The Fisher King is the keeper of the Grail (the Holy Grail in Christian stories), which is symbolic of fertility and everlasting life. Now this doesn’t mean vampire-style immortality, but rather life continuing on through subsequent generations of children (or through Heaven for Christians). Often the Grail is depicted as a goblet, with either life-giving waters inside or Christ’s blood. But Children of Men makes the feminine Grail much more literally a life-giving vessel by embodying it in the pregnant refugee character Kee. When Jasper sees Kee, he exclaims, “Shanti, shanti, shanti.” T.S. Eliot translates this as “the peace which passeth understanding” and ends The Wasteland with the same repetition.
Kee must be delivered into the hands of the Human Project, the elite group of scientists and thinkers working to restore order and fertility to the world. The Fishes, the rebel group Julian leads, finds her first, but they need to get her to the Human Project’s boat, called Tomorrow. The boat, well-named, is the literal deliverer of tomorrow by rescuing Kee from the chaos of Britain. Kee is the key to Tomorrow. (A bit on the nose, no?)
The Holy Grail links the ancient, pre-Christian Fisher King myth to the sacrifice and resurrection of Christ, since this is the same Grail he offers his apostles in the Last Supper. Although Children of Men doesn’t have an overt Christian message, the theme of faith is crucial, and Kee is likened to the Virgin Mary (though she makes a joke of that idea later on). The reveal to both Theo and the audience that Kee is pregnant is set in a barn, or manger. And when Theo realizes what he’s seeing, he exclaims, “Jesus Christ.” When he turns to Luke to confirm what he’s seeing, Luke responds, “It’s a miracle, ain’t it.” All of this sets up Kee’s baby as the savior of the human race. In this case it is a physical saving, through the return of fertility.
The questing fixes Theo’s stasis. His completion of the quest fixes the infertility. Kee’s decision to name the new baby Dylan, the name of Theo’s lost son, gives him spiritual healing of that wound. But because Theo is the Fisher King, he must die to complete the quest. His death happens moments before the Tomorrow shows up on the horizon, his lifeless, hanging head pointing to the boat in the composition of the shot.
Though this initially is a sad ending, it is laid out by the myth–death restores the cycle–and it is capped by an unambiguously happy closing title card. Children of Men pops back onto the screen, matched with the presumably diegetic sound of children playing on a playground. We don’t see the restoration of children to the world, but we can infer it from the sound of their laughter.
“Running the World” by Jarvic Cocker, one of the songs that accompanies the end credits, is strikingly ironic. It does a couple things. First, the refrain, “C*nts are still running the world,” suggests the power of female genitalia through the double meaning of the slang term, which has been the point of the whole film–women might still be second-class citizens, but good luck running a world without their original functionality. Second, the same lyric suggests that despite the restoration of fertility, men are still just a bunch of wankers, and the problem will return, just as the king must be replaced each time he becomes old or infirm. This is just part of the cycle.