Friday, July 4, 2008

Children of Men: Symbolic Bitch-Slap to Mainstream Hollywood

One of the ways Children of Men stands in stark contrast to most other Hollywood movies is its use of symbolism on par with the written medium.

There are so many things that could be said about Children of Men that I didn't know where to start. I was talking to my brother about it (he, incidentally, is a very talented student filmmaker and astute analyst of movies, and thinks just as highly of Children as I do) and he recommended that I pick an impacting scene and analyze some of the symbolism. I immediately knew which scene to analyze.

At around the 35 minute mark, Theo (Clive Owens) is summoned into the barn to speak with Kee (Claire Haite-Ashitey). He arrives to find Kee flanked on both sides by cows rigged to automatic milking machines. Beneath and in front of her, between her and Theo, is a tightly-packed group of smaller, younger cows. Visually, this foreshadows Kee's pregnancy: she is located at the nexus of both motherhood and infancy. Additionally, the infant cows are separated from their mothers; this foreshadows the threat of Kee and her child's forced separation. Before the camera even pans onto the visual symbolism, Kee initiates the conversation by saying,
"You know what they do to these cows? They cut off their tits! They do. Zzzzt! Gone. Bye. Only four. Four tits fits the machine. It's whacko. Why not make machines that soak eight titties, eh?"
This monologue is designed in all ways to disrupt the viewer and contrast with the calm maternity of the cows. Kee uses many monosyllabic words and brief sentences; it comes across as harsh and stacatto. The literal meaning of her words is a gruesome description of the physical damage to the mammaries of the cows. Beyond its emotional impact on the viewer, this monologue introduces symbolically the central struggle of the entire movie. The cows are symbolic of Kee; having their tits cut off to fit an ill-devised machine is symbolic of Kee's pregnancy and birth being hijacked to fit an unnatural agenda. Furthermore, the symbol of cutting off the cows' teats references the defeminization inherent in taking away Kee's baby. The aspect of gross physical damage to the cows also alludes to the potential physical harm threatened to Kee herself: the self-interested groups have no use for her once the baby is delivered.

Alfonso Cuaron, in the span of fifteen seconds, delivers the central conflict of the movie in entirely symbolic terms and on multiple levels of symbolism (visual, auditory, literal, connotative). How's that for art? :)

By the way, if you haven't seen this movie yet, you know what to do.

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