Nov 14, 2008

The Children of Men by PD James

The Children of Men

The movie blew me completely away. I was watching my mom's house and dogs for the weekend. I sat down in front of her big tv with a cold beer and sandwich and noticed it was about to come on. I flipped to that channel and suddenly it was a half hour later. My beer was warm, my sandwich was dry, and I was still sort of perched at the front of the couch with my jaw hanging open. The movie was a punch to the gut. It and Pan's Labyrinth are the two recent flicks that I have heard multiple adult, macho men admit to crying during.

The novel was not a thing like the movie. But that's good. They can be judged on their own merits, without comparison, which is a rare thing in screen adaptations. (I hear a tv miniseries is being worked on for the scifi channel, following the book more closely, and I'm very interested to see how it turns out.)

The book is not a punch to the gut. It is a quiet slide into deep waters. It's the last days of the world, our bang turning into a whimper. Borders are policed and peace upheld through strict and brutal means, but when everyone on Earth will be dead within 60 years, does that even matter? Is it worth fighting against the Warden to uplift your fellow man when neither of you will have children to appreciate the struggle? What good is a martyr with no one to carry their memory into battle?

Like so many true dystopian novels, you catch echos of 1984. The hidden diary. The fear of capture and confinement without hope of justice. Going along to get along, because what is your option? And love in the face of all of it.

I come from a large family (oldest of 4 kids) and my mom worked with midwives for many years. Birth and babies are no strangers to me, and I think that added to the emotional impact of the story. The descriptions of women treating baby dolls and pets like their missing children - all the way down to baptism - just seemed way too likely. The urge to propagate is easily twisted, in the absence of possible offspring. Xan becomes the father of a dying country. Priests tend to their dying flocks. Rolf wants to believe that his sperm makes him a sort of god, the only true leader of the remaining world (and when that turns out to be a lie, he runs for daddy). Theo, having already been the cause of one child's death, is willing to do anything for this new life, including taking on all of England.

final thought: In the end, we are left with some small hope, but is it real or just another kitten in a blanket?


B.E. Earl said...

I was underwhelmed by the book when I read it last year, and I didn't love the movie as much as you apparently did. But I do remember that the book had one of those great opening pages. Well-written and a bit shocking. I can't find my copy and I don't remember it, but that's what I took away from the book.

JRSM said...

I really DID love the movie, and was terribly disappointed by the book. It had some good ideas, but didn't quite work. And the voice in which it was written didn't make sense--the way she talks about the pup culture of the mid-late 20th century (ie the Beatles, etc) is the way PD James, 80-something-years-old, might talk, but not the way the main character, who would have been a teenager in the 1960s, would talk.

downtown guy said...

I completely agree about the popculture references - I remember thinking they felt very removed.