A Heel-Clicking Good Time: The Road and Children of Men

I’m going to write something here that I wanted to potentially write a paper on for one of my grad classes that didn’t pan out. Well, not that it didn’t pan out—the paper idea is there, but I only have 24 hours in a day, 7 days in a week, like everyone else, and I can’t afford to research for a paper on The Handmaid’s Tale and Never Let Me Go AND also another one on The Road and Children of Men. So the poor second paper idea is being docked for another time.

But for those of you that love books and movies, there’s a relationship between The Road and Children of Men

Rock City, which is alluded to in the novel, located in Tennessee.

that cannot be denied. My professor was the first one to point out this, but it wasn’t until I read The Road (which if you haven’t, DO IT, it’s not only chilling, but also parts seem to be set in Tennessee, my sweet little home state) that I truly became attuned to these similarities. Before I go into them, here’s the Katherine summary of these two tales:

The Road (Cormac McCarthy, 2006) follows a father and his son as they make their way to the coast in a post-apocalyptic society. I know that’s a buzz word in the literary world, so to describe more—the actual cause is not identified, but the world is dying. Nature has turned against itself and everything is covered in gray, ash, soot, sludge. A definite lack of light exists and thus a definite lack of hope, even though the father insists every day that he and the boy must move forward, even though they’re not sure what they’ll find once they reach the coast. Cities and towns are pillaged with warning signs of death upon entering them. Random wildfires break out, burning things beyond recognition. Clans of cannibals exist. You are literally immersed into a world completely different and almost unimaginable from ours, yet we are forced, as the willing reader, to accept this world and the journey of the father and son as an attempt to survive in a world where everything is dying.

Children of Men (Alfonso Cuaron, 2006) opens in a society where the fertility rate of humans is virtually not-existent. The youngest human alive, who was 18-years-old, has just been murdered, plunging people into an even deeper fear about the fate of humanity. The movie (based on the novel The Children of Men by P.D. James) is set in England, the only country “still standing” after every other country has turned against itself due to the fear that humanity is literally dying; that they are the last people on earth. England has been aggressively removing refugees from their country, and one of those refugees is Kee, who Theo, the protagonist, is given the task of securing papers for the girl he later realizes is pregnant so she can reach the Human Project, a renowned safe place. He soon fully takes on the task of getting her to safety after realizing the “good guys” they were traveling with simply view Kee as a toy in their political game to overthrow the government and demand for equal rights for all refugees.

So, now to the exciting stuff. Similarities you will find in these two tales (and if you have read/seen either one, feel free to pitch in):

  1. Plot structure—In both, the main characters are headed for the coast and the hopefulness that the coast can (hopefully) bring them.
  2. Nature dying v. Humanity dying—The two are inextricably linked.  In The Road, nature dying will ultimately lead to the death of all humanity, thus providing a twisted justification for the cannibal clans. In Children of Men, if humanity continues to die, then all that will be left is the earth, whose resources would be abundant and purposeless. Nature continues to turn on itself in The Road, fires breaking out spontaneously and ash piling on top of sludge piling on top of ash in a cold, cold, cold environment. Humanity has begun to turn against itself in Children of Men, England having resorted to deporting refugees out of fear instead of accepting them into their country.
  3. Shoes/shelter—Both protagonists encounter issues with shoes throughout, whether it be that the shoes do not fit or are worn through due to trudging through the snow, or that the shoes keep getting lost in escaping. In the same way, the characters in The Road are constantly making a new makeshift shelter, needing protection from the elements and others; in Children of Men, the shelter provides a way for Kee to safely have her baby.
  4. Good guys v. Bad guys—the classic struggle. No one is who they say they are, and it’s even harder to tell in a broken or lost society. In The Road, the bad guys will most likely eat you. In Children of Men, the bad guys want to use your baby as a political tool. Either way, IT’S NOT GOOD.
  5. Light v. dark—Light is only referenced in its absence or as a component of dreams in The Road. Light exists only in artificial means in Children of Men.
  6. An example of the Rock City signs (featuring my sister and her bf, as I totally took this picture from her).

