Monday, February 26, 2007

Zombie Movie -or- Not

Probably the best kind of argument you can engage someone in, regarding the merits of a work of, let's call it, art, is one where the arguers are in total agreement as to the basic net sum of positive and negative attributes and qualities within said work. In this case, all there is to argue about is precisely where these positive and negative characteristics lie, and what their nature is. The other kind of argument, where the participants fundamentally disagree as to this value of this net sum, is interesting at times, but leads to hurt feelings and, often, to insensitive and, at worst, frighteningly racist comments that leave everyone with a bitter taste in their mouth the following morning.

But Children of Men is a great film, and so say all of us, so this is not an issue. It turns out that in this particular conversation the article of contention is exactly what sort of movie this movie is. Obvious: a movie in which Clive Owen totally acts like Clive Owen, a movie in which Michael Cain acts pretty much totally unlike Michael Cain (I imagine), a movie with an ending I couldn't possibly give away, though I might, albeit inadvertantly, over the course of the next few minutes. Not so obvious is the question of genre.

Future Distopia, ok, but that doesn't narrow things down that much does it. Seeing as you have your sci-fi distopias such as Blade Runner or 90% of good animated Japanese film, you have your action adventure distopias such as Escape From New York, you have your horror distopias such as, well I suppose this is arguable, but, Hostel, the term "Future Distopia" doesn't really connote a genre so much. And, fine ok, you can say, "hey sci-fi's no damn genre, you fucking twat!" and you'd be right, but let that one slide will you Christ. So, you say Future Distopia and you're back at square one.

Which leads me to my assertion here - Children of Men is a Zombie Film.

Y) No zombies!
M) Shut it! 28 Days Later didn't have any zombies in it either, and it is most definitely still a zombie film.

Y) There aren't even any monsters, undead, nothing supernatural!
M) You and your meaningless lines of demarcation between the natural and supernatural! And you call yourselves Christians!

The first prerequisite of the Zombie Film is not the zombie. It is the group of people hunted by a large group of flat, mechanical characters who are out for blood. And Children of Men totally has this. Maybe this necessitates taking a leap of logic, identifying Kee's baby with brains, but it's really not all that far of a leap is it: both are basically conceptual ideas which, on the whole don't really come too much to bear on the actual thrust of the film. As much as the infertility issue does form the backbone of Children of Men's plot, this is just a neat gimmick really, or, a really neat gimmick, compared with the largely unexplained and unimportant zombifying diseases of other classic Zombie Films. Infertility is the "hell is full" or the "Rage" of Children of Men. There's no explanation, and it's only because of the plausibility of such an occurance in this film that the viewer doesn't feel that one is necessary. You might complain that Dawn of the Dead lacks explanation for its basic premise, zombie apocalypse, but it really doesn't have anything to do with the movie, it's just that it necessitates a bit more effort to suspend disbelief for some people.

So what I'm saying, if you follow, is that infertility in this film is a zombifying disease like any other. It makes people blow things up, it makes the world go totally mad, and it basically spells doom for the entire human race. Communication fails and the world becomes compartmentalized. The viewer learns nothing of the specific state of affiars outside of London, gleaning details about England's general situation as the movie progresses, never hearing anything specific about the rest of the world. Romero's isolated farm house is Cuarón's London.

People become zombies as the impcact of global infertility begins to take hold of their fragile conciousnesses. Poverty and famine combined with existential desperation create the beings Cuarón depicts as attacking the main characters' van on a country road with sticks and flaming wreckage. There is no mistaking the imagery of this scene. Cuarón knew he was making a Zombie Film and depicted the desperate exiles as zombies.

