Children of Men
Frightening futuristic thriller speculates on a world on the brink of collapse
By Devin D. O’Leary
Children of Men
Directed by Alfonso Cuarón
Cast: Clive Owen, Julianne Moore
One day, somewhere down the line, some enterprising film critic or cinema historian is going to write a biography on the life and work of Mexican-born writer/director Alfonso Cuarón. That person is going to have their work cut out for them trying to make heads or tails out of Cuarón’s brilliant but bafflingly diverse résumé.
Cuarón burst onto the international scene with the sweetly antiquated kids film A Little Princess in 1995. He followed that with an odd modernization of Dickens’ Great Expectations. The deliciously smutty, Oscar-nominated sex drama Y tu Mamá También arrived in 1998. Quite logically, he next tackled the multi-million-dollar family fantasy Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. And now comes Cuarón’s latest, a controversy-courting adaptation of British author P.D. James’ sci-fi thriller Children of Men.
Set in the year 2027, Children of Men examines a world torn apart by political strife and ecological destruction. Twenty short years in our future, the world lies on the edge of collapse. For unknown reasons, all women on Earth have been rendered infertile. Populations are crashing around the globe. Only England’s government remains at all stable. As expected, Old Blighty has evolved into a well-armed fascist state, fighting off domestic terrorists on the one flank and an overwhelming tide of illegal immigrants on the other.
Our guide through this dystopian world is Theodore Faron (Clive Owen, Inside Man), a beaten-down government worker who gets through his day on caffeine and apathy. One cloudy, trash-strewn day, Theodore is tossed into a van by antigovernment forces. What looks like an ugly Patty Hearst-style kidnapping quickly turns a corner, however. The leader of this rebellious band turns out to be Julianne Moore (Boogie Nights, Far From Heaven), who just happens to be our protagonist’s ex-girlfriend. Seems that Theo was once a rabble-rousing activist himself. Moore’s character has a proposal for Theo: If he’ll agree to help secure transport papers for a young refugee girl under the protection of the Fishes (not the best name in the world for a terrorist organization), they’ll give him a chunk of much-needed dough.
Against his better judgment, Theo agrees. Naturally, everything goes wrong and he finds himself fleeing across the civil war-torn country with 19-year-old Kee (Claire-Hope Ashitey) in tow and a whole assortment of gun-toting baddies in pursuit. Turns out Kee is pregnant, a medical miracle which makes her a hot commodity to both government agents and rebel forces.
Theo’s backstory is only gradually revealed and doesn’t do a lot to flesh out the film’s rather iconic characters. Michael Caine does have a nice cameo, though, as Theo’s hippie-ish father figure, and his relationship with Theo does quite a bit to warm up the otherwise icy film. The tension builds well, however, resulting in the film’s best moments--from white-knuckle escapes to an incredibly action-packed wrap-up.
Cuarón’s vision of the future is plausible enough to send the occasional chill down your spine. Freely mixing elements of V for Vendetta and Brazil, the film creates an end-of-the-world scenario that is firmly linked to today’s world. The entire film was shot with a handheld camera and much of it--the epic final set-piece in particular--feels like actual documentary footage from Bosnia or Iraq.
For the most part, Children of Men is a deceptively simple but unmistakably intense chase film with some hot-button political issues (homeland security, terrorism, illegal immigration) strewn about the background. The script is most concentrated on Theo’s improvised efforts to deliver Kee to a much-rumored secret organization known as The Human Project. Allegedly the last group of scientists on Earth, they will take Kee and her baby to a safe haven. What all this means to mankind (which has already suffered a catastrophic population crash) seems largely academic. Although it doesn’t sound like the most hopeful of premises, Children of Men advances the idea that even in the most dire of circumstances, some people will still fight to do what’s right. Underneath all the whizzing bullets and the beautifully grimy production design is a pointed lesson: Perhaps we should start doing the right thing before things get so far out of hand.
Keep up the good work, Mr. Cuarón. I can’t wait to see what you tackle next.
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