Baseball Toaster Screen Jam
Save the ... Save the World
2007-01-29 22:31
by Jon Weisman

Children of Men had a rip-roaring premise and fascinated as it unfolded. But by the end, it left me empty-handed. It's a good movie, but it didn't make me think about much beyond my own mortality - and any number of good movies (and some bad) do that.

There may be a warning sign in Children, or a sign to have faith, or both. But in its so-specific hypothetical, it answered all the questions of its universe, and left me with none for my own.

We need to be good people. We need to be better people. We need faith. We need kindness. When all else fails, we need to survive. It's worth remembering, but I knew all that already. Are there people who don't understand this that this film is meant for? Or is there more to it?

If the movie is just about the ride, then it's like The Departed. It's a good ride, but that's all. My favorite films fill me with pleasure or haunt me with pain or fear, or all of the above. To the extent that Children haunts me, it's the parts toward the beginning that do so.

2007-01-30 07:46:29
1.   Benaiah
I think there is a lot more there than that. For one thing, there is a scene towards the end (I imagine you know the one I am talking about) that powerfully demonstrates the sanctity of children, even in a world of horrific, terrible violence. We live in a world that won't back environmental overhauls that might save the world in the future because it might effect the economy right now. We are robbing and murdering our children and grandchildren every day, and I think the movie was a powerful statement about the human role as protector of the young.

Plus, there is the statement on the "other". Many view the third world and the middle East as "culturally other", and fail to recognize the shared humanity. This line of thinking can be carried to extremes, like in Children, but with the US torturing people and holding prisoners without charges or trials, to very little public outcry, you see that the "fugee camps" are allegorical, not fantastic.

Beyond that, I would say that there is a scene towards the end of the movie (which everyone talks about) that is tbe best filmed scene of the year. Children should be a lock for best Editing and Cinematography of the year, just on the basis of that scene. This and Pan's Labyrinth are my favorite movies of the year, and you could make a pretty strong case that The Departed is more than just a ride, too.

2007-01-30 09:33:13
2.   Jon Weisman
I think there's a difference between a movie making a statement and a movie making a revelation. Both Children of Men and The Departed make strong statements. But that's telling me what I know.

A film like Little Children, on the other hand, offers revelations - new insights into the human condition that make me keep thinking after the movie. To me, that's more powerful. The Queen, to me, took what I would have thought was a completely banal subject and put forth revelations about the monarchy, politics, community, pride and grieving, just to rattle off a few.

If Children of Men is a revelation to someone, then certainly, that's very important. But to me, it was a very compelling way of stating the obvious. Racism bad, violence bad, children are our future. The most powerful part was just contemplating the black hole of our future that was presented at the movie's outset.

Beyond that, I do think there were some points here and there where the storytelling lagged in Children of Men, but that's a real minor criticism.

I agree with you that some of the direction and presentation was the best of the year. And I'm a little surprised Michael Caine hasn't gotten more attention for his performance, which was great.

2007-01-30 11:54:21
4.   Benaiah
I guess I differ on the statement vs revelation dichotomy. I don't think one is necessarily more valid than the other, though perhaps revelations are more evocative.

I think that there are some revelations in Children. In a world of violence (and violence in the movie isn't glorified or stylized. It is an ugly cacophony of flesh against metal and dirt.) there is hope and kindness based around the sanctity of human life. Maybe that is still too self-contained for you, but that would seem to be a limitation of the genre. The movie is dense with images of suffering and pain, but still hopeful and even beautiful. I guess I didn't gain insight into my life, but perhaps I already agreed with the viewpoint of the picture. It seems to have a lot more to say that "racism bad (there are minority Englishman after all), violence bad, children are our future." There was a call for compassion in general and the limits of violence as political tool. There was the opportunistic approach of those in power to the baby versus the effect on the masses, and a lot more. I need to see the movie again, but I am a little surprised that you think it was such a flat experience.