Children of Men has all the rest, too. Dissent within the non-zombie faction, the final descent from the safety of the castle into the chaos of the zombie ruled outside world, fart jokes, the list goes on. In my mind there hasn't been a better Zombie Film perhaps since the genre was invented. And why because Children of Men takes the tropes of the Zombie Film, which blatantly gesture towards the collapse of society, fear of unexplainable forces at work in the modern world and their side effects, the increase of compartmentalized living situations, basically the modern human fucking con-dition, and feed them to you in a form you can trust. Disbelief is suspended in a realistic way. Though there is no accounting for the world of Children of Men or the causes behind the creation of such a world, the situation is understandable despite this lack of explication. By removing the zombie, in as much as the zombie is supernatural, religious or unbelievable, from the Zombie Film Children of Men may finally get across the points that no one wanted to have to look for behind the gruesome visceral entertainment value of Zombie Films for so long.

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At Fri Mar 16, 06:36:00 AM, Blogger Richard said...

i can't believe no one's responded to this yet -- i think it's an excellent assay into poking at this movie.

i saw the movie back in december on a cheap dvd, but only the coincidence of your thoughts and another friend's within a day of each other got me hitting my head against it a couple weeks ago.

i wouldn't have called it a zombie movie. i wanted it to be a conspiracy flic, except something wasn't right about that -- The Enemy was too chaotic; there was no larger order. more than that, clive owen's character works for the only remaining institutional order on the planet.

what you've chosen to recognize as the Zombie Plague is my The Enemy in this analysis. i think by comparing it to Brasil we can come to a clear parallel to the conspiracy movie that draws Children further from your assertions (though, even as i write, i'm more and more convinced of the wacko nihilists in the woods being zombies).

the real problem i find with your genresization (yes!!) is, those zombies aren't pervasive, and if you consider that The [Conspiratorial] Enemy is instead a reversal of the traditional Totalitarian model, we instead find an Order of Chaos (if you will) reigning squarely in the movie -- hence owen's now-not-incongruous employment as a paper-pusher.

he can't be an anarchist freedom-fighter, because it's anarchy he finds himself fighting against. not to upset that unfortunate and abused czech, but somewhere between Brasil and Franz K. we can find a link from the Conspiracy to Children: a world were Order -- oppressive, inescapable, and unfathomable -- is naught but chaos.

the dread of the imminent, any-day-now-ness, that fear of unknown, unknowable danger from all parts; it's the core of Conspiracy. only Children manages to turn it inside-out, with the guts showing radiantly. the zombie apocalypse is pessimistic, while the drive of conspiracy movies is optimism -- we can break this thing. it's not about surviving, though that's what the characters inevitably find themselves doing; it's about making things right. restoring order.

theo might come face-to-face with an unwitting conspiracy of chaos, but it's a conspiracy nonetheless; of hope abandoned, and dreams crushed. the conspirators are necessarily decentralized and unaware of one another, because the nature of their conspiracy -- their abject loss of a vision for the future -- blinds them.

god... i just read IMDb to refresh my memory. those message boards are like hell incarnate. yeah.

At Fri Apr 06, 04:50:00 PM, Blogger Doug said...

I think we're driving at the same thing, sort of. My complaint is that the conspiracy model requires a conscious motive on the part of the conspirators of "the enemy" which I don't see existing here. Sure you can see the "zombies" as acting towards anarchy or chaos, but not consciously: they're just trying to save themselves.

This does't mean that you can't read it as a conspiracy, sort of, especially when you look at the underground freedom fighters. But I think reading it that way takes a lot of the fun out of the movie, personally.

At Sun Jun 03, 07:22:00 PM, Anonymous ryan healy said...

I really like this interpretation--but I'd argue that Cuaron's film doesn't have the hard blear of Romero--it's more of a soft, drizzly denoument rather than an aimlessly viral engulfing. If you speculate what happens post-credits in Cuaron v. Romero, you have two very different (perceiver-free) outcomes: one where the world descends into a sort of permanent Discovery channel/12 monkeys-esque absurd theme park vs. one where any notion of equilibrium and natural order has been utterly subverted by a self-engulfing madness and hatred.

So tone counts for a lot when it comes to message, even when you presuppose that the rational observer has been obliterated in either case: *how* we die truly matters.


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