“How to do justice to a chaotic, viscously contingent reality, and yet redeem it?” Kermode,145, about La Nausée.
I believe most people would agree with me on that the most conspicuous characteristic of the film “Children of Men” is its conscious realism. The director and the scriptwriter were evidently bent on creating a narrative that is completely different from your average Hollywood cliché storm. The film definitely looks like an iconoclast in comparison to any mainstream Hollywood action-adventure film; with an average looking, African woman as the heroine, the complete lack of romance between the hero and the heroine, the casual slaying of a prominent character at the very beginning of the film. However, once you look through all that, it’s yet another narrative in which the whole universe seems to help the protagonists to achieve their happy (or maybe in this case, bittersweet) ending. Not surprisingly, the film doesn’t fail to employ its religious imagery, either. You’d think a director with an ambition to portray a contingent world would avoid the implication that the chaotic future will imitate some semi-mythical events from two thousand years ago.
“The Children of Men” is a popular movie with commercial concerns, so some of its more conventional elements are probably deliberate decisions on the producers’ part to be able to address the average viewer. However, according to Kermode, even works created in serious attempts at avoiding such “fraudulent fictions”, like La Nausée, can never be free of some conventional forms and imagined causalities, as long as they have such a concern as to communicate, that is. Characters, for example, are not always placed in stories because they were created (imagined) as heroes, sometimes they become heroes just by virtue of being placed in a story, (thus having to face a conflict,) like Sartre’s Roquentin. According to Kermode, Sartre himself is aware of the inevitability of forms, whenever one tries to tell a story; so what he attempts to do is to introduce the world of contingency into the world of the novel. Kermode quotes him in page 145, saying: “The final aim of art is to reclaim the world by revealing it as it is, but as if it had its source in human liberty.” What I understand from this is that he thinks human life will take a meaning by being faced with its own meaninglessness; only after we realize the absolute contingency of the world and time our fictions will stop being fraudulent, because when we are fully aware that they’re fictions, they’ll be true fictions.
Zone One, once again, seems to be a perfect manifestation of existentialist concerns. One might even say (judging by Kermode’s description of Sartre’s novel) that Whitehead does it better than Sartre. Is Mark Spitz tragic? Maybe a little. But at least he doesn’t seem to carry the burden of any moral responsibility. Although he’s in some sort of depression, he doesn’t feel the “nausea”, he doesn’t feel responsible for finding a meaning in this world of contingency. Maybe that’s why, I don’t find him to be a thoroughly identifiable character. Which, I think, gives Zone One the most part of its realistic (that is, as realistic as can be in a book about the zombie-apocalypse) feel. We watch all the characters from outside, without thoroughly identifying with them; without really wondering how and where they’re going to end up. This post-apocalyptic world is almost blasphemously dull and mundane. It’s funny that Mark Spitz should also comment on this, on page 196, when he thinks sarcastically about how he’s been granted his childhood dreams of adventure. The sad fact he realizes is that, adventures are wonderful and exciting only in a novel. They become dangerous and stressful or annoying and routine when we actually go through them, in real life.