    Things lost to society—In The Road, the main character notices a “SEE ROCK CITY” sign at one time, which litter a few of the Southern states, specifically my home state. However, this is an advertisement for an attraction that is now moot to the rest of humanity, just as other things they find in the book are, like libraries, phones, etc. In Children of Men, schools have no use anymore due to no children.

PHEW. The most interesting one to me is this:
Children—what does it mean to be a child in the societies depicted in both tales? Ever since watching Children of Men while on the plane to South Africa (I remember jumping in the beginning when the coffee shop exploded), the scene where the soldiers cease fire against the Uprising out of amazement at the baby stuck with me. I was reminded of this scene while reading The Road when an old man they encounter stated he thought he was dead when he saw the child because he didn’t think he would ever see a child again. How do children play into these worlds? Other than the boy in The Road, what other children exist? Pregnant women are seen in the novel, but the babies are most likely eaten or perish immediately after birth, thus leading me to believe children are only consummated for their imminent consumption. A few boys are reported as part of the cannibal caravan, but their purpose seems merely sexual. The boy is literally growing up in a world that is nothing like his father’s, yet he has to trust his father to guide him every day through a world that is unfamiliar and terrifying to both of them and where he does not get to be or even know how to be a child.

In Children of Men, babies and children are such a foreign concept that Kee’s baby, who obviously can’t function on its own, has the power of becoming a political tool, a thing of amazement, beauty, power, just by the mere fact that it’s the first child born in 18 years. The baby is born into a society that has virtually forgotten how to treat children or a child’s role in society, only knowing that the absence of children has led to despair. When Kee becomes pregnant, she stated she knew what it was, even though she had

One more picture just for kicks, Fat Man's Squeeze at Rock City.

never seen a pregnant woman before. We never learn if any other women have suddenly become pregnant again, but Kee’s baby is a landmark, providing hope to a hopeless society. Will Kee’s baby get to be a child, unlike the boy in The Road? I imagine she will, but the definition of child will surely have shifted drastically, and it doesn’t bode well that the last youngest person was murdered simply due to his status.

That’s it, y’all. You all have some book reading/movie watching to do now. For me this week: paper writing on my actual paper (this blog was my way of getting out the thoughts on the other one), reading Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom, and coffee shop time again. Oh, and if anyone takes this paper idea as their own, I have copyrights. If I remember anything from Communications Law in college, it’s that ideas are, in fact, copyrightable. : )

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One thought on “A Heel-Clicking Good Time: The Road and Children of Men

  1. This is what I thought about…Of course, being an aging school marm, I often think of Blanche and the DARK MARCH! Give me poetry and music any day over the apocalypse and its aftermath.

    jfk

    A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE
    by Tennessee Williams

    Blanche tries to explain to her younger sister, Stella, why she shouldn’t stay married to her husband, Stanley Kowalski.

    BLANCHE: May I speak plainly? Well, if you’ll forgive me, he’s common. You can’t have forgotten that much of our bringing up, Stella, to just suppose that any part of a gentleman is in his nature! Not one particle, no! Oh, if he was just – ordinary! Just plain – but good and wholesome, but – no. There’s something downright – bestial about him! You’re hating me saying this aren’t you?

    Well, he acts like an animal, has an animal’s habits! Eats like one moves like one, talks like one! There’s even something – sub-human – something not quite to the stage of humanity yet! Yes, something – ape-like about him, like one of those pictures I’ve seen in – anthropological studies!

    Thousands and thousands of years have passed him by, and there he is – Stanley Kowalski – survivor of the stone age! Bearing the raw meat home from the kill in the jungle! And you – you here – waiting for him! Maybe he’ll strike you or maybe grunt and kiss you! That is, if kisses have been discovered yet! Night falls and all the other apes gather! There in front of the cave, all grunting like him, and swilling and gnawing and hulking! His poker night you call it – this party of apes! Somebody growls – some creature snatches at something – the fight is on!

    Maybe we are a long way from being made in God’s image, but Stella – my sister – there has been some progress since then! Such things as art – as poetry and music – such kinds of new light have come into the world since then! In some kind of people some tenderer feelings have had some little beginning! That we have got to make grow! And cling to, and hold as our flag!

    In this dark march toward whatever it is we are approaching…don’t – don’t hang back with the brutes!

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