7 Feb 2010

Children of Men

Today, there was a real cinematic treat on the Space Channel called Children of Men. The film stars the brooding Clive Owen together with a small but strong role by Michael Caine, acted brilliantly as always. Although Julianne Moore (as Julian) is listed on covers as a selling point, I think anyone having watched this can agree that her contribution in the film pales in comparison to the solid work of Clare-Hope Ashitey (Kee). The 2006 movie is a dystopia set in 2027. No child has been born for 18 years for reasons that scientists can't explain although out-of-control pollution is hinted as a cause. As such, humankind has less than a hundred years of existence left unless a miracle happens. It turns out that an African refugee named Kee is humanity's hope since she, just as inexplicably, is bearing child. Thus begins the dangerous journey of this expectant mother, protected by the kindness of a small band of philanthropic strangers who would sacrifice themselves for the welfare of this child.

This is one of my favourite sci-fi films of all time because, unlike most directors of the genre that resort to an over-reliance on 'futuristic' special effects to carry a plotless movie, this dystopia relies squarely on solid acting and storyline in the midst of a bleak setting of all-out civil war and opportunistic violence. The premise is all too realistic and if you're not disturbed by any of it, quite frankly, you're probably not human.

The camera tilts and turns through streets and corridors as if we the viewer are invisible participants in the horror. At one point, the camera is splattered with a victim's blood but it continues on navigating through the scene, suggesting by this subtle detail that we ourselves are stained with this future blood by our own witness. A very stark warning. Competing philosophical views (ie. fate versus randomness; atheism versus faith) are referenced but are tactfully presented without beating it over our heads as in Hollywood films. It's really a collector's movie; it's that good!

Now, to come back to the topic of linguistics, the point of my blog afterall, Kee softly sings a lullaby in an African language. I wanted to test out my online research skills and see if I could call up the name of this song, its lyrics and the exact meaning behind it. Well, I have to pat myself on my back. YAY! While I assumed at first that it was in Swahili, the sweet song is spoken in a more obscure language called . The endearing lyrics of the song[1] go perfectly with the film's bittersweet seesaw between the senseless self-ruin of the masses in the short term and the striving towards a higher purpose by a few in the long:

Kaːfo, kaːfo,
kaːfo ni moko kwɛ oɖaŋ
Don't cry, don't cry,
don't cry for someone to look in your mouth
Sika kɛ kpɔ yɛ oɖanA gold nugget is in your mouth
Kaːfo ni moko kwɛ oɖaŋDon't cry for someone to look in your mouth[2]

[1] Agawu, Representing African music: Postcolonial notes, queries, positions (2003), p.99 (see link).
[2] Agawu explains the nature of the lyrics in the aforementioned reference: "Mother speaks to child, trying to dissuade him from crying. There is a gold nugget in your mouth; if you cry, people will see it and want to possess it because it is precious. So hide it by closing your mouth, by not crying."


  1. Great excuse to write a review about this wonderful movie ;-).

  2. Hahahaha, yeah I thought so. I never heard of the Gã language before. Who knew that movies could be great to watch and educational.