Alexis on symbols in Children of Men

This discussion on symbols in Children of Men is from Alexis. Check out her Google Presentation here.

Dystopian films incorporate many symbols to bring a deeper meaning to their depressive and dictatorial story lines. Alfonso Cuaron uses many symbols in his film Children of Men, based on the novel of the same name written by P.D James. Some symbols used in the film are: his reference to the nativity story, parallels made between Theo and Jesus, the ship “Tomorrow”, the Fishes, Sid and the use of Picasso’s Guernica. These symbols are essential in understanding the main themes of hope and coming of age.
Reference to the biblical nativity story is throughout the film. The journey from inner London to Bexhill is similar to that of the journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem. Travel is difficult and slow, with obstacles to overcome during the journey. And despite the lack of three wise men, other similarity’s are easy to identify, a woman who is pregnant under unforeseen circumstances (Kee and Mary), who at some stage during the journey goes to a barn, and gives birth in unhygienic and less than desirable conditions. The similarities allow the viewer a deeper understanding of how important the journey is to mankind, in both cases it is the carrier of humanity’s saviour that is in undergoing the long journey.
A further Biblical reference is Theo’s similarities to Jesus. His character is non-violent, despite being surrounded by guns and bombs. While defending and protecting Kee, he never uses or carries weapons. Theo is also consistently surrounded by animals, which are used throughout the film as indicators of goodness and trustworthiness. The recurrent focus on free animals loving and surrounding Theo is set in contrast to the repeated caging of humans on streets and in camps. The caged humans become living symbols of the unfeeling, institutional systems that have led to apocalyptic conditions. When Theo and Kee leave an armoured building in Bexhill Refugee camp, an unexplained herd of sheep pass in front of Theo, associating Theo with the symbol of Jesus as lamb and shepherd. Although Theo is fully human, he joins the movements to save and restore humanity, he sacrifices himself for both a literal and figurative human rebirth. Perhaps one of the strongest allusions of Theo to Christ figure is at the end of the film, as Theo bleeds from his side. When Kee notices blood all over the floor of the boat, she thinks that she is bleeding. Theo clarifies that it is his blood and soon after passes away, having sacrificed himself for Kee and the baby, and for what they represent: the future and hope of humanity

The ship Tomorrow is a symbol for Hope theme and questions whether hope exists in 2027 or not. “There is no medicine like hope, no incentive so great, and no tonic so powerful as expectation of something better tomorrow “- Orison Marden. This quote is inherent within in Children of Men. Hope is Theo’s incentive to get Kee to safety, his powerful drive to deliver her to The Human Project. Theo’s hope for tomorrow, something he hasn’t felt since the death of his son and divorce from his wife is a feeling that overwhelms him. The prospect of the existence of something else that promises a hope for the future of humanity rather than the dim future it currently faces is more than enough to inspire Theo’s faith in The Human Project. As well as being called Tomorrow, the ship itself is the literal tomorrow for Kee, her and her babies future being most directly affected by the hope that has been created.

British terrorists named Fishes protect the rights of refugees and have hopes to use Kee’s baby as a symbol of refugee rights. Fishes have historically been a symbol used to identify Christian followers; in the Children of Men, the Fishes can be interpreted as making a point about the historic, distorted uses of violence that have come out of a strict adhesion to the Christly message. This distorted use of violence can be seen through out the Middle East in recent times. The strict obedience to the Koran, using particular parts to support their actions contributes to the current society where every day new reports emerge of extreme terrorist action in foreign lands. By villain sing the Fishes, “the Uprising” becomes yet another in a series of dangers for Kee to endure, something else to escape.
The character Sid is an armed guard who sneaks Theo and Kee into Bexhill Refugee Camp, and who can be read as a human representative of fascist systems. Sid is unable to empathize with Theo, Kee, or Miriam, and laughs at their vulnerable situation. In order to verify Sid’s identity, Theo had to tell him the password – “You’re a fascist pig.” Sid’s inhumanity is emphasised by speaking in the third person. “Sid doesn’t know why you want to get in. Sid doesn’t want to know.” His inability to speak in personal pronouns – in ways that relate I and you in relation to one another – is further indicative of how fascist systems dehumanise people and disable personal recognition.

Picasso’s Guernica contains many symbols. When Alfonso Cuaron uses the famous painting as wallpaper he creates an ironic image, what it represented in the painting is rife within the world Cuaron has created. The shape and posture of the bodies express protest, the society Cuaron is exploring is full of bodies protesting with nothing to live for, refusing to be fertile and reproduce. The bull on the left can symbolize the brute force of fascism. The bull hovers over a woman holding the broken body of her child. In Children of Men, fascism is the force keeping Kee from revealing her pregnancy and is the reason Theo must help her. Picasso uses black, white, and grey paint to set a sombre mood and express pain and chaos, modern London has the same mood and is filled with pain and chaos in a similar way for a different reason. Flaming buildings and crumbling walls not only express the destruction of Guernica, but reflect the destructive power of civil war. The destruction of London is visually all around Theo in the beginning of the film. The destruction isn’t so much in the physical damage but in the destruction of the human spirit .The newspaper print used in the painting reflects how Picasso learned of the massacre. The media in Children of Men play a monopoly to the citizens of London, bringing the message only England soldiers on. The light bulb in the painting represents the sun. In Children of Men, scenes set in the city are devoid of bright light and striking sun. The broken sword near the bottom of the painting symbolises the defeat of the people at the hand of their tormentors; citizens in Children of Men have been defeated by infertility.

The symbols used by Cuaron add layers of meaning to Children of Men which can be ignored or recognised without affecting the straight viewing of the film. This allows a viewer with a deep understanding of Guernica to be able to quickly understand the messages Cuaron presents, while a viewer without that understanding can still pick up on the important messages, but in a different way. Combined, the biblical references and other symbols help the audience to understand the themes, and by using identifiable symbols Cuaron leaves his audience to make their own decisions.

6 thoughts on “Alexis on symbols in Children of Men

  1. Theo is non-violent… funny he battered Sid with a massive building block… possibly killing him or leaving him brain dead lol… extremely non-violent.

  2. I noticed that animals always came in to cover noise that would have complicated their escape: getting into the car at the farm you will notice quite a racket of cows, dogs, etc to.

    When Kee is giving birth it seems like every dog in Bexhill knows what is going on. It’s quite a cacophony once you notice it.

    The animals are definitely linked to Theo’s cause – and he is the only person capable of completing the journey, much as Christ was the only one able to withstand His trials, and then spill his blood.

    When Sid sees the baby, he says, in total disbelief: “Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ”.

    At Theo’s work we see how people just self-medicate and watch TV openly. Theo shows up to work looking like the alcoholic he is.

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