The films 28 Days Later and Children of Men reveal a distinctly pagan New Age view adopted no doubt from the prevailing brand of atheistic European humanism. Both films embrace a hard line philosophy of finitude – something we have come to know as a post modern reversion to the hard facts of one’s existence; to the fact that there is no absolute truth and that we need to adjust ourselves to the horizon of this very passivity in relation to the possibility of God, absolute truth, etc.
My theory on these films religious elements is influenced by Lacan and Zizek is that this hard line view of atheistic finitude actually perverts the role of prayer and spiritual hope into the depths of a silent trust in humanity – i.e. a sort of atheistic passive-silent pact with the cosmos. This New Age call to abandon God thinking actually brings the atheists closer to the true God than metaphysical theologists.
New Age cosmology works in a symbiotic realm of pure representation, which is why it cannot handle the scandal of Christ because Christ himself was God, not a representation of divinity. Both films are unable to resolve messianic themes not because they are atheists or Buddhists, or what ever, but because the confused New Age view endemic in both films is inherently Protestant. The radical contingency, or objectivity of the individual characters, who are really ascetic Protestants in denial of their own freedom; after all, any resolution between master-slave and man-God has to form man as pure objectivity. The flip side of this is our Catholic friendly and communicable God, the Protestant God is contingent, yet there is no difference between a God of supreme evil and a God of supreme good except for a shift in perspective. While I am ardently opposed to New Age spiritualism, I tend to view their project in terms of a Zizekian parallax – the point of intersection between two schools of thought or theories – for instance, the difference between even the Jewish God of supreme justice and the Christian God of ultimate goodness is very minute and really rendered as the same thing internal to the New Age cosmology.
More broadly, the predominant religious strategy going on in the west encompasses both sides of the New Age movement and rallying within traditional movements is an attempt to confine the “scientific real” – my argument is that both films are dealing within this discourse of science vs. religion albeit not directly. In the larger struggle, the reason that traditionalism and fundamentalism is winning is based on Hegel’s universal philosophy – monotheism itself flourishes in this struggle because it seeks to save the unity, (one-ness) of God by locating evil within the realm of human freedom. When ever we divert from the one-ness of God it represents a split in our own nature, a split that is after all man in his finitude – sounds just like the Romantics.
Outside of the religious dimension of the films, there is also a certain reality paradox present, (as in all dystopian texts and films) which renders the world of appearance as a cut, or gap breaking off into two versions of the real. The dystopian text inverts the duality of the real – before understanding this inversion, the problem of reality for Hegel was that within perception, something emerges as a gap that separates the real from itself. Kant’s position, similar to Hegel was that reality is in binary opposition to the phenomenal real, or (the object world) and the noumenal real, (divine reality) which makes Kant the ultimate anti-utopian philosopher. At the phenomenal level man is tied to the chain of causes and effects. Yet in the often obscure sub chapter on man’s vocational aptitudes from the Critique of Pure Reason, Kant claims that seeking unlimited or infinite access to the noumenal realm, renders the “real” as mechanized, all actions is as mechanized puppet – in other words our balance of both the phenomenal and noumenal maintains a stability of perception, just like our hero destroying the noumenal zombies. The dystopian text seeks to shatter this balance through insertion of either side of what has to be considered as a political position towards the project of modernity or to civilization itself. (developed below).
In both films there is a major split between universal and particular, which in actuality represents a reconciliation of the (dis)harmonious reality structure of everyday banal life in a post industrial globalized life-world. The imposed harmony may have chaos, etc. nonetheless, characters have access to a non-normative passivity to reality, i.e. characters have access to the grand narrative. In our real unbalanced world, the universal directly appears “as such” in direct contrast to the abstract universal which is the mute universality of the passive link connecting reality to the specific. In the films, this normative passivity towards reality has been severed and we notice that the success of 28 Days Later is the choice to flip the story towards dark comedy, by the way, to Hegel comedy meant a reversal of adherence to the universal rules – the excessive desire surplus of the last humans was the only true remaining universal force: slashing zombies in near slow motion made 28 Days Later lightened and a borderline comedy.
The atheism of Children of Men was by and large devoid of humor because it embraced a very serious humanism, which to me represents a rupture with post modern ‘philosophy of finitude.’ The idea that against a big metaphysical construct, we should practically accept our finitude as our ultimate horizon: there is no absolute truth; all we can do is except the contingency of our existence, we know this too well. The film distorts this seriousness within the looming imminence of apocalypse, where taken from the perspective of fulfilling a life inscribed with meaning – the world of the films have torn down the post modern truth constellation(s), where multiple truth options are available, in this instance, all action depends on a sensible universal code, and multiple truths are taken to be superfluous.
Truth is more accessible in the films because truth is now outside of meaning and the characters are actually acting within a noumenal realm devoid of a God centered cosmology. This disavowal of the crisis of non-absolute truth and post modern relativism is brought into a more symmetrical dimension of truth, outside of meaning, where truth is now real.
