part of the capital’s unjust power structures and schemes.   
Somehow, in the midst of a time that included proud, bombastic rulers, fearful people, and a violence and segregation-justifying state that propagated their way of peace for the world, an ethnic minority baby was born to a poor teenage mother in the middle of nowhere to bring good news of great joy for people from every ethnicity, class, and culture.   
And because of the baby Theo jumped and exclaimed "Jesus Christ!" in front of when he first saw Kee's pregnant belly, the hope of tomorrow was reborn in individuals and families who hoped against hope to believe that the news of this birth would surpass xenophobia, country lines, pandemics, and walls, and stretch across time into tomorrow, bringing together rich and poor, native and foreigner, sick and healthy, minority and majority, oppressed and oppressor. 
Kee's baby was born right in the middle of the mess of disease, human bigotry, power, injustice, fear, violence, and hate. And even the most hardened skeptic called it a miracle. 
This is Advent both before and now ... 
And aren't we longing for such a Christ-like breakhrough again during the close of 2020 amidst the coronavirus pandemic?

There is so much more that I could write and share, but I'd rather sit down, watch "Children of Men" with you, and discuss over some coffee, tea, or a pint when we are able to again someday. Like Theo, it's worth taking our shoes off, experiencing the pain and promise together (like Theo's stigmata wound in his foot he experiences on this journey from servant-to-self into sacrificial servant for the world), and see if there is 21st century holy ground to encounter here. 

Richard Lawson of Vanity Fair got it right when he said, 

Children of Men, like no other film this century, and perhaps no other movie ever, solves the meaning of life. ... Alfonso Cuarón’s staggering 2006 adaptation of PD James’ novel is that rare picture that astounds with technical marvels ... but it is also rich and vital in its emotional and philosophical depth: its sadness, its anger, its reverence and worry for humanity. ... (Children of Men) should be required viewing for anyone grappling with feelings of dread about modern civilisation. Which is to say, probably everyone. In the end there is transcendent hope, found amongst Cuarón’s beautiful, bracing rubble. 

Amen. In the beautiful, bracing rubble, a child has been born. A Son has been given. And the foundations of our lives and this world He can carry on His shoulders. 

So as we celebrate prepare to celebrate Christmas, let's remember again that "unto us a child is born." We all have gone astray, turning every one to their own way. But He has come for us, making the Way, to bring us a new humanity, a tomorrow that gives birth to miraculous life beyond what we can create on our own.

Other Advent Film Posts:

Christ is all,

Rev. Mike “Sully” Sullivan

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