Children of Men

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Rich Malloy
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#101 Post by Rich Malloy » Wed Jan 10, 2007 4:17 pm

tavernier wrote:Because it's Ehrenstein in action.
Well, if we're getting personal, I'll take "Ehrenstein in action" over the National Review in reaction.

Seriously, tavernier, are you a neo-con, pre/post-millennial Christian, general all-round reactionary, or just slumming it over at NRO?

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tavernier
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#102 Post by tavernier » Wed Jan 10, 2007 4:22 pm

Are those the only options?

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Barmy
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#103 Post by Barmy » Wed Jan 10, 2007 4:26 pm

It's bad enough that he brought up "Shortbus" in the Naruse thread.

David Ehrenstein
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#104 Post by David Ehrenstein » Wed Jan 10, 2007 5:14 pm

Here's Ehrenstein in Action with the man I hope to marry -- Todd Haynes.

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Michael
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#105 Post by Michael » Wed Jan 10, 2007 5:22 pm

That's a great pic, David. I'd also love to marry Todd.

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tavernier
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#106 Post by tavernier » Wed Jan 10, 2007 5:24 pm

"Children of Men," indeed.

Rich Malloy
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#107 Post by Rich Malloy » Wed Jan 10, 2007 6:11 pm

tavernier wrote:Are those the only options?
Not in the least, but I found myself more than a little surprised to find you posting something from that perspective, and with seeming approval. Barmy, on the other hand, routinely associates himself with such films as "Apocalypto" and "Looking for Mr. Goodbar", and so his NRO-cred is rather well established.

Is NRO's position in fact yours? That Cuaron screwed up Wood's novel by making far too big a deal about all that secondary xenophobia stuff, adding a galling critique of "homeland security", and making a hero out of some drug-using, Eastern philosophy espousing John Lennon type? And all at the expense of the really great stuff about the dangers of "modern politics" and the overarching importance of religion and child-bearing? One wonders if Cuaron's failure to faithfully adapt the novel would stick in their craw quite so much if he hadn't excised those sections that happen to conform to neo-fascism's current pet issues.

[Not having read the novel, I'm hesitant to accept their interpretation at face-value, and do so only for the sake of argument.]

As for "Shortbus", I suspect NRO would be praising it to the [segregated, straight-restricted] heavens if all those freaky deviants contracted AIDS for committing the grave sin of non-procreational extra-marital intra-gender sex.

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Barmy
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#108 Post by Barmy » Wed Jan 10, 2007 6:16 pm

Can someone PLEASE explain how this film is a critique of homeland security.

AGAIN: in the film, (1) every country but Britain is a hopeless f**ked nuclear wasteland and (2) life in homeland securitized Britain is tolerable if you keep your head down.

You do the math.

What would you rather have, Guernica on some rich jerk's living room wall, or no Guernica at all.

The film simply does not work as a political film.

EDITED TO ADD: I'm talking about "Children" not "Shortbus".

Rich Malloy
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#109 Post by Rich Malloy » Wed Jan 10, 2007 6:41 pm

You got me. But, again, you posted the NRO review. So, with respect to their critique of Cuaron's supposed critique of "homeland security", as near as I can tell and after stripping away all the excess verbiage and unrelated critiques, it seems to boil down to the following hash of non sequiturs and hot-button terms employed to get right-wing knees a'jerkin:
tavernier wrote:The Children of Hollywood's Deformed Imagination

By Thomas Hibbs/National Review Online

Cuaron...takes one of the many symptoms of malaise from the book — xenophobia about immigrants — and makes it the central issue of the film. [...] But also severely truncates, and in crucial ways inverts... James's remarkably perceptive depiction of the ... the dangers of modern politics and ... [the importance of] religion and the raising of children. [...] Cuaron offers a simplistic rhetoric of revolution against oppression. He even introduces homeland security into the film to make explicit that which we are to fear. [...] Cuaron realizes that for this film to have more than a superficial resonance, it must draw upon symbolic resources. [...] Gleaned as they are from the popular press, Cuaron's symbols — prejudice toward immigrants and threats to homeland security — [reveal] an imagination deformed by Hollywood's apolitical correctness.
If I left out anything that might add to NRO's "critique" on the subject of "homeland security", or if I changed or undermined or otherwise subjected this reactionary screed to some other unfair reductionism on this topic, then please feel free to correct me.

