Chills and “Children of Men”.
What do we want out of movies? It differs for everyone. Some just want to be entertained. They don’t want an existential discourse with their friends after they’ve seen a film. That’s fine (as long as you don’t demand your money back after seeing “Tree of Life”). Some consider hyper-intellectual discourse about movies a given, and will ham-fistedly shoehorn it into any movie discussion they can. Again, that’s just fine. Just don’t do it unless you know what you’re talking about.
I can go both ways, depending on my mood and the movie I’ve just seen. “Tree of Life” was impossible to talk about without sound like you had just exited a philosophy round table, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Movies that ambitious ought to be dissected for personal meanings. I also consider “Raiders of the Lost Ark” to be the best film of the 80’s, based entirely on the entertainment value of Nazis being melted real good by God.
But what I really go for are movies that hit me with that tingle in my spine. I’m not talking about an 80’s training montage chill (though those are good too). I mean movies that blindside me with a moment of beauty, honesty, or majesty that renders me dumbstruck for a few moments.
The one that comes to mind, more than any other, is “Children of Men”. I think “Children of Men” might be the best movie of the 2000’s (it alternates with “Millennium Actress” and “Spirited Away” for that honor). It’s a gripping sci-fi thriller, yes, but its heart emerges in one key scene that had me sobbing in the theater. Please don’t watch this if you haven’t seen the movie.
This long, long take culminates in an extraordinary scene when a battle is temporarily stopped because of a baby. The first baby born in 18 years. Science fiction is one of my favorite genres, but sci-fi movies rarely stop and give proper gravity to some of the extraordinary things that happen within them.
As moviegoers, we’re conditioned to think that the crux of “Children of Men’s” story (a world gone to hell because there are no future generations to live for) is a device and nothing more. There’s nothing wrong with that, either. Sci-fi has a long history of quick-fix scenarios that give the audience instant emotional investment in the story. Luke Skywalker could easily be called Everyman, AND he loses his aunt and uncle almost right off the bat. The Nostromo in “Alien” has a cat on board. In “Dark City”, a man realizes that his ideal life with a beautiful, loving wife might be imagined.
Quick emotional investment is key to sci-fi. It gets us invested in the world and the story takes it from there. “Children of Men” didn’t need to include a scene that grounded the film in emotional realism. It had plenty going for it as a straightforward thriller about a man protecting the world’s only baby and her mother. But this scene added gravity to the film that it would’ve lacked otherwise, and that sci-fi almost always lacks. And my spine was chilled, my friend. Chilled to the cord.