We're only a few weeks into the new year and already Christmas seems like a distant memory. I've been an Evangelical Christian for most of my life, so it's actually difficult for me to imagine Christmas without its religious overtones. Correct me if I'm wrong, but in secular society, it seems to me that Christmas is at its best when it's about giving, about generosity, about spreading good cheer and wishing peace on earth and good will to men. I think that Christians also want Christmas to be all those things, but for Christians, there's one more component to it: Hope. Christmas is about a near-hopeless world, waiting anxiously for a savior to arrive. But hope didn't come riding in on a white horse. It didn't come from a palace, nor from an earthly throne. It didn't come with great riches, nor great fame. It came from the son of a carpenter, born in a filthy barn, one clear and starry night...so the story goes anyway.
It's appropriate, then, that Children of Men, a film that is, at its heart, primarily about hope, was released this past December. I've seen the film twice and have been deeply moved both times, but something that's puzzled me greatly is the critical reaction this film seems to be receiving. Specifically, critics seem to think it's a downer. A Newsweek interviewer remarked that after he saw the movie, he wanted to stick his head in an oven. All over, quick reviews on forum and blog posts refer to the film as "bleak" and "depressing." Many these are intelligent reviewers that understood what the movie was trying to do, but just felt the film was intentionally and/or crushingly sad.
[[Children of Men Spoilers ahead]]
I interpret the film differently. Alfonso Cuaron really layered on the religious allegory quite thick, but his filmmaking is so masterful as to make it forgivable, if not unnoticeable. For me, "Children of Men" derives much of its power from these religious references.
For example, much of the film's power comes from one of its climactic scenes, in which Kee descends from the top of a war-torn apartment building, with her crying baby nestled in her arms. For me, this scene was utterly transcendent, and one of the best scenes in any movie I've seen this year, if not ever. But did you notice? When Kee begins her descent, she is surrounded by the "fugees," i.e. the immigrants. They are the first to recognize this amazing gift, this hope, and they immediately gently extend their arms, some even risking their lives by exposing themselves to enemy fire, to get a chance to touch the baby, and in doing so, to touch life and potentially the future itself. It is the fugees, the downtrodden, the rejected, that are allowed a first glimpse; only later does the invading army get the chance to see the child. Similarly, in the Christmas story, the first person to see Jesus isn't a king, a prince, or a magi (contrary to popular belief, the three Magi did not come visit Jesus until later). Rather it was the shepherds that happen to be out in the field that night, an attempt at showing that sometimes (in fact, often times), the people that are most in need, the ones that are most humble, are the ones who are most open to receiving blessing.
More generally, I found, the film is striking in how it makes you feel exhilarated by that most simplest of things: new life. It's often said that we don't know what we have, what we take for granted, until it's taken away from us. "Children of Men" takes the future away from us, but when the film ends, it gives it back to us, in more ways than one. We wake up from the film and realize that we have life, that babies are born every day, that there is so much to be grateful for. We have our future, it's wide open. Hopefully we'll know what to do with it.
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