A few days back I finally managed to convince my hubby to watch one of my favorite movies of all time, Caurón’s Children of Men. Needless to say, he loved it. But, because I was also neck-deep in working with the Major Arcana of the Tarot, I couldn’t help but to see certain parallels throughout the movie’s narrative structure and characters. What follows is my humble attempt to map the journey of the Tarot’s Major Arcana onto the plot of the movie.
Note: The movie’s depiction of Britain as an apocalyptic, white nationalist police state rings very true and powerful at moments like now in U.S. history. Their crisis was a zero birth rate. Ours is more multifaceted, but one must wonder: How can we avoid such a future? I can’t help but to notice that the majority of people in the movie who weren’t violent activists were merely apathetic automatons. Even the lovable and brilliant Syd seems to have almost entirely given up now that his privilege and sorrows have led him to a self-sufficient cabin in the woods.
0. The Fool
The story obviously begins with Theo in a blind/heedless state of numbness. He is not seeking the journey ahead, and for a while won’t even be aware of it. Therefore, he is the reversed Fool card.
1. The Magician
Having started from a reversed position, it is only natural that Theo has to be asked to become a sort of magician by his wife (see next card). The Magician’s meaning is to use the elements of one’s life in a successful transformation or miracle. Theo does this when he gets passes for himself and Kee from his cousin (himself a fallen hero archetype).
2. The Highest Priestess
This role is served by Julian, who used to be married to Theo and now leads the Fishes. The High Priestess is a figure of authority, encountered after the Magician. She embodies the mysteries of life and death, and is the first signpost along the Fool’s journey. This is all evident in the way Julian involves Theo in the plot, but might be reversed because of the secrets she keeps hidden.
3. The Empress
This card’s archetype is solidly fulfilled by Kee herself. In most Tarot, the Empress is shown as pregnant and surrounded by bountiful nature. Similarly, when Kee first reveals herself to Theo (as pregnant), she is surrounded by cows and talking about how their nipples are cut off because the milking machines don’t have eight hook ups.
4. The Emperor
This role is serviced by many different people and situation throughout the film, but almost always in its reversed position. In short, the movie’s Emperor is the oppressive system and those who execute its will. It stands in direct opposition to the Empress/Kee and crushes any other powerful female character that even remotely passes the Bechdel test.
5. The Hierophant
The male counterpart of the High Priestess couldn’t have been portrayed better than by Luke. Beyond his Biblical name and violent take-over of the Fishes after Julian’s death, his flawed ideology is more in-line with the Emperor’s monology on violence than any ideal of liberation.
6. The Lovers
This card more often than not represents a life-changing choice beyond one’s ability to grasp. It is also the moment in the Fool’s journey that he fully engages with the quest. In the movie, this is Theo’s choice to take Kee away from the Fishes and attempt to complete Julian’s mission faithfully.
7. The Chariot
The ensuing car scene and their escape happens within a beat-up chariot. In fact, most of the major plot points of the movie has been happening in and around this vehicle. It has already proven difficult to control and steer, like the different forces that rule upon our lives. It is important to note that, when Theo chooses to the quest before him (as the Magician) it is him who has to reign in control of the situation and thus drives the car and the plot.
More than physical strength, this card represents conviction necessary to maintain one’s path through life. Its exercise begets confidence, which is another way of seeing the 8th Major Arcana. Here, we have Theo making a decision to trust the bonds that he has left to get him through his choices.
9. The Hermit
The character of Jasper was already introduced, in keeping with Campbell’s hero’s journey plot structure, but now he finally comes alive in the situation. The Hermit card is an intentional withdrawal from the world to recharge and assimilate lessons learned. This is precisely what the characters do at this time in the journey.
10. The Wheel
Things change, the story progresses, their fortune’s fall. As the fishes close in on their positions (they surround Jasper’s cabin), they are forced to flee once more. All of the characters are forced through traumatic changes of circumstance.
This card is reversed in the story. There is no other way to read what happens here as merciful, good, or just. More accurately, it underlines how the Hierophant/Luke has crossed over into a dark territory of violence and antagonism. The movie signals there is no happy ending, only bittersweet goodbyes.
