Wednesday, June 11, 2008

I recently watched the cinematic adaptation of P.D. James' "Children of Men", a dystopian novel set in a future in which the entire human race has become infertile. This may be one of those films that I would have appreciated more had I not read the book ahead of time. It was well-made but the story, which departed significantly from the source material, seemed flat in comparison to the book.

For one thing, the novel tells a much richer story, with deeper characterization. The film, which came in at just under two hours, probably could have spent more time developing a backstory. The novel is full of details that provide a vivid and poignant picture of a world without children, one in which society is slowly dying. James alternates chapters between the third-person and the first-person perspective of her protagonist, Theo. This allows us to imagine the novel's decaying England through Theo's eyes and to learn all there is to know about him, much of it unpleasant. We barely get acquainted with the Theo of the film before he is thrust into action, becoming involved with a revolutionary group that is sheltering the first woman to bear a child in a generation.

All told, the novel is sadder and darker, with a less likeable hero and a more ambigious ending. In the film, England is ruled by an openly repressive regime whose jack-booted enforcers operate with impunity. The tyranny of the government in the novel is hidden by a veneer of paternalistic benevolence, which makes it seem somehow more insidious and chilling. "Children of Men" was one the best books I've read in the past year. The film was entertaining but ultimately forgettable.

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