Friday, December 14, 2007

A different kind of Christmas movie

Perennially watched Christmas movies tend to be light stories with happy endings like It’s a Wonderful Life, and Miracle on 34th Street. One of my favorites is a 1951 movie version of Charles Dickens’ classic A Christmas Carol entitled Scrooge starring Alastair Sim. Then there are the Christmas TV specials that aren’t movies: Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Frosty the Snowman, Charlie Brown’s Christmas, etc.

Last year there was a popular movie that came out depicting the birth of Jesus entitled The Nativity. There are several parts of this movie that I would prefer had been done differently, but overall The Nativity is a movie that would do well to join the list of Christmas movies worth watching year after year.

There was another Christmas movie released last year that was not popular. Actually this movie did not come out at Christmas around here, but it was scheduled for release on Christmas day. It was entitled Children of Men and it was based on a novel written by P. D. James. However, as at least one reviewer said, it would be more accurate to say that the movie was inspired by the novel, because there are significant changes in the movie version of the story versus the printed version of the story.

Children of Men is nothing like James' other books. Best known for her murder mystery novels, she wrote this story as an allegory of the birth of Christ.

I read the book and I saw the movie and I liked them both, but the book is better. However, if you are unwilling or unable to invest time in reading in this busy holiday season, then you may be able to pick up a copy of the movie cheap. It did not do well at the box office which may explain why, as of earlier this week, there were about a half-dozen previously viewed copies of the DVD available at a movie rental place here at the discounted of price of $2.50. I should warn you, however, that Children of Men is rated R for some very strong language and also for violence.

That's right, this depiction of the birth of Christ is violent. This allegory seeks to show the other side of Christmas—the side that we don’t like to talk about. The side that Simeon spoke of as he held the baby Jesus in his arms (Luke 2:22-35). The side about the baby born in Bethlehem being destined to cause upheaval and opposition (Luke 2:34-35). The side about Jesus' family being forced to become refugees in Egypt in order to escape a king's murderous intent (Mat. 2:13-15). The side about the birth of Jesus being the cause of the slaughter of boy babies in Bethlehem (Mat. 2:16-18). The side about the birth of Jesus causing considerable disruption in our world.

If you watch Children of Men then remember that it is an allegory. Elements of the story symbolize something else. The despair of humanity is symbolized by worldwide infertility. No babies had been born in the whole world for over 18 years.

The main character in the movie is named Theo and Theo means God. As the story progresses the viewer is introduced to a young woman, an outcast, who miraculously turns out to be pregnant. Those who know about the pregnancy agree that this woman and this pregnancy are the key to the future of humanity. The woman’s name is Kee. Everything hinges on getting Kee to a mysterious group called the Human Project and that requires a rendezvous with a ship called the Tomorrow. When Kee shows Theo her belly, revealing to him that she is pregnant, Theo says, “Jesus Christ!” When the child is born later in the movie, the first person to see it outside of the one who delivered it says, “Jesus Christ!”

From these few details it is probably clear that the symbolism in Children of Men is thinly veiled. Nonetheless you are going to have to think a little bit to follow the story behind the story. I wish I could explain more, but I don’t want to ruin it for you.

Actually my guess is that most of you would not like this movie--it bombed at the box office for a reason. It is dark and violent and the language is rough. The world is depicted as a chaotic place full of despair. There are terrorist bombings and there is an uprising. Surrounding the birth of this miracle child is treachery, deception, intrigue, and death. Most of you wouldn’t like it in my opinion and you surely would not think of it as a Christmas movie.

Yet for all its darkness, Children of Men sounds a definite note of hope through the miraculous birth of a child. And the reason I think it deserves some recognition as a Christmas movie is that, more than any other depiction of the birth of Christ that I remember seeing, it seeks to expose a truth about the Christ child that our culture largely ignores.

The Prince of Peace often disrupts lives and societies in order to bring peace. Because of his revolutionary values he continues to be a sign that is spoken against (Luke 2:24-35). The road to the glorious peace of Jesus is frequently and ironically paved with upheaval.

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