12. The Hanged Man
This card is a great sacrifice. Traditionally, it alludes to Jesus’ cruxifiction and Odin hanging from the World Tree, but in the movie is comes through the sacrifice of Jasper so that the main characters can escape (and enter a limbo of uncertainty, the Hanged Man reversed). Nothing is gained.
I have seldom been so furious about any fictional character’s death as I am with Jasper’s. The sting of it never fades for me. It is also a massive transformation for one of the movie’s antagonists, the Fishes led by the Heirophant/Luke. They are no longer recklessly misguided. They’re murderous.
Miriam’s backstory comes to the fore here, as they wait in the old abandoned school to be picked up by Syd’s weed contact inside the refugee camp (also a Major Arcana). Temperance is a difficult card in the Major Arcana because it signifies a prolonged moment of transition more than the virtue itself. It is the co-mingling of states: the reality of zero birth rate with the spiritual loss of children’s laughter.
15. The Devil
Syd is the Devil, and not just because he is quite probably insane. From the moment he enters the frame to his return later on, he exemplifies the dark power of the reversed Emperor’s animus: violence, coercion, and imprisonment. As a refugee camp guard, his position of authority maintains the chains that cause endless human suffering.
16. The Tower
This card is manifested as the entire refugee camp, most of which is made up of a seemingly abandoned section of a city–the edifices of old power. For the refugees who are forced to live there, it represents the sharp and cataclysmic downturn of their fortunes. This is also the Devil’s domain, and it has considerable runtime. It is nightmare reality, mingling with some of the following Major Arcana until the end of the movie’s runtime. So long as it is an edifice of inhumanity, the Tower is in a constant state of downfall.
17. The Star
The birth of Kee’s baby is the Star. It is a shining beacon of divine inspiration that reminds those still stuck in Hell that there is a promise of salvation. It is beyond reach, of course, except for the Empress/Kee (her flesh and blood) and the Magician/Theo. In fact, midwifing the birth of the baby is a cornerstone of the character’s development, in light of his past. It is one of the labors of magic brought back to the world.
18. The Moon
Madness and desperation follow the next morning, reminding us that the Moon shines at all hours and all hours are suitable for destruction in the Devil’s Tower. Syd shows up again, as do the Fishes, which leads to the climatic confrontation with the military, bringing us the conclusion.
This card, however, is best epitomized through the character of Marichka, who replaces Miriam as the spiritual light of female wisdom. Marichka, however, exists within the darkness and is thus rarely harmed by it. She is also an embodiment of yet another lunar goddess, Hekate, carrying her lamp and dog and helping Kee and Theo escape this metaphorical Hades.
19. The Sun
A star is also a sun, for those planets in its orbit that receive its grace. The Tarot card itself is often depicted as a child laughing. Kee’s baby emits another noise more in line with its immediate environment, but it has a similar effect nonetheless. It awakens the people in its immediate orbit to the light-returned. Everyone who hears and sees the child is immediately transfixed and awed. The world of chaos parts to let them pass.
The return of conflict just after the baby’s passing and its fiery conclusion off-screen is the Judgment card, reversed. It represents the destruction of the Old World order based on twisted nature and violent despair. The dead may never rise there, which might even include the guards attacking the building full of refugees. For Theo and Kee, the judgment they face is upon the waters and surrounded by fog. It is the journey’s end for the Magician/Theo, whose supreme work of will must always necessarily be to uphold the natural order (as Empress/Kee and the Sun-Child/Dylan).
21. The World
Alone, at last, the final image of the Tarot is that of a woman. The movie ends in a similar fashion. The Empress/Kee has survived, brought her Sun-Child/Dylan to be the promise of the World. As the final shots suggest, the World only truly belongs safely Tomorrow, as do the Children to come.
We are not allowed to know any better. Fade to black. The choice now stands before us as our faces are reflected on the screen:
- Return to the start, begin your own Journey, or
- Become the compost of the New World that inevitably comes.