by Arlen Parsa
2006 has been a good year for politically-charged films- both fiction and non. So when I got my hands on an advance screening copy of Children of Men (from Universal Pictures and Strike Entertainment; wide theatrical release in opened December 29th in the USA), I wasn’t surprised to find it had strong political overtones as well as several subtle and not so subtle digs at the Bush Administration.
A little bit of background before we get into the specifics if you haven’t heard about the film. It’s based by a book called The Children of Men written in the early 1990s by PD James. The film takes place in Great Britain in the year 2027. Nobody has given birth to a baby since 2009 and the entire world is struggling to come to grips with the fact that the entire race is going extinct. Nobody is quite sure why (the book discusses this in more detail than the film and indicates that scientists tried to figure out for years afterwards), but regardless of this, the world has broken out into chaos. The British government has its hands full trying to keep order, which proves extremely difficult. More information about the plot can be found at its Wikipedia entry.
Let’s hop right into some references the film makes, most of which seem to be directed at the Bush Administration, and likely the Blair Administration in Great Britain as well. If you haven’t seen the film yet you should be warned that there are a few minor spoilers ahead, but I will try to keep the plot out of this and concentrate only on the overtly political stuff. Ready?
In the opening moments of the film, the audience is welcomed into the home of the character Jasper, a “good guy” and a very sympathetic character (played brilliantly by Sir Michael Caine). Several items of memorabilia are visible in one shot, including many pro-peace and anti-war items. Among them is a sticker which reads “Don’t Attack Iraq,” and another which reads “War is not the Answer.” Both of these are actual slogans used by American anti-war activists in theleadup to the Iraq war. A photograph of graffiti which reads “Not in my name” and “Stop the war” are also visible for a brief second. These are the first and probably most obvious symbols seen in the film.
The camera then pans to reveal the cover of a magazine which bears the headline “MI5 deny involvement in torture of photojournalist.” The photojournalist is Jasper’s wife who ispermanently disabled due to the torture that the British government inflicted upon her. The MI5 is the British equivalent of the American CIA and although the Bush Administration denies that torture is used on prisoners it collects in the “war on terror,” it is a commonly-known fact that torture and brutal interrogation techniques are used.
After an cutaway shot to Jasper and the main character Theo, the camera cuts back to the memorabilia collection, and the audience catches a glimpse of a “BU$H” sticker and photos ofprotesters holding signs that read “Bliar” (instead of Blair), “Blair Must Go,” “Out of Iraq,” and several similar items.
One of the film’s dominant themes- more stressed in the film than the book- is immigration. And the comparisons are obvious. Some right-wing Republicans in the United States wish to restrict immigration. One Republican House Representative recently said he wanted to
In the same scene, rebel characters reveal that they stopped bombing civilian targets long ago, but the violence continues. One character explains, saying “that was the government, that’s what they do to spread the fear.” While I’m not about to suggest that the US government fakes terrorist attacks to keep Americans in fear, is pretty undeniable that the Bush Administration has used fear to its advantage; often announcing that the Department of Homeland Security has
Have you been to an airport lately? Notice all those signs that tell you to report suspicious behavior? Ever wondered if they were really there to remind you- or there to scare you? In the film, a high-tech animated government billboard reminds citizens: “Suspicious?” then after a second changes to read “Report it.” A larger version of the same billboard is seen a second time moments later.
The main character, Theo, later visits his cousin who happens to be the Viceroy of England (their relationship is explained in more detail in the original book). The Viceroy, a character possibly comparable to US President George Bush. When Theo asks his cousin how he can handle the stress of everything bad that’s happening, the latter replies in a happy-go-lucky mood “I just don’t think about it.” Many observers in the US have commented that President Bush seemed to be in his own little bubble, surrounded only by people who agree with him. Newsweek even ran a cover story in late 2005 which branded him the “Bubble Boy.”
In the film, the government assaults the population with propaganda to make them afraid of illegal immigrants. At one point, a government propaganda broadcast reminds citizens that “to hire, feed, or shelter illegal immigrants is a crime.” Republican-controlled Congress almost passed a bill in the summer of 2006 which would have outlawed any charity provided to illegal immigrants in the US, in a draconian measure which would have seen soup kitchen employees serve prison time. Democrats, ultimately successful in blocking the measure, protested at the time that the bill under consideration put forth by a group of radical right-wing Republicans would have essentially “criminalized the Good Samaritan.”
Later in the film, a government broadcast announces that a “terrorist leader” has been killed. I won’t include a screencap of this because it would be a major spoiler, but suffice it to say that the character was not a terrorist at all- the government merely called them that. Needless to say, the Bush Administration has branded its enemies terrorists regardless of whether or not they are. In one instance, an Administration official called a teachers union which opposed its No Child Left Behind legislation a “terrorist organization.” The National Education Association was obviously no such thing- just a bunch of teachers who recognized major flaws in the Bush Administration’s education proposal.
Astute audience-members will notice that although none of the characters ever say it, the government bureau which keeps the citizens safe (and by safe I mean “safe”) is called “Homeland Security.” This is an obvious allusion to the US Department of Homeland Security.
Part of the film takes place in a detention facility which is in many ways similar to the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. I was able to spot several different visual references, check them out. We see a detainee hooded, like many were atAbu Ghraib . We also see a detainee for a few moments in the corner of the screen which looks awfully similar to the man seen in the infamous Abu Ghraib abuse photograph of a hooded man wearing a poncho forced to stand with his arms outstretched for hours. We also see detainees stripped to their underwear being frightened by dogs- just like at Abu Ghraib.
Politics aside, the film is really, really good (I say this as a snotty film student- a documentary major but nonetheless a snotty film student). The story is compelling, the cinematography is gorgeous, and one scene even had me tearing up near the end (you’ll know which one when you see it). I highly recommend checking it out. And maybe you’ll spot some political references I missed.