For years now, I've been discussing some critical insights about the practice of contraception gleaned from P.D. James' novel "The Children of Men." After viewing Alfonso Cuarón's recently released film version, I advise that book and film be kept in tandem. Only with a book-and-film partnership will the boldness and baldness of P.D. James's original message sound loud and clear.
James' apocalyptic thesis, one she forcefully drives home with every turn of page, is galvanizing. The universal inability to procreate -- the 2021 pandemic of infertility gripping the world since 1995 and sucking the air out of civilization -- spawns a hopeless, hapless and ruthless British society, the last bastion of social order.
In this childless and dying universe, James demonstrates how the safety and well-being of the "superior" minority are realized through programs of genocide, euthanasia and eugenics against the "inferior" elderly, immigrant and handicapped.
What's more, James wastes no time in proving to the reader that the phenomenon of non-elective infertility brings dehumanizing sequelae to people's sex lives.
Through diary entries of her main character, historian Theodore Faron, James shrewdly contrasts pre-1995 attitudes toward elective infertility with post-1995 mindsets.
Reflecting back 28 years, Faron writes: "Much of this I can trace to the early 1990s . . . . Pornography and sexual violence on film, on television, in books, in life, had increased and become more explicit but less and less in the West we made love and bred children. It seemed at the time a welcome development in a world grossly polluted by overpopulation. As a historian I see it as the beginning of the end" (italics added).
Price of sterility
But what about the implications of James' thesis? Well, for one, this British author is chillingly convincing in her implicit controlling idea: Should we, as a society, continue to think that our near-universal choice to be infertile through birth control is a benign state or a neutral choice? Or, are we going to wake up and take a more critical look at what originally was hailed, among other things, as a panacea for our marital and overpopulation problems?
James shows how a society unable to replace itself is one that inevitably becomes top-heavy with the aged. Logically, then, the British elderly of 2021 represent a drain on resources, both societal and familial. The solution to this infertility-induced difficulty is called the "Quietus," a euphemistic term masking the systematic murder of the old, the sick and the senile.
Capitalizing on the sundered nexus between the procreative capacity and what makes us most human, James depicts Britain's fascist government of 2021 in unanimous agreement that countless immigrants -- forced to flee the anarchy of their homelands -- must be deported.
Exiled to the Isle of Man and its penal colony, these 21st-century holocaust victims are left to die at the hands of their own worst representatives.
Where the film fails
In his film adaptation, Cuarón focuses attention only on this latter infertility-induced evil. But without the rich complexity of the book's thematic hub, the film fails to credibly account for either the draconian nature of governmental actions or the seeming chimerical response by activists and terrorists. Only if viewers read the book will they be able to make sense of the activists' hope of reversing the scourge of imposed infertility.
A good read would also lead to resolution of other questions the film leaves unanswered: What, in final analysis, is the point of Cuarón's infertile world? What's the connection between universal infertility, the Quietus (referred to in passing but never explained), and the attempt to free the hostage immigrants?
Thankfully, book and film converge with the surprise ending of a modern-day nativity of sorts. Thus, both genres sound the same critically important closing theme: The sole "savior" for the decaying world of 2021 (and, by implication, for our world of 2007) is the birth of a child, the fruit of a loving act of sex that is open to life.
Only the birth of a baby could overturn Faron's prediction that the practice of universal birth control -- elective infertility -- would prove to be "the beginning of the end."
Sister Renée Mirkes, O.S.F., is the ethics director of the Pope Paul VI Institute in Omaha, Neb.