2007-01-30 12:12:31
5.   Jon Weisman
4 - But see, I never said it was flat. I went out of my way to say it was good. Saying it wasn't my favorite movie isn't the same as calling it flat.
2007-01-30 12:16:03
6.   Jon Weisman
As for the "statement vs revelation dichotomy," I just think there's an inherent value to opening up new ideas vs. preaching to the choir.

But all this stuff is audience-dependent, anyway.

2007-01-30 12:17:09
7.   Benaiah
5 - Sorry. I meant flat like, it didn't stick with you. I know you said you liked it. I try and word things properly, but it is tough.

By flat, I meant that you said it didn't stick with you, like The Queen or Little Children.

2007-01-30 12:23:15
8.   Jon Weisman
7 - Oh. Well, it stuck to me visually more than those films, just not mentally.
2007-01-30 12:47:57
9.   Benaiah
It certainly is a visual powerhouse. That one scene was one of the most thrilling things I have seen in a long time. I was on the edge of my seat because there are bullets and explosions and at the same time I was thinking: "OMG they haven't cut in forever, how are they doing this?"

I saw Russian Ark which has no cuts for 90+ minutes and I was bored to tears. This was something else though. There were a bunch of other great looking shots besides just that one too. The early driving scenes, London, when he goes and visits his cousin... I just really, really liked it.

2007-01-30 13:09:07
10.   Jon Weisman
I was curious about the small drops on the screen during the long scene. It didn't bother me, but are we meant to just write them off? Are they ultimately to be seen as a virtue or a vice? They seem to call attention to the fact that "hey, we're not stopping to wipe the camera." In the end, I guess it's a docu-style approach.
2007-01-30 13:58:36
11.   Benaiah
10 - That is a good catch. It reminded me of jump-cuts, in that it suddenly snapped me out of the picture and reminded me that it was a movie. It can't be that we are supposed to simply write them off, since (and I have no real proof of this) but I imagine they could be digitally removed in post production. Clearly, they were meant to stay there, almost like we have blood covering our eyes.
2007-01-30 14:27:54
12.   aloofman
I think "Children of Men" is maybe the best movie I saw in the last year, along with "United 93". Like Benaiah said, I thought it had a lot more to say than Jon did, but I agree that the ending was anticlimactic. I thought the point was that saving the human race from itself won't be a dramatic event, but a long struggle. I thought there were just tremendous messages about taking the future for granted, xenophobia, greed, and power.

The amazing scene you're referring to started to hit me about halfway through and by the end I was blown away. I'm convinced there were some cuts in there somewhere, but I'd need it on DVD to have a chance of finding them.

I also really liked "Little Children" (especially Winslet and Haley), but I thought it tread on ground mostly covered already by "American Beauty".

2007-01-30 18:30:54
13.   King of the Hobos
I generally have to agree with Jon about the movie. I liked the premise, but left the theater disappointed. I'm not really sure why, but I didn't like the ending and didn't find myself very interested after the first half hour or so.

However, it should be noted that I don't see many movies, and often don't like the few that I do see. I haven't seen any of the other movies mentioned in the thread, so I can't really compare it to them (although I did see Last King of Scotland, and enjoyed it a lot more)

2007-01-30 21:28:07
14.   Sospiro0
Okay I have to mention some specifics so if anyone hasn't seen the film please don't read.

Besides that 10 minute shot--which was simply breathtaking--the so called revelation for me--the moment that really struck me hard--was how this entire scene concluded. Owen brings the girl and her daughter down the stairs and out of the building. And time seems to stop. Everyone stops and marvels at the site of this thing they haven't seen in 15 years. And for a moment there is hope--hope that humanity is saved. But this feel good moment is undercut by the recurrance of violence and fighting. The child, at this point, is simply a distraction, a ray of sunshine in a bleak world--but in the end, the child means nothing. And though the film seems to end on an upbeat note, I cannot see how the message as a whole is anything but somber.

I understand being more impressed by the visuals than the plot, but it was the this vision of humanity coupled with the incredible filmmaking that made this the best film of the year.

2007-01-30 21:33:59
15.   Sospiro0
Also, the motif of how death is treated in the film reminded me of the "dramatic" death in "Rome: Open City". Consistently, characters who we have loved and who we expect to have an impact on the plot, are removed and completely forgotten.

