Monthly Archives: March 2014

Cattle and Nudity: Investigating the Pregnancy Reveal in Children of Men

The pregnancy reveal scene in Alfonso Cuarón’s Children of Men (2006) is undeniably crucial: Kee’s child is the glimmer of hope around which the chaos of the film revolves. The presentation, however, is confusing. Why does Kee begin the conversation talking about cow titties? Why is the barn filled with milk cows? Why does Kee decide to disrobe?

Perhaps Kee is simply nervous and so she just starts talking about the first thing that comes to mind. Why, though, are cow titties the first thing that comes to mind? I do not think that there is a ton of significance to this particular choice, but the question she asks is quite fitting: “Why not make machines that suck eight titties, eh?” Even this lighthearted reprieve brings to bear an example of reproductive brutality. The fact that this pivotal scene takes place with the one hope for humanity standing amongst a herd of milk cows makes it seem that the cows, and Kee’s brief commentary on their mistreatment, are indeed important. The reveal could have happened in a basement, in Kee and Miriam’s room, anywhere isolated. Instead it happens in a barn full of milk cows, ready symbols of motherhood and reproduction, and opens with a commentary on their brazen mistreatment. Perhaps this sort of needless cruelty is part of what the film warns against. Extrapolating, perhaps mankind has driven itself to the brink of extinction through its defiance and abuse of nature.

This still leaves the third question unanswered: Why does Kee decide to undress in order to announce her pregnancy? She could have just told Theo, or she could have bared only her stomach. It seems that this detail reinforces the symbolism of the cows and the importance of Kee’s commentary. Immediately after being presented with the unnecessary removal of mammary glands, Theo and the audience are presented with Kee’s naked breasts. Taking the reproductive process for granted by amputating udders simply because the machine only fits four seems ridiculous when juxtaposed with the first working human reproductive system in over a decade. Kee’s nudity, then, taken with the setting and introduction of this very important scene, can reasonably be judged as a warning against reproductive abuse –  as a reminder that humanity is itself dependent upon the process it often defies.

Humans Always Turn to Violence (Warning, this is depressing)

Children of Men is an extremely dark movie about the effects of the impending end to humanity.  With essentially no reproduction, other than the birth of baby Dylan, the world has become a den of violence and destruction. After watching this movie, I stopped to consider if there are any real world examples of low reproduction and violence. Upon my researching, I found the CIA’s ranking of infant mortality rateS but also the highest fertility rates tend to be those countries with extreme violence. Taking this in consideration with the plot of Children of Men, one can not help but wonder whether there is some kind of correlation between the two.

In the opening scenes of the movie, we immediately become aware of the deterioration of “First World” society and the random acts of violence being committed. Immigrants are being forced into cages and sent to horrible prisons where they are subjected to terrible treatment and have to struggle to stay alive. When we think about the world today, there is not much difference. Though we live in the “First World” where we are still subjected to random acts of violence, we still imprison immigrants and some refugees (to a lesser extent than the movie), and we still leave those we deem lesser or other than ourselves to struggle to survive, whether in our own country or in others. This movie is only set 13 years from now, and to be honest it might not be much of a stretch to think that we could turn to such violence if reproductions stops.

One of Children of Men’s  main characters, Kee, is a young refugee that is pregnant with the first child to be born in 18 years. The implications of her race and nationality are extremely significant. She is living in a time where refugees are discriminated against and treated like animals. She is very young and has little autonomy over her existence; whether it is being led and controlled by The Fishes or by Theo. We also know that after Theo’s death, she is only left to turn to the guidance of the (suspected) Human Project. In juxtaposition to modern society, we yet again see so many similarities. In countries like Niger, Afghanistan, Burundi, Democratic Republic of the Congo there is war, rape, and turmoil, but also the world’s highest fertility rates. There are often many young women of color, living in times of immense struggle, violence, and turmoil, and faced with the task of trying to bear and take care of their children in such an environment. Sadly, those high fertility rates occur also the death of many of those newly born children. When we think of the fact that Kee is a young African refugee and the fact that she will be bringing the first child into the world after 18 years, it amplifies the uncertainty of her and Dylan’s futures and the possible political and social effects that will ensue.