As we all know, the ontology of the New Age is inherently feminine, as in the DaVinci Code effect, we are experiencing a metaphysical reassertion of the feminine intuition as a collective universal source of revealed truth. The best decision of Children of Men (of course this was not a conscious decision), was to parody the feminine by denying any mystical or religious qualities to the first child, or to the loose Biblical allegory of Joseph and Mary delivering the Messiah, etc. The refugee mother was a mockery of the New Age ying and yang revival of the feminine deity, through the disavowal of any spiritual significance to her character, the notion of her pregnancy was utterly arbitrary; this brought the only real mystical aspect of the film into the mysterious Human Project, which was a sort of imminent scientific community on the verge of solving the riddle of utopia. Yet, the scientific struggle is the real home for the genre.
The class theory in Children of Men was based on a new and perceptive stratification split by fist world vs. third world, where wide swaths of “immigrants” were segregated, (which was never fully explained except through inference that the neo-fascist super state was acting out extreme torture and genocide, apparently hidden from the viewer? obviously though, what ever was happening to the others was through the classic fascistic fear of “the other behind the other,”) and a reversion to a sort of negated nationalism/multicultural state composed of a confused tapestry of competing narratives vying for dominance amongst a disunited state, who’s elite held a collective ethical memory about the horror of Eugenics. After all, the film did not methodologically explain genocide. The message is clear however, in a post modern state, Eugenics has lost its connection to ethnicity or race, and conflict has split to a globalized first and third world. This denial and return to national, ethnic and racial allegiance makes the films post modern finitude even starker. The classical score enmeshed with gritty WWIII realism – all violence was riddled with overly literal fear, seeking to evoke the real situation of the film as that much more plausible, as an event that could happen. The pretentious Fascist allegories exemplified in the character that assists the Clive Owen and the mother was our proto Nazi, scarred from the violence, he had cessated his “ego in the machine” as all timeless Fascists.
In both films, the utopian aspects revolve around a Heideggerian “danger” as found in the highly influential essay, “On the Question Concerning Technology.” The basic predicament of the utopian trope is that the ontic might one day swallow the ontological. The real question of dystopian film revolves around survival of the human race, or in reality, maintaining a “being-human” of humankind. After all, all utopian work, whether computer and data processing based, or dealing with strictly human themes, (as in these two films) consists of a larger dialectic between: the perverted dream of the passage from hardware to software, of a subjectivity floating freely between different embodiments – and the dystopia, or the nightmare that humans voluntarily turn themselves into computer programs, or in this case into non-human bodies. As Fredric Jameson argues in Archaeologies of the Future, the utopian trope is emerging as a new political ideology, where texts are inscribed with inherent reference to the false and positive forces of a new ideological coin, in constant struggle with an imminent utopian vision. Arahaeologies of the Future argues that the post-labor Marxist world, or the “cybernetic age,” a comparison to Marx’s “general intellect,” where we have witnessed a closing of loopholes and an opening of concrete world-market space where any notion of a “centered subject” has overcome possibility. This realm of post individualities is the spae within which we must view the films, as they (as well as the entire dystopian genre of entertainment, whether high or low art) seek to develop a realistic space where the real (everyday post industrial reality) is “cognitively estranged.”
Notice though that class as an anxiety based around money was devoid in both films, which is another testament to the original work on Utopia by Moore, that utopian fantasy is based on a potent societal ill that depends on the nihilation of the endemic problem of capitol. Indeed in Moore’s Utopia the society did not even have a monetary based system of exchange.
Why is the notion of death not made more real? I argue that in the real of post individualities, death is measured in generations, not in individual biological units. This tendency is itself tied to utopian ideology as the imaginary space within the perceived social space, the very possibility of the space is hinged on the differential between social and spatial dynamics. Clearly, we are dealing with an escape from the material world, in a metaphyscial and psychodynamical way.
Kant’s ethics bring clarity to the situation of the ultimate dystopian realization and also hold bearing on neurobioligy and mind science experiments, (which to me is the ultimate enemy of the religio-New Age world views even though the New Age and traditionalists are at odds. With the slow advent of nano technology, the current understanding of mind science renders neurons/human minds to function as a computer; Kant would argue that scientific intervention into the realm of electrodes and biophysiological imposition is an entering into the noumenal realm of human reality. The noumenal realm is actually the source of the highest divinity and spiritual truth, that when man touches, or even glimpses this realm, as in Plato’s cave allegory, when man grasps the shadows of truth as reveled by reflection from the sun – to live in that realm of pure actuality, as in the Matrix, which is literal and pure reality – in this case we have truly become more than man. This full scientific naturalization of the human mind is the apocalypse of the real and the basis of the struggle of utopia.
I picture the hero fighting the non human(s) absorbed in the noumenal realm and fighting against the (non)humans to reassert the misbalanced reality of everyday reality in order to seek reconciliation with the distorted truth constellations and to reassert a more centered universal reality. The hero is also seeking to transcend the Protestant ethos of “if it suffers it must be good” mantra of contingent existence which is intimately tied to the explosion of truth options as found in our current world of thought. The New Age cosmology cannot reconcile it’s Protestant origin and is really a minor alteration of the Protestant ethos – at least in terms of its treatment of subjectivity and the question of science vs. religion, as is the “philosophy of finitude” and decentered post modern truth constellation(s), while both are at odds with one another we can locate these discourses through a parallax reading.