Monday, February 05, 2007

More Ramblings From Steyn

Children of Men finally made it to the theatres in our little piece of wilderness this past weekend, and so we wangled a babysitter and headed out for a night at the movies on Saturday. I've heard many good things about the film, and one especially bad thing, and so I was looking forward to comparing the remarkably disparate points of view.

First of all, let me join the pile-on and point out that this is a great movie. Jo had some problems with the lack of any sign of an attempt to fix things, via cloning or some other technology, but my arguement with her was that this wasn't the point of the film, and that it can't be something for everyone. Indeed, somewhere else in this world that sort of thing could be happening, but it wasn't of concern to the director.

However, this is a marvelously realized future world, replete with all the little attendant details that impress on the viewer that attention was paid, that we were taken seriously enough to know that we were intended to believe this was happening. Additionally, the filmmaking itself is a wonder, with beathtaking single-take scenes (one involving a car chase, of sorts, and the other, more wondrous, of Theo dodging bullets to find his way back to Kee and her baby), a moving moment when they leave the shattered apartment building with the crying baby, and so much of the humanity that's willing to help, that wants things to work out for this woman and her miracle child.

The difficulty for some, I imagine, is that many of those who want to help and who are willing to do the right thing are the people who are being shat upon by those in power.

In a recent column in Maclean's, Mark Steyn claims that the film is "bad in an almost awe-inspiring way" and that it should be taught "in film school as the acme of adaptation." He didn't like it, obviously. Hell, even the subtitle of the column refers to it as a "shriekingly bad film." Now, ostensibly, Steyn's problem with the movie is that it is not a whole lot like the book. He's showing us that he's a purist, that his tastes are refined and literate and that only he (and, of course, his equally-refined readers, who apparently wrote to him complaining that they saw the film on his recommendation, when he had only recommended the novel) is therefore capable of judging how that story is translated to the big screen. Forget the 93% score on the Tomatometer and the fact that the film ranked 3rd overall for limited release films of 2006 on that same site. Yeah, that's an awful lot of critics who very much liked this movie (granted, some of them are pretty negligible in the scheme of things), but what the hell do they know?

"As one might expect from godless Hollywood," says Steyn, "he de-Christianizes the movie." This refers to the scene in the film where Theo is startled by a deer in an abandoned and decrepit schoolhouse, which apparently in the PD James novel was actually a deer in the chapel of Oxford's Magdalen College. This turns out to be a real issue for Steyn, who claims the movie's image is "sentimental," as opposed to the book's being "one of utter civilizational ruin -- of faith, knowledge, art and beauty, all lost to the beasts and the jungle."

This claim is surprising, to say the least. To think that only the church is capable of holding back the ruin of civilization is remarkably hubristic. No, it seems to me that if we are not producing children, then we are not producing our artists and scientists of the future. Even the amateurish mural on the outside of the school and the crayoned drawings inside the school are sufficient reminders of what is missed. And the beauty? It seems to me that's easily seen in the birth and life of such a miraculous baby, a beauty that could once be seen every day on that swingset in the abandoned schoolyard.

That said, the fact that the school also had sculptures of dinosaurs out front struck me as a nice dig at where "Christianizing" things may take us. Abandon reason and it all goes to hell.

Certainly Steyn says nothing of the sort, but I wonder just how much it set his teeth on edge to see that the people with the most to lose, those outsiders with the different skin colours and the funny accents, were the ones most willing to bend over backwards to help Theo and Kee and the baby. Willing to die, even.

The future of the movie is decidedly not the future of the book. But the book was written 15 years ago or more, and the movie has come out in a different world, one that is very much influenced by the events of September 11, 2001, and by the politicians who have made their decisions based on those events. Like it or not, we view this world through lenses coloured by such things as "homeland security," and the world some of us see coming is not one to like.

I think of one of the final scenes in the film, when Theo has rescued Kee and the baby and they are trying to escaped the apartment building while it is under siege from soldiers on the ground. Making their way down the hall, baby crying, everyone feels the need to reach out and touch the child, to see and to hear, even if it means they are felled by a bullet from below. And then even the soldiers stop what they are doing, some of them falling to their knees and crossing themselves because of the miracle they see (even though they're probably rabid atheists, all of them). Yes, as soo as they're clear, the battle starts anew, but we're shown a way to peace. A white man, a black, refugee woman, and a baby.

And even with the sadness of the last scene, when the movie goes to black, all around us we hear children laughing, and we feel good about the future of the race.

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Alfonso Cuaron did indeed make a damn fine flick with this one .. The ending, with just the slightest glimmer of hope, was pitch-perfect .. The only better movie that came out in 2006 was, to me, Pan's Labyrinth
Sadly, Steyn's article is no longer online.

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