I do not know where I was really going with this journal entry, but I do think that Children of Men magnifies several of the problems that we have today. Immigration issues, race issues, and class issues, are portrayed in this film exemplified by Theo’s cousin who easily says how he just does not think about the horrors happening in the world, while he lives in his large and opulent home. This movie demonstrates how we are all so very dependent on reproduction, even if we do not realize it. Our politics, economics, religions, etc. are all determined by the human ability to continue to go on. At the same time, it also shows how the advent of birth, the production of new hope, brings peace, hope, and faith to people, even those people who are killing each other viciously. That being said, the lives of people living in countries like Burundi, Afghanistan, and Democratic Republic of the Congo have to watch as their symbols of hope die away. Living a life like that certainly could make one turn to violence.

Hope and Fertility

      The movie Children of Men had some very interesting parallels to the Handmaid’s Tale. Both societies have become infertile, but society’s outlook is very different. In the Handmaid’s Tale, the people maintain some hope of having children. Through religion, they continue to have faith in the possibility of having children. Societal restructures occur so that there is a system to put your faith in – the system of handmaids and wives, promising a better future for all children. Obviously, not all characters maintain this outlook, as we see through Offred’s point of view, but even she does carry some hope that life will improve, especially for the sake of her lost daughter.

      On the other hand, in the film Children of Men, the people of the world have generally run out of hope. They have no children left to hope for; there is no remaining reason to wish for a better society because there is no next generation. Governments have fallen entirely, and we are given the impression that while the rest of the world is in total anarchy, “Britain soldiers on.” It’s an interesting choice of words considering that there is definitely a huge military presence in the country.

      The lack of hope is definitely a continued theme throughout the film. The viewer is left with a certain sense of nostalgia, from Julian reminiscing about the “good ol’ days” with Theo to the song on the radio from “way way back in 2003, before people knew that the future was right around the corner.” But this nostalgia vanishes quickly alongside the hope. As Jasper says when talking about Dylan’s death, “faith lost out to chance. So why bother if life’s going to make its own choices?”

      The desperation in Children of Men dims at the thought of Kee’s pregnancy and baby, but even the presence of the infant isn’t enough to stop the fighting permanently. The world has been totally ruined, it seems, because the Uprising is intent on destroying the political forces of Britain. It’s as if the world is too destroyed for anything to be done to resurrect the hope for a brighter future. Most people believe the Human Project to be a myth, but Kee is able to maintain her faith because she must – she has to try for her baby.

      Overall, it’s not a lighthearted message that Children of Men is telling. The film implies that the only reason humans are able to have faith and keep working to improve society is because they want things to be better for their children. Without any hope of kids remaining, the world falls apart. It’s the faith and hope that keeps society running, but the total lack of hope leads to anarchy. Children of Men is a conceivable conclusion to the story in the Handmaid’s Tale ­– it’s the story of a world that no longer has any faith in institutions to help them, because no institution can bring back children. 

Silent Spring, The Children of Men, and Consent

 In 1962, Rachel Carson published her groundbreaking work, Silent Spring. This publication explored the many implications that pesticides have on the environment and the adverse effects on other species. While Silent Spring focused on the effect that DDT had on avian populations, the work proposed thought-provoking research that many individuals took and imagined the larger implications it could present. The ideas presented in Silent Spring can be seen in the film, The Children of Men.

In The Children of Men, the world has become infertile. There have been no new births for over 18 years, which has brought despair and chaos to the globe. While the exact reason for the infertility is not mentioned, the world of 2027 is shown to be smoggy, dirty, and unclean. In one of the very beginning scenes, just before a coffee shop is blown up, one can see a group of motorcyclists with hospital masks on, as is seen in many highly polluted cities. In various other scenes, we see thick smog and evidence of a destroyed environment. This depiction brings many of the issues discussed in Silent Spring home; what if the chemicals we are using cause harm to the human population or make our species infertile?

The idea that environmental destruction could cause infertility is not a novel one to the speculative fiction genre. The Handmaid’s Tale paints a very similar premise to The Children of Men, showing what environmental disaster can do to fertility rates and to human society. In both The Handmaid’s Tale and The Children of Men, those who are able to become pregnant lose much of their autonomy. Their potential progeny are needed to either reinforce the regime in place, or to act as a salvation for the world. Because of this, mothers lose the ability to make decisions over where their bodies go, what happens to their progeny, and many other important decisions. Going along with our discussions of consent, did these mothers consent to this sort of treatment? Did their children? Did the environmental destruction that caused the rarity and importance of their pregnancies remove their rights to be autonomous human beings? These questions are raised in speculative fiction because of the implications that Silent Spring had on how people think about the environment and how humans could potentially impact it, and in turn how it would impact us.

