Children of Men
Director : Alfonso Cuarón
Screenplay : Alfonso Cuarón & Timothy J. Sexton and David Arata and Mark Fergus & Hawk Ostby (based on the novel by P.D. James)
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 2006
Stars : Clive Owen (Theodore Faron), Julianne Moore (Julian Taylor), Chiwetel Ejiofor (Luke), Charlie Hunnam (Patric), Danny Huston (Nigel), Claire-Hope Ashitey (Kee), Peter Mullan (Syd), Pam Ferris (Miriam), Michael Caine (Jasper Palmer)
Children of Men posits a frightening near future in which the world is collapsing because women have become inexplicably barren. Terrified by the prospect of their own extinction, the human race has turned on itself, resulting in societies around the world burning themselves to the ground in a panic. The only country still standing is Great Britain, and it is teetering on the dangerous edge of oblivion. Grayish images of illegal aliens in cages, paramilitary police patrolling the streets, and decaying buildings plastered with graffiti and littered with garbage are unsettling corollaries to much of what we see on cable news every day--today’s wounds festering out of control.
Based on the novel by P.D. James, Children of Men is a rare futuristic thriller that strikes deep at the heart of current problems. Considering recent worldwide population numbers, there is no shortage of fertility, but there is a horrifying shortage of peace, understanding, and general good will. The idea of the world spinning out of control is all too real right now, and infertility works as a startling metaphor for the true end of innocence (the film opens with world’s youngest person, an 18-year-old Brazilian, having recently been knifed to death for refusing to sign an autograph). Not since Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange (1971) envisaged a rotting future of teen-gang ultraviolence has a film so thoroughly and successfully imagined a dystopia right around the corner.
The film’s central character is Theo (Clive Owne), a one-time activist who has since slumped into a vague stupor of lethargy. He is shaken back to life when his ex-wife, Julian (Julianne Moore), a still-committed and wanted political activist, suddenly appears and asks him to help her ferry a young woman named Kee (Claire-Hope Ashitey) to the coast past governmental checkpoints. Unbeknownst to Theo, Kee is pregnant, the first woman in the world to be in that state in 18 years. Thus, she becomes a pawn in a game with life-and-death consequences, with Theo trying to get her into the hands of a benevolent, but potentially nonexistent group known as The Human Project while others try to use her to give credence to their political uprising.
Children of Men was directed by Alfonso Cuarón, who had the art house hit Y tu mamá también in 2001 and solidified his standing in the international film community with the best of the Harry Potter series, 2004’s Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. He is as comfortable with intimate drama as he is with special-effects-laden action sequences, and he also brings a much needed sense of humor to the material without cheapening it or losing the intensity (his first film, 1991’s Sólo con tu pareja, was an attempt to update the screwball genre). There are several sequences in the film, including a chase involving characters pushing a stalled car and just about any scene with Michael Caine as Jasper, a former political cartoonist turned hippie recluse, that are light and funny, and their comfortable placement in a film that is otherwise frighteningly grim speaks to Cuarón’s ability to juggle tones.
The film as a whole also speaks to Cuarón’s impressive visual dexterity. Along with his frequent cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki (who recently shot Terence Malick’s elegiac The New World), Cuarón put together several extended sequences that appear to run for 10 minutes or more without a single edit. And these are not simple set-ups, but complex action sequences, including a jarring and violent car chase in which the camera swoops in and out of a speeding car, shaking in you-are-there vérite fashion while also gliding with a fluid sense of artistry that leaves you breathless. Ditto for another lengthy scene near the end in which Theo navigates an urban warzone gun battle between government soldiers and resistance fighters while trying to find Kee in a crumbling apartment tower.
Of course, these scenes would be little more than technical wizardry were they not grounded in such a palpable sense of time and place and a narrative urgency that keeps your eyes glued to the screen and your mind racing. If Children of Men sometimes oversteps in its political imagery, perhaps pushing current issues a little too pressingly, it never feels anything less than enthralling. Its portrait of the world in collapse is visceral and memorable and will make all those shaky images of violent aftermath on current news programs that we want so desperately to brush away resonate with a newfound fear of the inevitable.
Copyright ©2007 James Kendrick
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All images copyright ©2006 Universal Pictures