Children of Men is another favorite film of mine. It seems that every time I see it, I discover something new, and that’s because Alfonso Cuaron and his team took the time and effort to create an actual living world (lived-in is actually more appropriate) for the story to take place. And in this article I’m going to try and explain how Cuaron uses animals for multiple story purposes throughout this film.
The thing is, I believe this film is a master class in world building. The moment you see Theo leaving the coffee shop out to the streets of London, one look around and you start absorbing the way this world is, and it’s all done visually and contextually and it’s beautiful.
The story takes place in England in the year 2027 and according to co-writer Tim Sexton, in an interview for the now defunct Creative Screenwriter Magazine podcast, he and Alfonso wrote a detailed timeline of all the events that happened in the world leading to the year 2027, thus they were able to capture a world torn by war and complete dispair thanks to the fact that all women in the world are infertile. Along the way, they asked themselves was sort of cults or social movements would take place in a world like this and thus came up with various groups like the antagonistic Fishes, who want equal rights for all foreign immigrants.
Then there’s this guy who, according to Tim Sexton, is part of a group comprised by young people, the last generation of human beings to be born. They’re basically punks whose main ideology is to go out with a bang and cause all sorts of mayhem. In the film, this guy is not explained to us, but there’s clues. My guess is that he is rehabilitation since he is shown taking medication, he is also all pacified with the weird game he is playing, he has a barcode bracelet most likely provided for his weekly furlough by whatever institution he is in. He is also well dressed, but houses a wide variety of scars and tattoos that probably belong to his old lifestyle, all visual storytelling, folks.
And then there’s these guys, whose attire is 100% classic english gentleman, complete with bowler hat and umbrella. They probably thought that even if the world is going to hell, there’s no reason to abandon class and elegance.
The point with all of the stuff above is that, in a film as carefully crafted as this, every single element in the screen is helping to tell the story, every single thing has its purpose and reasoning behind it. So after watching it a couple of times, I became aware that there’s animals all throughout the movie, but for what purpose?
From what I understand Cuaron enjoyed working with animals on set in “Harry Potter and the Prisioner of Azkaban”, so he and his team decided to include animals in as many scenes as possible. But he did not do it willy nilly, there’s reasoning behind it. Here are the various reasons I came up with:
-To Breathe Life into the World of the Story
Appart from the staggering production design and art direction, the presence of various animals definitely makes a scene more lively, it adds to the illusion that we are not in a movie set, but in a real location.
Here’s various scenes where animals “plus” the scenes they’re in:
Take away the sheep and the seagull from this moments in the film and suddenly everything feels a bit “empty”
-For Symbolic Purposes
Throught the film, the environment and it’s contexts changes constantly. We go from middle-class London to the wealthy goverment district, from the English countryside to the slums were immigrants are sent off to. The use of animals in these scenes emphasize their context and symbolism.
Irish Wolfhounds were owned by English nobles in the past, the presence of this breeds symbolizes that Theo is among people of wealth, people that own original Michaelangelo sculptures
Exotic animals such as zebras and camels appear in this scene too.
In Hinduism, cows are revered as a sacred source of food and life. Their presence helps add meaning to the scene. This is a crucial moment, Theo finds out Kee is the first pregnant woman in 18 years. She might be the last chance for humanity’s salvation.
This moment in the film appears right before our characters cross to Bexhill, the point of no return. The deer is the only wild animal to appear in the film, it might be to stress that Theo and company are venturing to “savage” territory.
-Because in an Infertile World, Animals Became the New “Babies”
Some people are very close to their pets, but in a world where no one can exercise their parental instincts with their offspring, society turns to pets to be their surrogates, to be taken care of and raised. This really helps emphasize the despair everyone is going through.
You can see an ad on the side of the bus advertising the spring collection for a brand for pet clothing. Details like that are hidden everywhere in this film.
-To Show Theo is Pure of Heart
Our main character, Theo is not in good shape. He has his vices and his regrets, and he displays a cynic exterior, but still manages to prove to other characters and us, the audience, that he is pure of heart. That he is not ill-intentioned and that he’s going to carry his self-appointed mission all through the end. A visual way to support this idea is to show that animals are drawn to him. Animals are way more attuned to a person’s intentions than we are since they are instinctual beings, so animals trusting him enables us to trust him as well.
This is especially clear in the scene where Theo is present in the Fishes’ meeting. There are dozens of people in the room and yet talented cat actor decides to climb his leg out of all the legs present. Also, when they arrive at the farm, the dogs run up to Theo in a playful manner, even the owner of the farm states: “They like you, they don’t like anyone”
-To Endow This Scene
This is a pivotal moment in the film. Just as they are crossing over to the refugee camp, Kee’s water breaks and starts having contractions. They manage to get a “room” in time to deliver the baby and this is where filmmaking magic happens
Here’s the scene for your audiovisual pleasure
While Kee is delivering the baby you can hear all sorts of animal noises. The intensity of the sounds escalates until the baby is born. Just as they are attuned to a person’s intentions, they also… you know… KNOW. They are attuned to nature in that way. It’s like they feel salvation is coming and they are announcing it. I love this moment in the film.
It also worth noting the homage Cuaron makes to Pink Floyd by having the goverment building Theo’s cousin resides in resemble the cover for Pink Floyd’s album “Animals”. Both works share similarities, for example, both talk about the struggle of social classes.
So that’s it folks, just wanted to share this since it’s been on my mind for a long time. See you soon!