Children of Men and the Monster Movie

Recently, I was reminded of the Alfonso Cuaron film, Children of Men and the novel by sometimes mystery writer, P.D. James. What I realized about the story was that, really, James (and, brilliantly, Cuaron) presents us with a horror story, or, more specifically, a monster story.

Now, I know, there aren’t any monsters in Children of Men, unless you count the mindless mob. But what I mean is, the idea of a lack of children that we’re shown really serves to highlight a fear in ourselves. That’s what any monster worth its salt does too. Let me prove it to you.

Monsters 101

Frankenstein’s monster: a creature created from the remains of dead people. Shelley’s story confronts our fears of death, our fears of the Other, and our fears of science and the occult. The film versions emphasize the science and the Other quite a bit more than the book, but it’s still basically the same story.

Dracula: again, fear of the occult/evil, fear of death/the dead. Here though, you have an actual predator. Dracula wants to kill people, and being hunted is a pretty basic fear. Plus, there’s the leech aspect. A vampire doesn’t just prey on its victims, it takes energy from you and uses it to feed itself. Terrifying.

The Wolf Man: the one I think is the big one. In my opinion, this is the same trope that slasher movies and most psycho-killer movies use. A violent man-beast without human compassion that only has primal urges to kill, eat, and violently attack. Sure, you’ve got silver bullets, curses for the victims, and all that, but basically, it’s about man becoming animal.

Zombies: ehh…that one’s a little complicated. I’ll come back to that in another post. But at its most basic, again, we’re looking at death/undead/the occult (or, more recently, a virus).

So what do we have? At the most watered-down level, we’ve got:

  1. The occult (the word I’ll use for anything evil and/or supernatural)
  2. Death
  3. Vampirism (getting the life sucked out of you)
  4. Being preyed upon (any ideas for a simpler way to say this?)

That’s not an exhaustive list, but you get what I’m saying.

Children of Men screen cap

Something to Remember Us By

So what about Children of Men? Certainly it doesn’t fit into any of those four all that well. I mean, yeah, it’s got the fear of death factor, but what movie doesn’t? What I think makes CoM fit well into the horror genre is its reliance on the impotence of all the world’s women (all men in the novel) to horrify us. Notice I don’t say frighten or terrify. We’re not meant to jump or scream while we watch, or get the heebie-jeebies while we read. We’re supposed to be chilled by the idea that this generation is it.

Now think about that. Think of the youngest person you know, and imagine that no one will ever be born after him or her. What would that mean for their future? What would you do knowing that you could never have a child, or, if you’re a parent, that your children could never have a child? What about a baby’s laugh? Its cry? Gone forever. That horrifies me. And I think it’s supposed to.

The fact that the world is in such disarray is really secondary to the film. The haunting scenery, the violence, the disregard for the immigrants to this supposed utopia is all a result of an absence of children. I think that this idea is a much more fundamental fear even than death. Even people that don’t want children (except for a select few) assume that the human race won’t die with them. We assume that, even if we don’t have kids of our own, there will be someone around to remember that we were here. Or at least someone to forget us.

In addition to the excellent photography by Emmanuel Lubezki, which, I’ll admit, practically makes the film by itself, Cuaron wisely keeps the themes of the book (fear and hope) and cinematizes it. How he does that, I think, is by co-opting the tropes of the horror genre while giving us a solid action movie.

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My Life in Books

I’ve always loved stories. When I was a kid, my dad read me the entire Chronicles of Narnia a few pages at a time before bed. That was the beginning of my love affair with books, even before I knew how to read.

I remember at age five or six, picking up one of those Walt Disney Winnie the Pooh Probably not the book I picked up.books with the cardboard covers and opening it. My little sister, ever the killjoy, informed me that I couldn’t read. I said I knew, but soon I’d be able to. Even the idea of reading excited me. Once I finally learned to read, I was off. The first book I read with chapters in it (as opposed to those early reader things with a single story in 10-15 pages) was Old Yeller, by Fred Gipson.

It was an old copy I’d picked out from an antique bookstore in Wabash, Indiana when my family took one of our semi-regular trips. It was green and it was so old that the spine had gotten brittle and it broke off at the top while I read it. My parents assured me that this was OK. It was just old. That Christmas, my dad had found at a small bookstore in Muncie a book called The Original Adventures of Hank the Cowdog, by John R. Erickson. Unlike Old Yeller, Hank talks to us. He’s the narrator of his adventures (of which there are now close to 60) as “Head of Ranch Security” on his master’s ranch in Texas. They were absolutely fantastic. Funny mystery stories, told by a bumbling sherriff-type narrator. They somehow managed to combine the Western feel with a jokey version of the hardboiled detective voice.

I read probably 15 of these before moving on to greener pastures.
By nine or ten, I was reading adult books because I thought I was cool. I had A Wrinkle In Timesomething of an identity crisis since I was a kid reading at an adult level and didn’t know what to read. Thankfully, after some confused hopping back and forth from adult to kid books, I found a home in fantasy. I read The Chronicles of Narnia for myself (twice), The Hobbit and the The Lord of the Rings, A Wrinkle in Time and picked up the Harry Potter series sometime before Book Four came out.

In 7th or 8th grade, I saw my dad reading Have Spacesuit–Will Travel, by Robert A. Heinlein. Here was something new. I’d watched Star Wars and Star Trek for nearly as long as I could remember, but science fiction in print? What a great idea! As soon as he was done with it, I read it as quickly as I could. Here was a story I could get into. A boy – older than I was, but so what? – who was a bit too smart for his own good wants to go to the moon and does, using his own intelligence, determination, and a healthy dose of luck, and ends up convincing a galactic court that the human race deserves to live. At the time, it seemed like the most novel idea ever.

From Heinlein, I picked up Asimov’s I, Robot and the rest of the Robot/Foundation Have Space Suit -- Will Travelseries, Orson Scott Card’s Ender books, followed by his other books, then occasionally back to fantasy with Raymond E. Feist, Robert Jordan, Ursula K. Le Guin, Ray Bradbury, and many others.
When I was 16, we moved to a new state. I had some friends who kept in touch, and as grateful as I am to them, it was the great network of libraries connected to my tiny local one that got me through the day-to-day troubles that only a lonely 16 year-old boy can have.

I gave up on reading for a while in college. My first two or three years, I read just three or four books for myself each year. I started focusing on film, and discovered some incredible movies. But it just wasn’t the same. I was missing something. Last summer, I worked a job away from home and had very little free time, so all I had time for was reading. I read a chapter or two a night during the week, and a few dozen pages each weekend. I loved it. I knew after that I had to make time for personal reading. Reading’s come back for me in a big way. I’d missed it and didn’t even realize it.

Not surprisingly, I’ve wanted to be a writer for as long as I’ve known that was a profession. I gravitated toward English lit and Journalism/Communications in college, and got my degree last May.

My whole life has been about stories. I think of myself as a storyteller at heart, and most of my family tells stories. In the mid-90’s, my great-grandma wrote me a handful of letters telling the adventures of Sammy the Squirrel, which I always looked forward to. Both of my grandpas tell stories too. My life so far has been one of stories and words. I’m applying for jobs now. Some of them have to do with writing, although most don’t. I still want to be a writer. Maybe that means I’ll just have to keep up this blog in my spare time and keep writing short stories. I’d love to get published. Have a novel with my name on it, or a magazine with a story of mine in it. Science fiction, mysteries, or fantasy, of course. You’re not surprised, are you? You’ve read my story. What else could I write?