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December 29, 2006


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Amish Lovelock

I saw the film about a month ago when it came out here in Tokyo. It's good (but not that good). It was the British sociologist, Barbara Adam's book "Timescapes of Modernity", rather then Zizek, who came immediately to mind when I saw it though.


Anthony Paul Smith

I really liked this film, but I really don't like what Žižek said about it. For one, he's harping on this whole materialist/spiritualist bit that I don't think makes a whole lot of sense. Žižek really has a strange materialism and I often find myself thinking, to my horror, that all this commitment to materialism by leftist philosophers is pure verbage without content. In a way the war cry remains that we don't know what a body can do, we don't know what material is. Which brings us to his conception of world, another common thing nowadays, which says nothing about the world but only makes reference to meaning. Would the world cease if there was no humanity? No, it wouldn't. Does a marble statue become nothing outside of human meaning? Does it even make sense to ask such a question?

It really is a great movie though. Amish is wrong, it is that good. One of the reasons it is so good is the pure motifs from Melville that haunt it.

Kenneth Rufo

Seriously, does Zizek even read or listen to the teachings of the Dalai Lama before he writes this shit? The distinctions between Soto or American Zen (which I practice) and Tibetan Buddhism (which I do not) are vast, but it really only takes a brief time reading through any of the literature on the Tibetan path, or on Tantic Buddhism in general, to see that "enlightened egoism" is a ridiculous paraphrasing of that tradition.

But I don't know what I expect. He can't take the time to read closely Levinas, Deleuze, and Heidegger before he criticizes their work, I don't know why I should expect him to actually know anything about Buddhism before he does the same.

Kenneth Rufo

Now, if Zizek wanted to chastise the Dalai Lamam for the ritualistic and materialist structure of Lamaism in general, I'd be all down with that. It's just that he doesn't teach enlightened egoism, and I'm not sure his popularity stems his teachings as much as it does his celebrity and a generalized American suspicion regarding China.

Sorry, I know this is tangential to the post. We were going to see the movie over break, while we were up visiting my folks in Ohio, but for whatever reason, it didn't show up in theaters there.

Anthony Paul Smith


I don't think it is out yet in the States. It came out here (the UK) before a few months back, but I think they were waiting for Oscar reasons to release it in the States.


We all need to learn to read more carefully:

"This is why I think Dalai Lama is such a big hit."

This is not about what the Dalai Lama does or doesn't teach - but what the Dalai Lama represents through culture - the subject is "a big hit", not Dalai Lama.


"On the Beach" [Neville Shute - my fingers kept typing 'Shite':0) ] I saw as a child, and it terrified. Not the inevitable cruel death of the characters, but trying to comprehend the end of civilization.

This little chap had never imagined such things, having just discovered civilization and what a wonderful thing it was – well, according to my school text books and exciting trips to the big city.

I think at that moment I became a philosopher. Clearly the story’s outcome could be grasped by my little mind, but not the deep despair.

Patrick J. Mullins

'Like all those classical statues are there, but they are deprived of a world. They are totally meaningless, because what does it mean to have a statue of Michaelangelo? It only works if it signals a certain world. And when this world is lacking, it's nothing.'

No, this is what is bad, in fact is such an example of Zizek at his hyperbolic most yellow-journalistic, most Jeanne Dixon-prophetic without any basis that such a thing can be proven in any way other than it might qualify as a 'likelihood.' This was the trouble with the way he portrayed the 'virtual' as becoming more concrete than the localized/geographical, except that there was more there to work against in his prescription, although he has never followed it up.

In this latest, very irresponsible paragraph, you might miss that Michelangelo's statues were 'meaningless' a hundred years after they were made quite as much as they are in 2006 (IF they are, which they most certainly are NOT).
And they, like Bach, Beethoven, Petipa DO still 'signal a certain world', just not all of it as when they are new-born.

And what about 'and my god, this film literally is about biopolitics.' Incredible. I just can't even believe it. Virilio has been talking about these things for over 10 years, and Kurzweil outlines how he wants as much of it to take place as is science-fictionally possible.

I saw the previews of this, which was sufficient for me. It looked repulsive, but mainly unnecessary. It's just trendy and 'signals the world of 2006.' By 2008, it will even more meaningless than a Michelangelo statue or maybe even than Christmas.