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Steven H
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#110 Post by Steven H » Wed Jan 10, 2007 6:53 pm

Barmy wrote:Can someone PLEASE explain how this film is a critique of homeland security.
Cuaron brings this up at about.com
Alfonso Cuaron wrote:“It's obviously a futuristic movie because it takes place in the near future, but the reason it takes place in the near future is only because of a convention of story in which we're talking about infertility and 18 years of infertility. That infertility we use just as a metaphor. In a science fiction movie you would have gone into the whys and the mystery of infertility. We decided to not even care about it and just take it as a point of departure. So based upon that, taking that as a point of departure, to try to make an observation about the state of things. [Someone mentioned the story in terms of its connection to] Homeland Security and stuff, but the movie is not about that. That is part of the observation of the reality that we are living. The whole idea with that is to try to bring the state of things, what is happening outside the green zones that we happily live in and what happens if we bring the world into the green zones. We experience for an hour and a half the state of things, and then try to make our own conclusions about the possibility of hope.â€

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Barmy
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#111 Post by Barmy » Wed Jan 10, 2007 7:03 pm

Thanks for the Cuaron quote. I found it completely incomprehensible.

Anyway, maybe I am responding more to the lefty crix who are putting forth "Children" as a Bush attack.

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miless
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#112 Post by miless » Wed Jan 10, 2007 8:15 pm

Steven H wrote:I also do not understand what attacking David has to do with this film. Isn't there a dedicated thread for that sort of thing somewhere?
people are attacking David because he attacked my remark about how anemic 2006 was for film. people got off topic, that's all.

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a.khan
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#113 Post by a.khan » Thu Jan 11, 2007 11:20 am

For what its worth -- technically accomplished as it may be -- this film does not deserve the rabid attention it has received here in this very thread. And before anyone else says it, yes, my opinion doesn't matter either. So, let's just shut up, and go "Shortbus" on each other. That should please David who, in all earnestness, I usually find agreeable.

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Poncho Punch
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#114 Post by Poncho Punch » Thu Jan 11, 2007 6:25 pm

SPOILERS APLENTY
Barmy wrote:Can someone PLEASE explain how this film is a critique of homeland security.

AGAIN: in the film, (1) every country but Britain is a hopeless f**ked nuclear wasteland and (2) life in homeland securitized Britain is tolerable if you keep your head down.

You do the math.

What would you rather have, Guernica on some rich jerk's living room wall, or no Guernica at all.

The film simply does not work as a political film.
SPOILERS

I think you may not be looking critically enough if you believe that "in the film, (1) every country but Britain is a hopeless f**ked nuclear wasteland". I mean no offense, but let's consider this a bit more. Do we see any nuclear wastelands in the film? Other than that brief bit of propaganda that Theo and the other train passengers are subjected to in the beginning, very little comment is made about life elsewhere in the world (an off-hand remark about Julian's parents being in NYC "then" is all that sticks in my mind). Sure, we could assume that the refugee "problem" in Britain indicates that life is worse elsewhere, but I think that would be a misstep. Cuaron is asking us to be wary of any sort of political organization, and not to make assumptions or take what we are presented with at face value. The fact that the public portrayal of the current state of world affairs is not revealed to be false or exaggerated does not mean that it isn't either of those things. What we are presented with is an overbearing, quasi-fascist British government struggling to maintain its power over the people, and (probably) resorting to terrorism (and finger-pointing) to do so. If things have gotten so bad for the state that this is deemed a necessary act, how can we possibly take anything they say at face value? Surely terrible things have happened all around the world, as we can see by the "refugee" (i.e., not "immigrant") status of the foreign nationals in the film, but for fuck's sake, if I was in a situation as bad as the only one we are really presented with in the film, Britain's, I would be on the first boat out to anywhere, and for all I know, that place may be worse off. Likewise, for all we know, the "refugees" may be fleeing (or have fleed, as we're also not presented with a clear timeframe of events) from someplace considerably more favourable than the camps they've been herded into at present.

