Rightwing Film Geek

For your a-hatin’ needs

martin_lutherLuther at the Movies sees CHILDREN OF MEN and says …. ANATHEMA SIT.

Great minds thinking alike — we even both made analogies to Hitchcock’s Macguffin. Actually, I think Luther’s piece an even better rant than the one I wrote last night (HT: Peter Chattaway … and thanks for linking to me also).

Luther describes exactly what’s wrong with the Michael Caine character (which I didn’t address), though Caine himself doesn’t have how to give an unfunny, undroll performance. The fallen-away monk also amplifies such matters as the changes in the characters played by “Chewy” Ejiofor and Julianne Moore; the clearing away of James’s Christian worldview and the damage it does to plausibility and point of what Cuaron keeps.

One broader point about adaptation-itis. I obviously don’t speak for Luther but he seems of a mind with me on this point. It’s not simply that Cuaron wasn’t faithful to James (which would be a retarded point to score against a movie). But rather that he was faithless to it, and dragged her novel into a film he already wanted to make, without any need to do so. Find a different premise for the dystopia and retitle the film 2027 or somesuch, and I at least would not object (or at least not in the same way). And what’s even worse is that this film has now become the definitive film text for CHILDREN OF MEN. It’s not the novel I’m concerned about — it will survive (or not) on its own merits as all badly-adapted novels have. But now, CHILDREN OF MEN is off the table as a film. It cannot be made anytime soon by a talented film-director who is more in tune with James. And that is just a crime.

UPDATE 1 (hat tip to Peter again): The New York Times compares the James novel to the Cuaron film. And as with our initial reactions to the film, I have a much more harshly negative reaction that Peter. Yes, “no one should have to choose between Clive Owen and P. D. James,” to cite reviewer Caryn James’s opening sentence. But what is simply silly is saying that “Those prescient social themes” … C. James refers only to immigration (poor P.D. James could not have foreseen “Homeland Security”) … are what “give the book its resonance.” Particularly in a piece that, as Peter points out, makes no mention of religion. Zero, zip, nada … not even a mention, followed by a pooh-poohing pat-on-the-head rejection of religion as fundamentally an epiphenomenon of raceclassandgender — which might be explicable, even reasonable, as a matter of reader preference. But this is the New York Times, you understand. Xan is seen by C. James solely as a political signifier about “the intoxication of power” (Is there a more hackneyed theme in this day and age than “power bad”?)

UPDATE 2: Jeffrey Overstreet at Christianity Today liked CHILDREN OF MEN way more than I did. But what I’d most like to draw attention to is a post in his combox by “Richard”:

Sacramone (who reposted the review at Luther at the Movies on the First Things blog here) seems to have a “thick” conception of what constitutes a morally serious work of art; Jeffrey’s, on the other hand, seems to be rather “thin.” What I mean by this is that Sacramone would likely insist that a work be–in the tradition of Dostoevsky–be suffused with Christian assumptions; provided that these assumptions are present, full exploration of the psychology of evil is possible without becoming prurient. Jeffrey’s take seems to be simply that any work that doesn’t actively endorse evil–and that treats moral issues with sufficient ambiguity–is (or is capable of being) morally serious. I’m open to the possibility that Jeffrey’s right, but color me skeptical: perhaps I’m insufficiently post-modern in my approach to artistic works, but it seems as though all Jeffrey’s approach requires is that the work be sufficiently ambiguous to allow the viewer to bring his own worldview to the work and to project it, as it were, onto the screen. And that strikes me as a bit naive–not to mention failing to give the work the respect it’s due.

I find this interesting because I split the ticket on this one. My general critical approach is what “Richard” describes as “thin” — i.e., I tend to give great liberty for works of art to depict bad conduct in a neutral way, as long as the work doesn’t exclude a moral stance.¹ Or even if the “thick” stance is merely implicit or can be inferred extratextually, rather than as an explicit textual matter. But I think even the “thin” critical approach can’t defang the (near-identical) criticisms of CHILDREN OF MEN made by “Luther” and myself. Cuaron’s film is an adaptation, not an original script, and that very fact precludes “the viewer [from bringing] his own worldview to the work and to project it, as it were, onto the screen.” In the case of CHILDREN OF MEN for a Christian, P.D. James’s worldview has always already been scrubbed off the screen in the adaptation process. We know that whatever else may be on the screen, a Christian worldview is not. So to pretend that one can bring that worldview to bear on the film of CHILDREN OF MEN is, in this case, a delusion that does violence to a text that we can know from the adaptation process was specifically produced to preclude such an understanding.
¹ As an example of what is still possible under the “thin” approach, here (HT: G-Money) is Steve Greydanus giving a really strong ‘dis to THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST. Though one would generally describe Mr. Greydanus as of the “thick” school, notice how he uses the “thin” approach here, giving every liberty to incomplete or imperfect truth about subject matter, in the admittedly extreme case of the depiction of Jesus, fully divine and fully human (which is to say, something impossible in our experience). And still he can find the film wanting and indefensible.

December 27, 2006 - Posted by | "Martin Luther", Alfonso Cuaron, Jeffrey Overstreet, Steve Greydanus

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