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Monday, May 31, 2010

Children of the Damned

Despite the lack of an obvious continuation of the story line in Village of the Damned ('60), John Briley's Children of the Damned (CoD) calls itself a sequel -- right in the credits. In the marketing sense, it is. CoD came after VoD and begs comparison via the titles. VoD repeats the trope of frighteningly gifted children, as in VoD. Here, instead of all blond children, there is an assortment from around the world: China, Russia, Nigeria, India, America and Britain. This diversity moves the 'gifted' children trope out of nationalism, to become an international problem.

Quick Plot Synopsis
A London psychologist (Tom) and a geneticist (David) discover an amazingly gifted boy named Paul. They interview his mother, but she is a below-average poor single woman. She hates Paul, says he's not really hers. She was never touched by a man, etc. Tom and David find out that there are five other similarly advanced children around the world. He persuades a UNESCO official to have them all brought to London for study. This happens, but the children each escape their respective embassies and gather in an old condemned church building. Paul uses his mind power to make his aunt Susan come and help them survive. The various nations clamor for the return of their gifted child. A couple of British agents go in to get the children. Paul uses his mind to make them kill each other. Troops are called in to forcibly bring the children out. The children have constructed a device from junk in the church. They turn it on, and the troops all die of they sound waves. In the melee, the Indian child, Rashid, is hit and killed. The government plans to destroy the children as a menace. Tom goes to them, urging them to each go to their embassies to plead to be left alone. They do this, but the adults harangue them about being their own national super-weapon, or genius enough to build other super-weapons for them so they can stay ahead of the others. Each child causes their adults to kill each other. The children return to the church. The Army has plans to destroy them. Tom argues against it, saying they're not inhuman, but super-advanced-humans. Siege is laid to the church. Tom urges they be given a chance to be heard. A delegation of diplomats go up to the church. The six children come out. While they're talking, a soldier in the impromptu HQ bumps a screwdriver which triggers the "fire" flare. All the troops open fire. The children fall. The diplomats fall. Despite shouting from the commander, and others, to cease fire, the shooting continues. At last, the church is blown up. Amid the rubble is a pair of children's hands, still clasped. Cut and pan to the screwdriver on the floor. The End.

Why is this movie fun?
CoD is a marvelously complex and enigmatic film -- great for post-movie conversations. The black and white photography is quite lush at times.

Cold War Angle
CoD has these, in spades. First, is the heated and irrational behavior of the nations, each wanting their super-child to be their super-weapon. Second is how the authorities follow the Cold War logic that they must act first (destroy the children) before they children can destroy them. Third is the cautionary lesson of having armies primed to fire, so that a mere mistake (the bumped screwdriver) could set off an unwanted catastrophe. The zoom-in on the screwdriver at the end, makes this cautionary moral obvious.

Sequel or Not? -- The modern (populist) definition for a sequel is that it be a continuation of the previous story. Hollywood does this a lot for purely economic reasons. "You like Spiderman? We'll give you another dose." CoD does not simply continue the story of VoD. How could it? George blows up himself and the children. Yet, there does seem to be a link. At the end of VoD, when the school is destroyed, several pairs of glowing eyes float away from the charred rubble and flames. In CoD, six amazing children are all born at the same time, with a suggestion that they might not have had fathers either. Did the floating eyes -- the spirits or advanced intellects of the children -- disperse around the globe to try Plan B? While not stated overtly in CoD, this does tie up the loose ending of VoD.

Religious Symbols -- Religious commentary and symbolism are laced throughout CoD. The advanced children flee the crazy adult world, to a church. This harkens to the old notion of "sanctuary" where someone in a church was supposed to be safe from outside law. Then there is the church itself, abandoned in run down. A commentary on how modern man has abandoned faith for the "enlightened" (but cruel) world of Darwin and Nietschze?

Doomed Savior? -- Then there is Paul's enigmatic answer to the question, "Why are you here?" -- "to be destroyed." This has a Christ-like ring to it. This goes beyond the mere resignation to defeat. It seems like Paul's role (like Jesus') was to die at the hands of sinful man. Was this why the aliens created the special children in the first movie? Was it a fork-in-the-road for mankind? If we chose to embrace the superior, we would advance. If we rejected the superior, we would have our (bloody) proof that we deserve the rotten world in which we live. This is like the ultimatum Klaatu delivers in The Day the Earth Stood Still ('51) To enhance the Christ metaphor, we also have one of the children, Rashid, killed by the angry men, lie in state for a spell, then rise from the dead. Of course, the analogy breaks when Rashid is killed (again) in the end. Although this plays back into the point above -- a symbol. Cold-hearted modern man has so zealously tried to "kill" (remove completely) Christ from their world.

Red in Tooth and Claw -- Writer John Briley seems to be indicting the modern worlds worship of Darwin. Survival of the fittest sound fine, until you're not the "fittest". The adults in CoD worry that the children would be the start of a superior race that would eventually supplant homo sapien man. "They would beat us every time," says David. With that as their justification, the neo-Neanderthals plot to eliminate their superior competition while they still can -- for the good of their inferior species. This, if you think about it, is a violation of the supposedly inviolate darwinism rule that the superior (fit) survive.

Bottom line? Don't look upon CoD as lesser continuation of VoD. It is actually a great movie in its own right, that followed a different tangent. There is a lot of food for thought in VoD. There are no special effects to speak of, and no monsters or saucers. CoD might be only peripherally a sci-fi movie, but it's a good movie, well worth watching.

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