As for your (2), life where bombs go off in my local coffee shops on a regular basis and foreigners are rounded up into camps doesn't fit my definition of tolerable. Maybe I've led a privileged life, but I don't see why anyone has to put up with that shit.

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Barmy
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#115 Post by Barmy » Thu Jan 11, 2007 6:34 pm

1. There is a scene in a newspaper-covered shed where a large number of articles refer to horrific disasters internationally, including nuclear disasters.

2. If Guernica and a damaged David had to be removed, Spain and Italy must be f**ked.

3. Britain's draconian policies are apparent to the fugees (what a silly nickname). No fugee would go or stay there if there were better alternatives.

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Matt
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#116 Post by Matt » Thu Jan 11, 2007 6:44 pm

I loved this movie, but if there is a theme of political commentary in the film, it's extremely shallow and facile. It's all very clever to have a banner that says "Homeland Security" over the entrance to a concentration camp and glimpses of guys dressed up as Gitmo detainees, but it has very little to do with the actual story or characters of the film. I'm not necessarily criticizing the film for using current events as window dressing, but I don't think anyone can draw a political point from this film with any seriousness.

Also, I wonder if Julianne Moore signed on when she thought she was going to be the main character and got pissed when she was reduced to the Sydney Greenstreet role.

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Poncho Punch
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#117 Post by Poncho Punch » Thu Jan 11, 2007 7:05 pm

1. Again, given that the government is bombing its own citizens and blaming it on terrorists, and that Julian's murder was likewise orchestrated and carried out by members of her own organization, I don't think we can necessarily believe what's in the papers. And just because some places are fucked over doesn't mean that everywhere other than Britain is. Also, Britain's luck thus far cannot be attributed with any degree of certainty to their domestic or foreign policy.

2. The near-perfect or perfect condition of Picasso's Guernica, given the work's size, suggests to me that it may have been taken before anything truly terrible happened in Madrid, or perhaps was travelling through Britain at the time, etc. We can't assume that Theo's cousin really swept in and "saved" it, even though he is presented as perhaps one of the more hopeful and benevolent characters in the film. Likewise for the relatively unscathed David, which, while suffering some damage, does not reflect it being subjected to much more than a building toppling around it or an explosion near it (and we certainly didn't see any failing structures or bombs in Britain, right?). But you have brought up an interesting point here, one that I hadn't considered: the fact that the two treasured pieces come from countries with significant fascist eras in their recent histories. Can anyone tell me if the view out his window was meant to refer to something more than the cover of Pink Floyd's Animals?

3. Just because their policies are apparent to us now (and the refugees) doesn't mean they always were. If anything, the policies are probably a reaction to the inundation of refugees. Also, given the fact that even natural born citizens need permits to travel within the country, what makes you think that the refugees have the option of leaving? Similarly, what makes you think they had the option of going anywhere else at the time? Surely the entire surviving population of the rest of the world didn't go running for Britain, what we see are only the few who did, and may not have had a choice in the matter. Asking why those who did end up in Britain went there is like asking why some Cubans paddle for Florida: not because it's paradise, but because it's pretty fucking close, and it's not where they are right now. The difference between a refugee and an immigrant is that an immigrant comes to someplace because they want to be there, while a refugee just wants to get the hell out of where they are.

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Steven H
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#118 Post by Steven H » Thu Jan 11, 2007 7:17 pm

I don't know if you're just playing Devil's Advocate Matt, but I can't imagine that political commentary didn't play an enormous part in the putting together of this film. This isn't like trying to turn Pandora's Box into a lesbian or sex-positive feminism film, taking it out of context and suiting its' meaning to fit an ideology. This film was made with an ideology in mind. Saying that this isn't at least a direct attack on western right wing "values" is like saying The Battle of Algiers is just a film about playing hide and go seek with the french.

