Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Children of Men

I caught the tail end of a movie called Children of Men on HBO the other day. It had some remarkably powerful urban war scenes that reminded me of Saving Private Ryan - which I'll get to in a bit.

Anyway, I was ordering some movies and luckily I remembered the title Children of Men and so ordered it too.

I'm so glad I did, and not just for the movie.

First, the commentary about the movie itself is by a man named Slavoj Zizek. I always feel culturally stupid when I stumble on these very interesting people. I always feel like I should have known already.

Maybe it was because I had to strain at first to understand his thick Slav accent (maybe with a slight speech impediment too) but it made me listen more than just passively. His commentary, all 3 minutes of it, really opened up a new dimension of the movie for me when I watched it again.

I know I'm not stupid, but I also know I'm not always fully aware. I catch irony, even fairly sophisticated irony, but I don't always catch metaphor and allegory. Odd, because they can go hand in hand with irony.

In those 3 minutes, Zizek expounded on the film's virtues and pointed out that most of the movie takes place in the background - or at least the salient aspects of it. OK, so I missed most of the movie on first viewing.

He pointed out that England was a perfect setting for the movie because the loss of Western society would be most dramatic there (I suspect he was speaking to America). He pointed out that England was one of just a handful of countries without a constitution, and that their long history and strongly rooted traditions made one unnecessary for them. He's right. The loss of social order, I suspect, would deeply embarrass that nation more than any other. It ultimately comes down to dignity, doesn't it?

In mere passing, he pointed out the moral void of capitalism as applied to real substance and experience. In the movie, there is a scene where the protagonist visits his cousin who is the director of a national arts museum. He first meets his cousin in a long hall leading to the statue of David. It is a very sleek scene, a long shot of the hall with two hounds slowly and gracefully rising to their feet at the foot of the statue. The statue is flawed, and so is the cousin. Dressed not in a suit, but rather casually and acting like the museum is his personal domain. That's what I saw, but Zizek pointed out the absurdity of the statue being in England in the first place. It can't be owned. It becomes just a trapping void of meaning in such a setting.

He right, too. When I drive down the road and I see someone on horseback in a field, their is nothing absurd about their hat. It's just a natural extension of the person in that context. When I drive down the road and I see someone in their car wearing a cowboy hat, I might get a completely different opinion of the same hat; its meaning may be radically different - possibly absurd.

Zizek's commentary was outstanding in the short expose, but he also appeared in an outstanding commentary about society in general that was included on the DVD. This segment is much longer and very rewarding. Naomi Klein, among others, contributes to a blistering set of observations about Western society that just make you want to cry.

It wasn't until I watched a "making of..." segment on the DVD that I realized why the urban war scene was so riveting. A style they used in filming Children of Men was to use long, continuous action scenes. This was not faux action by using a jittering, shaking camera. This was smooth and continuous. No flash to a different angle which relieves tension; this was just a steady building of tension to the point where you are fully expecting to take a bullet any second. No relief, no mercy.

To tell you what the movie is about would be wrong here. It wouldn't do it justice. Reading about it won't do it justice. If you have a couple of dollars to gamble, this one will pay off.

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