What surprises me is that no one finds it worth commenting on the weird fact that Zizek is going to be included on the DVD of the movie. I find this quite remarkable.

On statue and world--this strikes me as a good point if an old hermeneutic one--meaning depends on a horizon, a horizon marks a world.

Patrick J. Mullins

'On statue and world--this strikes me as a good point if an old hermeneutic one--meaning depends on a horizon, a horizon marks a world.'

It depends on it only to a certain degree, and always had done. It does not follow to go all the way to 'totally meaningless'. In fact, what I noted above about Zizek's favoring the 'virtual' is distinctly interactive with this: Unless the virtual world is by now the concrete one, the statues and old work still have their uses, which go well beyond tourist buses up to the Parthenon or Ground Zero (also surely 'meaningless' in this definition by now). While cyberspace affects a lot of what is produced offline by now, it's still not nearly as much as Zizek would insist upon: Not nearly everyone lives in cyberworld to such a degree that it can said to have become the dominant one--although it is definitely trying to. In any case, all the great works of art of the past would have found some way to become useless by now, instead of being valued (and for much more than their prestige value.)

I don't find it at all strange that Zizek and the director of 'Children of Men'. I would think this was a perfect match or trendies.

Kenneth Rufo

pebird, you did read the next sentence, yes?

Amish Lovelock

The fact that he is going to be on the DVD isn't that much of a surprise after "Pervert's Guide..."

Anthony's point about materialism is why I think Barbara Adam is the academic name that fits the film, rather than Zizek. Although it could be a Zygmunt Bauman film too.It's very "British Sociology"


Amish--hmmm...I don't know her work and I disagree with APS re Z's materialism--I find the idea of a materialism that is ruptured by the gap that is the subject quite convincing; also, APS slips in his comment between a world and the world.

Anthony Paul Smith

Well of course you do. Still don't see what the hell that has to do with this movie. It was an intentional shift. A world and the world are neccesarily coimplicated, which is why I don't agree with the pessimism of Zizek.


You're abolustely an old codger on this point. Alfonso Cuaron is a wonderful director. Hardly trendy, though you should know that the anti-trendy is again the new trendy.

Patrick J. Mullins

'Would the world cease if there was no humanity? No, it wouldn't.'

Earth wouldn't, world would.

'Does a marble statue become nothing outside of human meaning?'

Of course. There are yet no lower animals capable of appropriating Art. To plants and lower animals, a marble statue is a rock.

Anthony Paul Smith

All animals and even plants have worlds.

So it's either a statue or it's nothing? You don't see the problem with that?

Patrick J. Mullins

It's either a piece of Art (for humans) or a 'hard thing' (plants and animals.) It does not become 'nothing' as 'hard thing', but it becomes 'nothing' as Art if it has only a plant and animal audience.

Anthony Paul Smith

Surely you've heard stories of animal art. Animal language. Animal society.

Patrick J. Mullins

Oh, pul-leaze, I'm not such an easy mark. Just because it's Sunday and I feel like being sweet to assuage my guilt for not having been to Sunday School since ----.

Anthony Paul Smith

Oh you.


Of course I read it. Now you go re-read it with the concept "big hit" in the back of your mind.

Wow, different meaning. Funny how that works.

Happy New Year!

Kenneth Rufo

Oh, I see where we disagreed. When I wrote about the need for reading, I was talking about need to engage the words as they appear in print, and you were talking about the words in the back of your mind that give the words in print the widest latitude for plausibility.

So when I see the words that say, in effect, "he's a big hit; he preaches enlightened egoism" and then respond to that by noting "but wait, he doesn't teach enlightened egoism" I was responding to something totally different than you were, as you saw Zizek saying "such a big hit. He preaches enlightened egoism", which you insightfully realized should be include the phrase "and by 'preaches' I mean represent through culture," which I had totally missed. You also correctly realized that the Dalai Lama was not the subject in the phrases "the Dalai Lama is such a big hit" and "he preaches enlightened egoism." And whereas I mistakenly read the whole thing as what was printed in the excerpt, you correctly realized that, when Zizek said "the Dalai Lama is such a big hit" he meant "the teachings that are not the teachings of enlightened egoism but that are derived from what the Dalai Lama represents through culture, and which are all totally unrelated to the next sentence I'm about to say, are such big hits."

