January 7, 2007

Movie Review: Children of Men

Posted in Movies at 1:25 am by Calico Jack

I sneaked a peek at the reviews for Children of Men before I went to see the movie, and I found many reviewers calling it the best sci-fi film of the year. But I think it is a mistake to call this movie science fiction, as the only thing it has in common with such films as Blade Runner, Gattaca, or Dark City is the premise of an overwhelmingly oppressive society. There is no science in Children of Men, only human drama. Its vision of of Britain in the year 2027 is strikingly, eerily similar to today’s world; there are no flying cars or talking robots or any of the other trappings of traditional science fiction. Because director Alfonso Cuarón’s vision is so consonant to our own lives, the film is riveting from the first frame to the last.

Eighteen years after the last baby on earth was born, human civilization is rapidly collapsing. The only bright spot, we are told, is Britain, which has managed to keep its society intact by transforming into a near-fascist police state with an ironhanded anti-immigration policy. Clive Owen plays Theo, a former political activist turned bureaucratic drone whose connections lead long-ago lover Julian (Julianne Moore) to seek his help in transporting a woman to the coasts of England. Theo has buried his long-repressed pain, and for the first part of Children of Men he is merely a shell without emotion. When asked by weed-smoking hippie Jasper (Michael Caine) “Why do you think we can’t make babies anymore?” Theo carelessly replies, “It doesn’t matter. It’s all over in fifty years.” Yet his agreement to help Kee (Clare-Hope Ashitey) reach the shores and contact the mysterious Human Project leads to a sudden realization that perhaps there is still a small spark hope left for humankind.

To say anything more about the plot would give far too much away; even the trailer summarizes the film more than I would have liked. But rest assured that Children of Men is a richly textured movie which asks several thought-provoking questions that linger far beyond the closing credits. This is an alternately engrossing and terrifying film, leavened only sporadically by flashes of dark humor. I expected a grim, dystopian movie, but not one this disturbing. Through it all Cuarón shows his unbelievable prowess as a visionary, from the smallest of clothing details to the way in which he carefully crafts and frames each scene. There are many scenes lasting for several minutes long, each which consist of only one take on a handheld camera. I have never seen anything like the cinematography displayed here, and its effect is one of jarring immediacy. Each supporting character, especially Chiwetel Ejiofor, gives a solid performance; there is not a weak spot among the cast.

Children of Men, ironically enough, is not at all appropriate for children (and some adults, I would suspect.) Thanks to Cuarón, the violence, although graphically visceral, is never glorified — only displayed in its full ugliness. I was often reminded of how ordinary people living in places like Baghdad or Kosovo must feel when the violence rages all around them. Yet even during humanity’s darkest hour, the mere presence of hope can provide a point of calm in the midst of carnage.

I suspect that I will be pondering this movie for some time to come. It is deeply thought-provoking and haunting, filled with images of both sorrow and hope. Children of Men is not one to watch when looking for a cheerful timewaster; but as a masterpiece of the mind and of art, it is without recent equal. One of the best films of 2006 warrants a solid A.

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