Huge thanks to the wonderful @AlisonNeale for providing this write up and co-ordinating the return of the Dystopian book club for 2014!
The Children of Men is a story of a world with no children and no future.
The human race has become infertile, and the last generation to be born is now adult. Civilization itself is crumbling as suicide and despair become commonplace. Oxford historian Theodore Faron, apathetic toward a future without a future, spends most of his time reminiscing. Then he is approached by Julian, a bright, attractive woman who wants him to help get her an audience with his cousin, the powerful Warden of England. She and her band of unlikely revolutionaries may just awaken his desire to live . . . and they may also hold the key to survival for the human race.
No children. No future. No hope. In the year 2027, eighteen years since the last baby was born, disillusioned Theo (Clive Owen) becomes an unlikely champion of the human race when he is asked by his former lover (Julianne Moore) to escort a young pregnant woman out of the country as quickly as possible. In a thrilling race against time, Theo will risk everything to deliver the miracle the whole world has been waiting for. Co-starring Michael Caine, filmmaker Alfonso Cuaron’s Children of Men is the powerful film Pete Hammond of Maxim calls “magnificent…a unique and totally original vision.
This may have to do with the altered setting:
- the film shows the country in a violent and dangerous flux after the discovery of the fertility problem,
- whereas the book seems to be set much later, when the ageing population has calmed somewhat and just wants to ensure a peaceful, safe existence, free from boredom.
One reader suggested that the book would have been more interesting without the baby, simply telling the tale of the demise of the human race until the lights went out. Certainly the disturbing idea of the Quietus – not used in the film – gives a glimpse of the brutal possibilities. So to a major criticism of the novel: coincidence. It was felt to be somewhat unrealistic that Theo just happened to know someone at the Quietus he attended. In a rather larger example, how fortunate that of all the women who could get pregnant, it was one of the rebel group. Some book clubbers pointed out that in the novel the population has shrunk significantly and society is very insular, so it is less unrealistic. The film does not suffer from this problem. In the novel, it is men who have become infertile – a clever device, as it narrows the window to recover the human race in a way that infertile women does not. The latter is the case in the film, which some felt disempowered women and at the same time changed the dynamic of the rebel group. The characters in the novel are thoroughly unlikeable, be it unpleasant or completely devoid of personality, and none of us felt any sympathy for them. Some readers pointed out that this would not have been a problem had they been interesting. Sadly, so often not the case. We agreed that the one character we really wanted to know more about was the Warden, whose motives were never entirely clear. Both novel and film were felt to be hyper-realisations of immigration policy. The film, with its detention centre, took this to extremes, while the book only mentioned in passing the trials and treatment of the ‘sojourners’. A good point was made that this element of the story could not have worked anywhere but on an island. British society has fought to retain the country as a last bastion of civilisation and hope, resigning itself to dictatorship in order to retain order. We had an intriguing conflict of opinion about Theo’s actions at the end of the book. Some of us felt that unpleasant as Theo was, it was only when he donned the ring at the end that he lost his morality and humanity; others disagreed, claiming that the ring was a temporary measure and his actions redeemed his earlier crime of wilful blindness. You’ll have to read the book yourself to decide! Criticism of the author’s repetitive style also caused discussion, with a few readers feeling that it built in atmosphere and emphasised the religious tone, while others claimed that it made the book more difficult (in one case impossible) to read. The religious theme and references throughout the book annoyed some readers (partly owing to recognising vaguely, but not fully understanding them); however, it was acknowledged that the author and any readers with a similar viewpoint would enjoy their significance. We felt that this dystopia was a realistic imagination of events that could genuinely come to pass, with some nifty nods to long-term British political issues. Our criticism was more of writing style than storyline, and this is reflected in our scores. The film probably won out in the end, though.
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