One moment in particular takes place at the very end of the 10 minute single shot, when a certain long haired member of the fishes who we've grown to hate, is simply taken out of by a stray shot in the background and Owen's character barely notices.

2007-01-30 21:44:32
16.   Sospiro0
Okay sorry one more comment: this thread really got me going.

I think genre films--and this is definitely a genre film--often times get shortchanged on their "meaning", whatever the hell that means. We go in expecting to see a dystopic movie about the future, or a movie with an alien that ravages the crew of a spaceship, and once we've satisfied that initial desire, we don't look deeper; whereas family melodramas or films that promote themselves as "art" films benefit from the audience's expectation that the film will be of some "artistic merit."

Basically, my point is that often our expectations skew our interpretation of a movie.

(Though I'm not saying that's what happened with you, Jon.)

2007-01-30 22:12:57
17.   Jon Weisman
I think there is some connection between Children of Men and The Truman Show, and The Truman Show absolutely blew me away. Truman Show is obviously a little lighter, but it hits similar territory about what can happen if certain trends were to go unchecked. (And the endings have interesting similarities, if you think about it.)

One of the reasons Truman Show works for me is that the protagonist has an astonishing emotional journey. In Children of Men, though nominally the protagonist is Theo when we begin, I think the protagonist is more the human race than any one person. And it's completely fair to say that the human race in the film has an emotional journey. That's a strength of the film.

But by the end of the movies, I find myself more thrilled that Truman gets out than thrilled (or relieved) that Kee (sp?) does. I find the third act of Truman Show much more thrilling, 10-minute scene or no.

And maybe that's because ultimately, it was Truman's life that was most important of anyone's. In Children of Men, on an individual level, it's the baby's. And we don't know the baby. We know she's important, but we don't know her.

As a parent, let alone as a human, I know how to care about a baby. The loss that Theo and Julianne Moore's character suffered resonated. But Children of Men somehow failed to get me that invested in Kee's baby on a personal level. Just on an allegorical level, or what have you. That's intellectually stimulating, but not as much so emotionally.

This is getting murky and I'm getting to the point where maybe I'm more thinking out loud than making sense, but it seems to me that in Children of Men, the on-screen protagonist shifts mid-movie from Theo to the baby, and I suffered for that. My investment is originally placed in Theo, but ultimately, it isn't Theo's story.

Now, that doesn't mean the movie doesn't have a powerful message, but it may be another reason why I was left sort of cold at the end, despite the movie's quality.

2007-01-30 22:18:54
18.   Jon Weisman
Or, if it really is Theo's story from beginning to end, and the movie is saying that we literally have to sacrifice ourselves completely for the sake of the human race, I can get behind that - though it sure is depressing.
2007-01-30 22:42:47
19.   Sospiro0
Theo (Mr Owen) reminded me of a classic detective in a film noir. We follow him from beginning to end, even if he as a character is perhaps less interesting than the world around him. He fits the protoype perfectly: troubled past (lost child) and an alcoholic. He becomes a detective without necessarily wanting to be one. Picture the scene where he learns the truth about the Fishes plans for the child.

Random: The religious undertones (anybody mentioned them?) of the movie didn't resonate with me much: Theo as a substitute for Jesus. Did anyone notice how animals were obsessed with him? As well as his John McClainish lack of shoes? Anyhow, it's a side note, but I wonder if the religious parallels were more stressed in the book, as it seemed the movie was less interested with that point.

2007-02-02 13:33:41
20.   aloofman
Jon, your reasons make sense. They didn't change my mind, but they make sense. It can be hard to articulate the gut feelings that art provokes in us sometimes.

I also really liked "The Truman Show," although strangely, I enjoyed the movie more that first time even though it's meaning is even stronger now. At the time YouTube and reality TV hadn't really hit us yet and looking back on it, it's a really neat examination of our need for life to entertain us.

Comment status: comments have been closed. Baseball Toaster is now out of business.