Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Now I have to read the book :-D

As the previous post states, I have been talking a lot about the film Children of Men. I have since learned that it was originally a book by P.D. James, a British detective author, and that the book was not in the category of apocalyptic science fiction.
Here's an article from the NY Times comparing the book to the film dated December 28th

Source: Proquest Newsstand
Author: Caryn James (Times Select $$)
Copyright New York Times Company Dec 28, 2006
to view the article online (must be a member or have access from other accounts)

No one should have to choose between Clive Owen and P. D. James. As an alcoholic, unshaven hero in a totalitarian near-future, Mr. Owen holds together the ominous yet vibrant new film ''Children of Men,'' adding to his list of brooding, darkly handsome characters (notably in ''Closer''). But while this Alfonso Cuaron film is inspired by the 1992 James novel, the movie is so purely cinematic, and its plot departs so widely from the book's, that the screen version may obscure how wonderfully rich and unlikely that novel is.(which is why I want to read it)

''The Children of Men'' is not another of Ms. James's famed detective novels, and it is not, as it has sometimes sloppily been described, science fiction. It is a trenchant analysis of politics and power that speaks urgently to this social moment, a 14-year-old work that remains surprisingly pertinent.(Was that the director's intent, to bring focus back to this "pertinent" piece of literature that has faded into obscurity?) Mr. Cuaron and Mr. Owen have made a film that works superbly apart from the book, but Ms. James's extraordinary novel deserves to be rediscovered on its own.

In both forms ''Children of Men,'' which opened Monday (in select cities, others had to wait until after New Years), is a story of redemption, set in England just decades in the future (the film takes place in 2027), when women have inexplicably lost the ability to become pregnant. Utterly cynical, Theo (Mr. Owen) is drawn into a group trying to protect a woman who has, just as inexplicably, become pregnant and whose child is likely to be used for the despotic government's own purposes.

Ms. James couldn't have foreseen some details the film uses to create a future frighteningly like today: a government department called Homeland Security; a crawl at the bottom of the omnipresent video screens that says, ''Terror Alert: Extremely High.''(not so sure about that, the book was written shortly after the first Gulf War with Iraq, not to mention some terrorists events of the Reagan Era of Iran Contra and the Beirut Marine Bombings, but of course not to the scale of which we see today)

But the social problems she could spot in 1992, like immigration, are even more disturbing now because they are more topical. A member of the novel's ruling Council of England makes a comment that could come from a right-wing radio show in America today. ''Remember what happened in Europe in the 1990s?'' he says. ''People became tired of invading hordes,'' who expect to ''exploit the benefits which had been won over centuries by intelligence, industry and courage.''

Those prescient social themes give the book its resonance, and are far more important than the deft way the movie streamlines the novel: Theo, an Oxford historian in the James version, is a minor bureaucrat in the film's Ministry of Energy; Julianne Moore's character, who enlists his help in protecting the pregnant woman, combines two people from the novel, Theo's ex-wife and a former student he scarcely knows.

As she does so gracefully in her mysteries, in ''The Children of Men'' Ms. James creates a beautifully realized world, making fine points the film has no time for(and is worse off because of those details left out): childless women push dolls in baby carriages, and couples hold christening ceremonies after the births of kittens.(imagine some of the scenes that could have been used for this, not more than a couple of seconds)

And Theo recalls boyhood summers as the poor relation visiting his rich, supremely self-confident cousin, Xan, a character who as an adult holds the title warden of England and is, in fact, the country's dictator. On screen this character, called Nigel and played by Danny Huston, has only one scene, when Theo tries to use this connection to get a travel visa for the pregnant woman.

Moviegoers may wonder why this character pops up at all, or why such an elaborate set was created; we see that he owns Picasso's ''Guernica'' and Michelangelo's ''David,'' whose leg has been damaged. The episode feels shoehorned into the movie, which isn't surprising in a work with five credited screenwriters and a nine-year gestation(five!!??). Even after Mr. Cuaron became interested, in 2001, he went off to direct ''Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban'' before returning to the project, which was then altered to suit the post-9/11 world.

Despite those topical additions, Xan is a huge lost opportunity for the film, because he is the vehicle for Ms. James's astute exploration of how certain kinds of tyrants come to exist. The social disorder and pessimism that Ms. James defines so sharply -- science has failed to explain, much less cure, the infertility, and religion is a solace to some but a gaping hole to others -- has allowed this despot to seize control. Parliament is a sham that, as Theo says, ''gives the illusion of democracy,'' and the members of Xan's ruling Council never disagree with him.

This poisonous rule is presented to the public and accepted as a strong, desirable response to threats to the country. The government justifies abuses in the name of a smoothly run society: it condones the forced, slavelike labor of immigrants and encourages the mass suicides of the old. As a Council member explains: ''What we guarantee is freedom from fear, freedom from want, freedom from boredom. The other freedoms are pointless without freedom from fear.''

That line becomes even more haunting now that the world feels more threatening and freedom has become a buzzword applied to everything from the ludicrous anti-French Freedom Fries to the sober Freedom Tower planned for the World Trade Center site.

The personal motives behind Xan's tyranny are also shrewdly analyzed. Theo asks the once apolitical Xan why he became Britain's ruler, and Xan answers in the cavalier manner we recognize from his boyhood, ''At first because I thought I'd enjoy it,'' adding, ''I could never bear to watch someone doing badly what I knew I could do well.'' By the time power had lost its thrill, he claims, no one in the Council was competent to take over.

When Theo calls him on this self-delusion, Xan replies, ''Have you ever known anyone to give up power, real power?''

Theo fully grasps this explanation and carries its lesson to the underground group that hopes to overthrow Xan's tyranny. ''If you did succeed, what an intoxication of power,'' he says.

That warning comes back to haunt the entire novel, and it's a theme the film could have put to fuller use. In its second half the screen version of ''Children of Men'' all but abandons its social concerns. (We see that immigrants have been forced into camps, but how and why?) It becomes a thoughtful chase movie. And even with Mr. Owen's tough yet stirring performance, Theo is more conventional on screen. Like the film character, the book's Theo has also lost a small child, but he has been responsible for the death, no state for a movie hero to be in.

When the film loses its energy for politics and its taste for ambiguity, that makes the difference between a good movie and an exceptional one. (There are lesser reasons; was it necessary for two characters actually to say, ''Jesus Christ'' when learning of the near-miraculous pregnancy and birth?)

The ending of the novel is brilliantly ambiguous and entirely different from the film's, as the potential for the ''intoxication of power'' falls into unexpected hands. As Ms. James said in an interview when the book came out: ''The detective novel affirms our belief in a rational universe because, at the end, the mystery is solved. In 'The Children of Men' there is no such comforting resolution.'' It is comforting for both moviegoers and readers, though, to have Clive and P. D. as the season's best odd couple.
Author(s): Caryn James
Column Name: Film
Section: E
Publication title: New York Times. (Late Edition (East Coast)). New York, N.Y.: Dec 28, 2006. pg. E.1
Source type: Newspaper
ISSN: 03624331
ProQuest document ID: 1186984861
Text Word Count 1236

I plan on finding this book as soon as I have finished the others that are stacked upon my desk, see the movie, read the book, or the other way around and let me know what you think, I'd like to hear people's thoughts.

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