If you're saying the political aspects just didn't work, and that that part of the film was there in full force but hidden due to it's "extremely shallow and facile" quality, then it's a horse of a different color. There's really no argument if it didn't work for you (as it apparently didn't for Barmy.) But if this didn't, what does? What films do present a deep or difficult political commentary?

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Barmy
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#119 Post by Barmy » Thu Jan 11, 2007 7:34 pm

1. If the British government wants fugees out, how does it help to take control of the media and publish innumerable false stories stating that the rest of the world is f**ked. They should be publishing stories saying America or France or whatever is paradise, so go there. And the notion that the stories are published to scare British citizens is too paranoid to be credible.

2. Under any circumstances, retention by a government official of what are arguably the most notable works presently located in Spain and Italy, respectively, would, shall we say, create a bit of a row. So the UK would permit this only if (1) they were at war with Spain/Italy (no suggestion of this) or (2) those countries had effectively ceased to exist.

3. Of all countries, Britain is one of the hardest to flee to, for obvious reasons.
Last edited by Barmy on Thu Jan 11, 2007 7:51 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Poncho Punch
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#120 Post by Poncho Punch » Thu Jan 11, 2007 7:48 pm

1. I know I said assumptions aren't wise, but for the sake of argument I'm going to make one: that there are still more Britons in Britain than refugees. So why would it make sense for major media to report that someplace else is better than their own homeland? Wouldn't this have more of a detrimental effect on the British people's opinion of their government than anything else? Even barring this assumption, how many refugees can read the papers when a) many of them can't or can only barely speak English, and b) so many of them are locked up in refugee camps, where there are no newsstands.

2. Who says Spain and Italy aren't making a fuss of it? Do you think they'd go to war with Britain over a few pieces of art? Again, we're only presented with the experience of someone in the highly regulated and controlled British society. You know what, fine. I'll concede that the works of art were rescued. But you seem to be drawing this conclusion that says that Britain's "draconian policies" are they reason they've survived, and ignoring the possibility that it could be a reaction to their good fortune in not having anything too terrible happen on their soil. It's been 18 years since the infertility business occurred, and a lot has happened in that time that we are not informed about.

3. I have little to no knowledge of Northern European maritime conditions, but it seems to me that given a state of emergency, some very seaworthy vessels could be commandeered to evacuate France, Germany, Scandinavia, the Baltic states, etc.


EDIT: in regards to your appended (1.):

I'm not saying the stories are being made up, but the coverage of them surely must have an effect on the people. I also don't think it's too paranoid to think that the media is being manipulated to keep the public in line in a fictional narrative when this is a tactic that's been used numerous times in the real world, and in the film's world, the government is bombing its own citizens

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Barmy
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#121 Post by Barmy » Thu Jan 11, 2007 7:56 pm

1. Agreed, sort of. I just edited my point 1 to point out that, to me, it is too paranoid to think that the UK press would take to publishing innumerable stories that utterly falsely stated that the rest of the world was f**ked. Yes, the govt can manipulate its own media. But I would argue that in early 21st century Britain that is just not plausible. The British public is too tech savvy, and already very cynical of the govt, to fall for that. This might work in Bulgaria, but not Britain.

2. It would be gratuitous for the UK to permit retention of this art unless there was either a war or no Spain/Italy. Under any other circumstances the diplomatic etc. costs would outweigh the benefits. Keep in mind that the art is not even available to the public, so it serves no real purpose for the UK government to have it.

3. Given the resources of the UK govt it would seem very easy to control immigration coming from overseas.

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#122 Post by Poncho Punch » Thu Jan 11, 2007 8:18 pm

3. I'm not saying the British government can't control immigration when the film's events occur, but that the refugees could have come over much earlier, and only recently has the public opinion shifted so that they are deemed "unfavorable" persons. The film hints at a distinct pattern of thought following the infertility crisis, where worry and hope have been replaced by disgust and apathy. I think this is most clearly apparent in the "Baby Diego" story: he was at one point seen as a positive symbol of life and feritility (and a reminder of the current infertility), but Theo's opinion of him as a "wanker" is indicative of the disregard for such optimism. The reaction to Diego's death is something of a psychological nadir, but is not an unprecedented moment. Rather, it is the culmination of a long downward trend. It's within reason to think that at some point the policy and opinion of the British towards refugees was more lenient and welcoming.
Last edited by Poncho Punch on Fri Jan 12, 2007 1:06 am, edited 1 time in total.

