“Children of Men” Movie Review

My God. The things that Man will do to one another when they forget the sound of cries and laughter from children. This science-fiction drama thriller initially premiered at the 63rd Venice International Film Festival, where it won an award for achievement in cinematography. And although it debuted to the top spot in the United Kingdom, when it was released in the U.S. on Christmas Day of that year, it failed to really make a dent. The Universal Pictures production ended up only making back $70 million against a $75 million  budget. Although, it was nominated for various year-end awards, and has grown dramatically in reputation in the years since its release. Directed and co-written by Alfonso Cuarón, the film is an extremely loose adaptation of P.D. James’ novel of the same name, the first draft of which was written back in 2001. Shooting was temporarily pushed back while the director worked on Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, during which he drew several influences from The Battle of Algiers as well as his own experiences living in Britain. During production, the infamous 7/7 London bombings occurred, but this apparently did not deter the cast or crew in much capacity. Set in the year 2027, humanity has been completely infertile for nearly two decades, causing most of society as we know it to collapse. The few functioning governments left create massive, harsh sanctions against immigrants or refugees of any kind, causing consistent violence. In the city of London, a bureaucrat named Theo Faron, played by Clive Owen, is approached by a militant, pro-immigrant activist group called the Fishes and is strong-armed into escorting a young refugee named Kee away from the chaos. It becomes especially important since Kee is, miraculously, the first woman to become pregnant in 18 years. As the 24th and final film in my New Year’s resolution, I wanted to tackle yet another highly regarded picture that I had never seen before. I had heard many a great chatter about this film for a long time, with some people even going so far as to say that it’s the best sci-fi movie of the 21st Century so far. And I have loved virtually every film that Alfonso Cuarón has made since Y Tu Mamá Tambien, so this felt like a completion of sorts. Plus, it was super enticing to see what his take on a near-apocalyptic future would look like. And I couldn’t have picked a better film to round out my resolution with because Children of Men is an essential, moving, and utterly captivating film to behold. I’m sure many people have said it already, but I feel one of the biggest reasons for its power is how it has- unfortunately -only become more relevant in recent years. 2027 is not that far away anymore and while there has yet to be an infertility pandemic, more and more countries are closing off their borders and turning to fear-mongering as their next generations are seemingly ignored or forgotten. Through context, we learn of the decadence that the remains of humanity have turned to in a child-less world, one where there’s seemingly no hope for the future. What makes Children of Men so terrifying is how much Cuarón grounds the story in reality, creating a plausible scenario where the last hope of our species is surrounded by a bleak world. I’ve liked Clive Owen in various projects over the years, but his turn as Theo Faron is easily the best performance of his career. Having apparently been heavily involved in early writing, he completely owns this character as a cynical man who’s lost nearly all faith in his fellow man. But when the time comes, he truly steps up to the plate in complete selflessness to protect what’s really important. Julianne Moore and Michael Caine do respectable work as Faron’s ex-wife/the leader of the Fishes and his drug dealing friend, respectively. Although they’re not in the movie for very long, each leaves a lasting impact as they relish roles unusual for their careers and we really feel a past history they had with Theo. There are also a number of unexpectedly strong supporting players such as Chiwetel Ejiofor, Charlie Hunnam, Danny Huston, Peter Mullan, Oana Pellea, and Pam Farris. Then, there’s Kee, played by Claire Hope-Ashitey. Although her character doesn’t exist in the original novel, she stands as the embodiment of the recent single-origin hypothesis- that all human life began on Africa. It’s a beautiful allegory and she carries many of her scenes with all of the confusion and strength and weight of a young mother-to-be. We immediately grow to care about her, and not just because she potentially has the key to human survival, but that others seek to take advantage of this. Meanwhile, the filmmaking aspects of Children of Men show Alfonso Cuarón being in complete control of his craft once more. With his regular collaborator Emmanuel Lubezki, the cinematography helps to make an utterly bleak future look quite gorgeous. There are a number of extremely impressive long takes, such as a mounted perspective of an attack on the group in a car or a shaky camera following Theo through a violent war-torn city. The use of natural lighting is especially effective as we get to gradually see details of this world come into focus through the sunlight or by other ways. Cuarón also edits the film like many of his other works, this time in collaboration with longtime friend Alex Rodríguez. There are thankfully a number of good cuts to go around, as some of the one-take scenes begin to get exhausting after a little bit. It also manages to help capture certain parts of the action from different angles and perspectives, which keeps things consistently interesting. There is a instrumental film score, albeit a minimal one, composed and conducted by the late John Tavener. It’s not a traditional score, as the few tracks written feel extremely fluid with one another. The most predominant track is “Fragments of a Prayer,” which uses both dynamic vocals and ethereal strings to create a spiritual atmosphere. Some of the others use full-scale choirs and even flutes and unique percussion instruments. Many of these elements come together for a scene near the end that creates a true sense of emotional beauty. My jaw dropped and my heart stopped as it went on, a momentary pause in a fictional world so devoid of any hope. I can’t really write about it here because it’s so hard to describe in its power, despite its apparent simplicity, but all I can say is that I was left stunned. Frighteningly relevant today, but never succumbing to its bleakness, Children of Men is a hauntingly stark vision of human nature in dystopia. It celebrates some of our best qualities while simultaneously condemning the ones that make us worse off. Alfonso Cuarón is a true master of finding incredible subtext within even the simplest of stories, painting a sci-fi world in a way that feels like it could become a reality. Let’s hope that it never does.

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