My bad. I can only plead bad reading on my part.

Happy New Year.

Patrick J. Mullins

Kenneth--that's pretty damn good. The New Year is as good a time as any to ring out the outmoded. I don't care about the Dalai Lama, but I can see that Zizek wrote about the Dalai Lama very much as he wrote about Michelangelo's statues. You're supposed to take it literally until signalled not to. Is that the style?

Patrick J. Mullins

btw, 'children of men' opened Xmas Day in 'selected cities' [divine term]


Reading everyone's comments, my enthusiasm for the film has muted a little. Jodi, I would be honored if you'd take a gander at my thoughts on my blog.


Reading everyone's comments, my enthusiasm for the film has muted a little. Jodi, I would be honored if you'd take a gander at my thoughts on my blog.


The human project was the best movie I've seen this year. Very creative and moving.


These comments have been invaluable to me as is this whole site. I thank you for your comment.

Ethan Nasr

Comments on Children of Men
by Slavoj Zizek
(DVD transcript)

The true focus of the film is there in the background and it’s crucial to leave it as a background. It’s the paradox of what I would call an a morphasis - if you look at the thing too directly, the oppressive social dimension, you don’t see it. You can see it in an oblique way only if it remains in the background. Children of Men is in a strange way, a remake of Y Tú Mama Tambíen. There is this wonderful tension between foreground and background. If you look at the film superficially, that is to say in the foreground. It’s just a sexual adventure with a desperate ending but you can not say it’s a moving about young boys, rediscovering the sexuality of their lives, whatever... The other way around, you see the absurdity of their lives. It’s so clear that the way that they experience their sexual traumas and so on... it’s against the background, it throws the light on these signs of social oppression. It’s the same in this film - It’s not really that all this infertility is really a pre-text for a hero’s journey from this apathetic anti-hero mode into a more active engagement and so on... No, it’s this fate of the individual hero remains a kind of prism through which we see the background ever more sharply.
I think that the film gives the best diagnosis of ideological despair of late capitalism, of a society without history. This is a true despair. The true infertility is the lack of meaningful historical experiences and that’s why I like this elegant point of importing all the works of art. All the important works are there but they are totally meaningless because what does it mean to have a statute of Michelangelo or whatever. It only works if it signals a certain world. When this world is lacking, it’s nothing. It’s against this background that the film approaches the topic of immigration and so on. By setting in the movie in England, only there can the despair be felt. England’s one of the few countries in the world that doesn’t have a constitution because it can rely on it’s substance of traditions - you don’t need it written and it’s in such a country that the loss of historical dimension, the loss of the substance of meaning is felt much worse.
I want to mention two changes between the novel and the film. It’s two replace the anti-hero hero’s best friend Jaspar. In the novel, he’s just a kind of retired ex-official, whatever. Here, to make him into this.. And everybody who is the after 1968 generation knows what this is, this old obscene, impotent, retired hippie person, in all it’s ambiguity. On the one hand, many old leftist have a fond memory of this generation but at the same time, there is something infertile and ridiculous about this. I think that in some ways, the decadence started there. This is a stroke of absolute genius. Another thing that I immensely appreciate, and this is a very risky thing to do, is to avoid sex. Here we have fertility reinstalled but not through the form of a couple being created. The fertility is spiritual fertility, to find the meaning of life and so one... precisely because it doesn’t directly make a political, moralistic parable and so on that it works perfectly.
What I like is that the solution is the boat. It doesn’t have roots, it’s rootless. It floats around. This is for me, this is the meaning of this wonderful metaphor. The condition of the renewal means that you cut your roots. That the solution.
Only films like this will guarantee that films as art will really survive.


