Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Children of Men (Book and Movie)

Book: Children of Men by P.D. James

Publisher: Vintage
Publishing Date: December 5th 2006 (first published 1992)
Paperback: 256 pages

Movie: Directed by Alfonso CuarĂ³n

Starring: Clive Owen and Julianne Moore
Theatrical Release: January 5, 2007

Summary: (from Goodreads)
In the year 2021, the world is a bleak place where all human males have become sterile, and no child can ever be born again. Civilization is giving way to cruelty and despair, and historian Theo Faron has nearly resigned himself to apathy. Then he is asked to join a band of revolutionaries--a move that may hold the key to humanity's survival.

As the summary says, Children of Men takes place in the year 2021. 25 years since the "Omega," the last year that had any human births, scientists and doctors still have no clue as to why the ability to conceive stopped in the first place. There appears to be no hope for future births. Society has resigned itself to living out the rest of their days as peacefully and as long as possible. Anyone who gets in the way of that peace is shipped of to a penal colony. Immigration is tightly controlled and suicide is rewarded for the elderly. Porn shops are state run with the hope of keeping people sexually active and people are routinely tested for any signs of fertility. As someone in the book so eloquently puts it, “What we guarantee is freedom from fear, freedom from want, freedom from boredom. The other freedoms are pointless without freedom from fear.”

The main character of Children of Men is an Oxford historian named Theo. Apathetic and slightly narcissistic, Theo could care less about the state of politics or the fact England is essentially a dictatorship. His biggest concern seems to be the ever dwindling need for professors. Divorced, Theo has no close relationship with anyone. His friends are more of a requirement and his cousin, who happens to be the dictator and Warden of England, is more alive in his memories than in the present. Most of the story is told in third person, but the parts of the story that are in first person are told through Theo's journal writing. Through Theo's journals, we learn more about his cousin and the demise of his marriage. Instead of making the reader more sympathetic to Theo though, the journal only exacerbates the annoyance with Theo's apparent lack of empathy or concern for anyone other then himself. When an old student, named Julian, approaches Theo to essentially become a rebel, Theo's indifference is finally questioned.

Anyone who has seen the film will notice that the novel is quite different from the film already. Even the trailer shows the writers decision not to show England as a silent calm place, but rather more like a war territory. Even though this makes the film more exciting, I actually prefer the novel version of England. The silent acceptance of tyranny is an interesting thought and much more frightening in my book. (The movie The Others and the book 1984 are similar in the creepy vibe I think.) The movie also combines the characters of Theo's ex-wife and student, Julian, into one person. In the novel Theo's ex-wife is a bit vapid and nothing like the cool-headed rebel leading Julian Moore.

There are a lot of differences between the film and the novel and it would take far too much time to go over them all. The suicides, the penal colony, the treatment of immigrants, the baptizing of kittens, and the fake dolls carried in place of babies are all left out of the movie (even though the main characters go to some immigrant type colony, it is not the same philosophical and human rights issue as in the novel). Another interesting change is that the movie claims women started having spontaneous miscarriages, making the infertility problems less of an issue of males and more equilateral. But none of these changes compare to the decision of the film makers to turn Theo's cousin Xan, The Warden of England, into some kind of powerful guy who loves art (the film doesn't specify what he does). This completely erases all the powerful questions about power that the novel asks. And with things like The Patriot Act in existence, I think it was a major loss.

Ultimately, the biggest difference between the film and the movie is Theo. In the novel, Theo is not a hero or someone you like very much. In the movie, Theo is much more of a reluctant hero. The way the film made the death of Theo's child an accident while in the novel Theo killed his daughter is the most obvious example of this. Maybe it's just because Clive Owen is so lovely, but even though he has to be paid to help "save humanity," you still want him to win. In the novel I wasn't so concerned to be honest.


Book - 6. Good, but might not be for everyone. The book is a bit wordy and Theo is unlikable so I think some people will be turned off by that.

Movie - Even with the changes I would still recommend watching this film. Just keep in mind the overall message isn't the same as the novel.

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