I had the happy occasion to watch a sad movie recently.
The sad movie was Alfonso Cuarón’s Children of Men, and to my mind it demonstrates the best that science fiction can be.
It’s a deeply felt movie, intense and raw, the way that Saving Private Ryan is deeply felt, intense and raw. I say it’s a sad movie, because of the world it portrays (and how close that world looks like ours), but ultimately the film’s message is one of hope.
If you’re not aware of Children of Men, the narrative is simple yet beautiful. It is the year 2027, and humanity has lost the ability to procreate. Mankind is slowly dying out. Into this cauldron of despondency, a miracle occurs – a pregnant woman (presumably the only such in the world) is discovered, and Theo Faron (played by Clive Owen) must shuttle her to safe refuge, with the hope being that scientists can learn from her how to jumpstart the human race.
There are many things to admire about this film. The realism and believability of the situation. The reliance on the genuine humanity of the characters to tell the story, rather than special effects and wild concepts. The subdued messaging backgrounded throughout the film which doesn’t draw attention to itself but adds necessary grit and political color.
I’m more than halfway through P. D. James’ book of the same name right now (the source material for the film), and it is remarkably different. The book is pastoral, academic, an epistle of despair in a decidedly English tone; the film on the other hand is ripe with street-level danger, violence, anger.
I could go on and on about the many things I love about Children of Men, enough to write a paper, but for the purpose of today I’m just going to touch ever so briefly on the character of Theo Faron.
Jonathan McDonald recently posted a link on Worlds Without End to an article by Robert R. Chase regarding the relationship between science and religion in science fiction. I found the synchronicity of this posting to be fortuitous, as Children of Men is at its heart a very religious movie. And Theo Faron, despite his jaded, secular posturing, is a decidedly religious figure.
In fact, I would go so far as to say he’s a saint. Let me explain.
In considering Theo’s transformation from cynical loner to true and loyal guide, you can’t but help see him as a post-modern St. Joseph. Protector of the mother and her child, he leads her to safety despite many obstacles, giving of himself totally to his mission. Theo’s story is a beautiful psalm of self-donation.
To my mind, it is unmistakable that Cuarón and his fellow screenwriters drew inspiration for Theo Faron from the life of St. Joseph.
This led me to consider just how freely science fiction films can dip into the lives of saints for inspiration. What follows is a brief exploration of ten saints and the film characters who echo them.
10 Lives of Saints Appropriated for Science Fiction
10. St. Joan of Arc – Joan’s life followed a dramatic path from a simple and seemingly inconsequential peasant to renowned warrior and leader who ultimately was burned alive for her faith.
Cinema Equivalent: “Ellen Ripley” played by Sigourney Weaver / Alien3 (1992) – Ellen rises from a simple and seemingly inconsequential space trucker to become a leader of soldiers before being consumed by a fiery conflagration.
9. St. George – A solider and priest, St. George is best known for his legendary exploit of vanquishing a dragon that dwelt in a lake and preyed upon a nearby town.
Cinema Equivalent: “Luke Skywalker” played by Mark Hamil / Star Wars: Return of the Jedi (1983) – A solider and priest, Luke counts among his most notable exploits the vanquishing of the Rancor Monster that dwelt in a pit in Jabba the Hutt’s lair.
8. St. Francis of Assisi – A wild young man and one-time soldier who would undergo a conversion experience, renounce all he’d ever known to follow a simple life; a lover of nature, of the environment and of animals.
Cinema Equivalent: “Jake Sully” played by Sam Worthington / Avatar (2009) – A one-time soldier who would undergo a conversion experience, renounce all he’d ever known and discover an appreciation of nature, the environment and indigenous life.
7. St. John the Baptist – During a period of struggle and conflict, he was a strong and courageous spiritual leader. St. John pointed the way for Jesus (the Messiah), whom he baptized in the Jordan River.
Cinema Equivalent: “Morpheus” played by Laurence Fishburne / The Matrix (1999) – During a period of struggle and conflict, he was a strong and courageous leader. Morpheus pointed the way for Neo (the One), whom he introduced to the world of the Matrix via the red pill of truth.
6. St. Martin de Porres – The illegitimate son of a nobleman and a former slave, St. Maretin’s family upbringing consisted of his mother and younger sister. A strong student who outshone his teachers, he became a worker of healing miracles and champion of the poor and disenfranchised.
Cinema Equivalent: “Paul Atreides” played by Kyle MacLachlan / Dune (1984) – The illegitimate son of a nobleman and his concubine, Paul’s family upbringing consisted of his mother and younger sister. A strong student who outshone his teachers, he became a worker of miracles and champion of the disenfranchised Fremen.
5. St. Damien of Molokai – Working among the quarantined outcasts of the leper colony of Molokai, St. Damien eventually succumbed to leprosy contamination.
Cinema Equivalent: “Wikus van de Merwe” played by Sharlto Copley / District 9 (2009) – Working among the quarantined outcasts of the alien colony of District 9, Wikus eventually succumbed to alien contamination.
4. St. Barbara – Persecuted by her pagan father, who handed her over to the Roman authorities, St. Barbara refused to renounce her Christian affiliations.
Cinema Equivalent: “Princess Leia” played by Carrie Fisher / Star Wars: A New Hope (1977) – Persecuted by her Sith father, who handed her over to the Imperial authorities, Princess Leia refused to renounce her rebel affiliations.
3. St. John Vianney, the Curé of Ars – An undistinguished man whose superiors held low expectations, St. John Vianney was assigned to the small out-of-the-way parish town of Ars, which he proceeded to single-handedly clean up from its vice-ridden and morally lawless ways.
Cinema Equivalent: “Marshall O’Niel” played by Sean Connery / Outland (1981) – An undistinguished man whose superiors held low expectations, Marshall O’Niel was assigned to the small out-of-the-way mining station on Io, which he proceeded to single-handedly clean up from its vice-ridden and morally lawless ways.
2. St. Paul – The great evangelist and missionary of the Church, St. Paul travelled far to deliver the message to the people of this world to atone for our obsession with sin, or perish.
Cinema Equivalent: “Klaatu” played by Michael Rennie / The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) – A great missionary from the stars, Klaatu travelled far to deliver the message to the people of this world to atone for our obsession with nuclear weapons, or perish.
1. St. Joseph – At first reluctant to get involved, St. Joseph agrees to protect and defend the Virgin Mary and her baby. They undertake an arduous journey, and while on the road the Virgin Mary gives birth to the miracle child who is the hope of humanity. Father, mother and infant then flee into Egypt to escape persecution.
Cinema Equivalent: “Theo Faron” played by Clive Owen / Children of Men (2006) – Theo, approached by his former lover (Julian) to help secretly transport a girl (Kee) across security-tight Britain, is at first reluctant to get involved. When he discovers Kee’s pregnancy, however, he agrees to protect and defend Kee and her baby. They undertake an arduous journey, and while on the road Kee gives birth to the miracle child who is the hope of humanity. Theo, Kee and her baby must then flee out of the Bexhill Refuge camp to the sea.
I can’t do Children of Men justice with a paltry blog, but I can say that as long as our filmmakers continue to bring us deeply felt stories such as this, I have no doubt that science fiction film has a bright future.
DON’T FORGET – BATTLEFIELD EARTH CHARITY CHALLENGE!
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