I stand alone as the only person I know who didn't like this film. Essentially because I thought the 'world' of this movie was unbelievable [coming from some one who accepted the realm of movies like 'cloverfield', '28 days later' and other more absurd worlds] and also because the plot- getting the last baby on earth to a boat full of renegade scientist who for some reason are the only people interested in saving humanity and consequently have been expelled, docked outside of a refugee camp, because obviously the best place to make their daily "any babies yet?" pick up is in the most volatile and policed swath of coastline in the world- seemed completely futile. By the end, it made no difference to me whether this baby lived or died, it didn't seem like it would effect anything in the world this movie took place in, and what's more, I was cynically hoping for the baby to be destroyed if only to disrupt the obviousness of all the contemporary political symbolism and how it sought to align itself with the spirit of popular public opinion. I was hoping for something radical and this movie never came close.
Is there anyone else out there who was disappointed by this movie or am I on an island here?

Joe Clement

How believable would it be if the whole world decided that it wasn't on the brink of extinction because this baby appeared? People regularly don't care about saving the world, whether it needs saving or not, but clearly it isn't unimportant: it was quasi-divine enough to stop a fierce gun-fight between soldiers and detainees. Why should they give a shit beyond this though? Is it unbelievable that points along the French front during WWI called temporary cease-fires in order to celebrate holidays with otherwise enemies, only to return to war? Why didn't the war end right there? The same reason this film's scenario is believable.

patrick j. mullins

Is it unbelievable that points along the French front during WWI called temporary cease-fires in order to celebrate holidays with otherwise enemies, only to return to war?

Oh yes, I had only learned of this upon watching the old movie of the revue "Oh What a Lovely War!" about a year ago. I wonder if this is the only well-known case of such a thing, but it must not be.

Joe Clement

There's a multi-lingual (mostly French) film, directed by Christian Carion, that came out in 2005 called "Joyeux Noël." It depicts these events, but in a condensed way that fits in a single-plot.


I very much enjoyed the movie--visually stunning, amazing Clive Owens, some odd, unforgettable scenes. I believed the world and I think it is our world, a world on the edge of having no future, a world where too many of us (myself included) don't see a future at all but can't quite come to grips with this. Unlike Zizek and most commentators, I thought the book was wonderful. I didn't find the Christological themes in the book or movie to be too much or even to dominate my thinking about the story. In the book, the Clive Owens character takes on the position of the chancellor of London (a character only hinted at in the movie) and has possession of the baby. So the 'hope' is not quite a hope. I read the film the same way: it didn't appear to me clear at all that one baby would save the world or that the boat was actually the good guys or that the good guys would be able to do much at all. Basically, I think the end of the movie was more ambiguous.

Patrick and Joe: these stories of war stopping (it was WWI, no?) are quite stunning, nearly surreal. If the fighting can stop for a holiday, is it worth it? In the Peloponnesian war, there was 'war' season. During sowing and harvest time, the sides would go home, and only fight in the off season. Or on season. Depending...

Joe Clement

"If the fighting can stop for a holiday, is it worth it?"

That's what you get from the end of Joyeux Noel. They even worshiped together (decades before John McCain) and exchanged gifts on Christmas. On both sides, these soldiers were reprimanded and sent to different parts of the war, so as not to encourage these sorts of degenerations into peaceful humanity. In a way I'm not ready to explain tonight, it's a similarly feeling of "for Christ-sake, why not this?" as I get from Ursula K. LeGuin's short-story, "Those Who Walk Away From Omelas."

patrick j. mullins

"If the fighting can stop for a holiday, is it worth it? In the Peloponnesian war, there was 'war' season. During sowing and harvest time, the sides would go home, and only fight in the off season."

Yes, there's more of this kind of thing still around than we tend to think, and little whiffs of other, less dramatic examples come back--even last summer, the Iraqi government went on holiday from the heat when it made no other sense (I hate that I can't remember exactly what the particular monstrous things were right then, but Iraq is peculiar that way), they did it because they wanted to, 'weren't gonna take it any more', etc.. There's all sorts of naturism embedded in modernity and post-modernity that we assume would have passed more by now. Superstition and moods still determine trading in the stock markets. That there could still really be a Silly Season of July and August in journalism is actually a little bit incredible, since that hardly is really what happened this year, for one. Obviously, being outside of wars, we don't think much about what those directly involved do in order to feel some sense of normalcy, I guess. In Vietnam, it required drugs. Somehow, we persist in concentrating mostly on the differences in the newer times, much less on what has continued. My father was in the Pacific War, I'm sure he never partied with the Japanese, though.

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