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.
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:
- The occult (the word I’ll use for anything evil and/or supernatural)
- Vampirism (getting the life sucked out of you)
- 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.
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.