Yivo and T’Gatoi

Futurama is an off the wall animated comedy series set in the year 3000 that follows the spaceship crew of a delivery company “Planet Express.” In the straight to DVD special “The Beast with a Billion Backs,” creators had a feature length time frame to work with and develop a story with deeper content than the typical thirty minute television episodes. “The Beast with a Billion Backs” follows a previous episode where there has been a tear in the universe. Fry, the main character of the series, is dealing with loneliness on a delivery and finds himself on the other side of the tear where he meets an alien tentacle. Fry returns to Earth along with the tentacle that is now attached to his neck, claiming the tentacle is love and all should join with the tentacle. With time most on earth accept the tentacle…until Leela (a member of the Planet Express crew) exposes the tentacles as reproductive organs. The owner of the tentacles, named Yivo, is an alien the size of a planet that admits to his intentions of using everybody on Earth for reproductive purposes, but claims he wants a second chance. What started as reproduction had turned to love. Yivo dates everybody on Earth and eventually asks them to marry him and come join him in his universe.

This episode parallels quite nicely with Octavia Butler’s “Bloodchild”. One interpretation of the Terran and Tlic relationship is that of slave and owner; the Terran being used solely for their reproductive success. Similarly, Yivo seemed an alien threat posed to use all of earth for his reproduction. Given time Yivo became attached emotionally and by the time the humans were enlightened to the fact Yivo did not want to force anything upon them and just wanted to be together with them. While the Terran may have been taken in by the Tlic initially for their great potential and use in successful Tlic reproduction, I believe the Tlic and Terran became a more mutualistic symbiotic relationship. While the Tlic reproductive process is brutal we see very real emotional attachments develop between the Tlic mothers and the Terran carriers. One of the most exemplary of these is when the one word we hear Lomas say is the name of his Tlic; this in addition to Tlic’s concern and pressing need to get to her Terran as she arrives despite her sickness.  At the end of the story Gan and T’Gatoi became closely emotionally bonded just as Yivo did in the episode of Futurama. Yivo asked the humans for marriage and Gan and T’Gatoi have a relationship that seems at least as strong and complex as a marriage.

Running in a Cage

Bloodchild traces Gan’s journey of finding out the harsh realities of the society in which he lives. In this society, terrans are forced to live under a Tlic’s control and ownership. Terrans are used as host animals for the Terrans to reproduce. For this process to work, Tlic eggs are implanted into a Terran until they grow into grubs and until the grubs destroy the host Terran until it cannot survive any longer while supporting the grubs. Once they had grown the right amount, a Tlic would cut open the Terran in order to receive its grubs. If any grubs were left in the Terran, it would kill the Terran by eating it from the inside. At best, the Terran would be sewn up, survive, and be forced to go through more implantations in the future. In order to get the most out of every Terran, Tlics encouraged their Terrans to take life-lengthening drugs. Eventually Gan unravels the social norms of his society and realizes that he should have autonomy over his own body. He still is implanted with T’Gatoi’s eggs though in order to save his younger sibling, Xuan Hoa.

Although Bloodchild is a science-fiction story, the premise of using humans as host animals is not far from reality in many parts of the modern world. The article, “In India, a rise in surrogate births for West” sheds light on increasingly common surrogacy programs in which western, wealthy women enter into surrogacy contracts with Indian women. These Indian women who chose this option actually don’t have much have a choice. They often struggle to provide for themselves and their families and have no other ways to make a decent income. Sometimes they are pushed to act as a surrogate by their husbands who want more income. Agents only concerned with their own profits lure women into contracts that they don’t fully comprehend. The character Gan in Bloodchild was similarly manipulated into thinking he chose to be a surrogate. In Gan’s case, he is tricked by T’Gatoi’s supposed friendship with him. In the Indian womens’ case, they are forced into the position of surrogate because of their impoverished state and do not realize they are being taken advantage of and being paid five to six times less than an American surrogate would commonly be paid. Both real and fictional stories show the horrors of being exploited for the purpose of reproduction.

See: http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/in-india-a-rise-in-surrogate-births-for-west/2013/07/26/920cb5f8-efde-11e2-8c36-0e868255a989_story.html