Handsome Dan
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#123 Post by Handsome Dan » Thu Jan 11, 2007 9:11 pm

I too think that the film's stabs at political criticism were, shall we say, unsophisticated. It felt as though Cuaron tossed in little tidbits of current events in the background - the Homeland Security signs, the hooded Abu Ghraib guy, etc. - in some (I think misguided) attempt to be 'topical', but I'm not sure what point he was trying to make. Is he suggesting that heavyhanded government security measures will lead to a C of M-style dystopian meltdown? If so, fair enough, but you can make a movie in which legalized abortion or inadequte funding for public transportation or whatever you like results in social collapse; why should anyone find that convincing? I don't think that the politics of the movie go too far beyond "authoritarianism is bad, dude;" hey, I agree, but that's not a terribly deep or engaging argument. There are plenty of people out there who think that indefinite detention of terrorists without a trial (say) is a regrettable but necessary measure (note: I am not one of those people) - what are they left to (intellectually) wrestle with in C of M? You'll look in vain for a brainy, coherant take on current events; you may as well ask it to get the ring out of your bathtub.

That said, I feel I should point out here that Cuaron's movie was easily my favorite of 2006 and is a shoe-in for my all-century shortlist. I don't think it has much more to 'say' than "sit back and try to imagine your world collaping around your ears," but that was certainly enough for me.

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Galen Young
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#124 Post by Galen Young » Thu Jan 11, 2007 9:50 pm

Alfonso Cuaron wrote:The truth of the matter is I didn't respond to the material. I was not interested in doing a science fiction film and also the book takes place in a very posh universe.
"Posh universe"? Such a bizarre statement! Sounds like he never made it past the brief back story setup of the novel. For whatever "posh universe" aspects of the novel he might be talking about, I think he encapsulated them perfectly in the sequence with King Crimson on the soundtrack -- hearing that music with images he created gives me the chills. Very posh indeed! It's too bad the Xan/Nigel character reduced to just one throw away scene.

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Kirkinson
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#125 Post by Kirkinson » Thu Jan 11, 2007 10:29 pm

Barmy wrote:AGAIN: in the film, (1) every country but Britain is a hopeless f**ked nuclear wasteland and (2) life in homeland securitized Britain is tolerable if you keep your head down.

You do the math.

What would you rather have, Guernica on some rich jerk's living room wall, or no Guernica at all.
No more babies. I think you're missing the point: if humanity is effectively extinct, it doesn't matter if life in Britain is tolerable and it doesn't matter where (or whether) Guernica exists. This is why the government issues euthanasia kits: they may proclaim that "Britain soldiers on," but they know they're just as fucked as everybody else.

I think all sides of this political discussion are coming at this from a lopsided perspective. Curaon has stated his intentions quite clearly and succinctly in the NPR interview, in the quote Stephen H posted that Barmy found "incomprehensible," and in several other places. Thus:
Alfonso Cuaron wrote:We experience for an hour and a half the state of things, and then try to make our own conclusions about the possibility of hope.
I don't think "political commentary" was the point. Children of Men is very finely attuned to the current political climate and its potential evolution, but the film is not about those politics any more than it is about infertility. Neither are the politics mere windowdressing. The film's primary thematic concern is whether or not there is room for hope in the midst of such a shitstorm, and in order to press that concern Cuaron does everything he can to make that shitstorm as palpable and as relevant as it can possibly be.

It's also unwise to call the ending a wrap-up or a Spielbergian cop-out. What exactly does the ending tell you?
SpoilerShow
This one woman who managed to get pregnant and give birth makes it onto a boat.

Does that actually make a difference to the rest of the world? Your answer to that question is what you take away from the film: whether or not this actually opens up any room for hope. I don't think the film intends to spell out an answer for you.

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