Come for the brilliant filmmaking, stay for the sounds of children’s laughter as the credits run over your screen. Children of Men is one hell of a film.
Children of Men
Alfonso Cuaron’s Science Fiction film Children of Men is devastatingly beautiful. The film is full of ugly greys and a tone that suggests nothing other than failure and yet, it’s the most hopeful film I have ever seen. There are so many things that make the film special but above all the film is a technical marvel. Cuaron should have easily won Best Director the year it was up for Academy Awards but alas, the film only pulled in nominations for Screenplay, Editing and Cinematography. All of which the film lost.
We are plunged into the middle of chaos at the beginning of the film. When the film begins we find out the youngest person on Earth, an Argentine named Diego, has died at the age of 18. 18? How is this possible? Soon we find out that humans have lost the ability to reproduce. We are dying out. As soon as this distinct possibility catches hold of the minds of the world, civilizations everywhere crumble. Governments collapse as there is no hope left in the world. The only bright spot on the globe is Great Britain. I use the term bright lightly as Britain itself is a cesspool.
We are introduced to Theo (Clive Owen) within a minute of the film starting. We follow him for nearly every second of the film. He is our guide to this disgusting world we now inhabit. He works for the government and spends a lot of his time hanging out with his old friend Jasper, played by Michael Caine. Caine’s performance is sensational. Jasper spends pretty much all of his days watching over his wife who is now a mute.
A few days after the news of “Baby” Diego’s death, Theo runs into his ex-wife Julian. She’s played by Julianne Moore. She now runs with a small terrorist group known as The Fishes. Theo’s past with his ex is a troubled one. They seemed to have split after the grieving over the death of their young child got the best of both of them. I guess it’s hard to say he runs into her when in actuality The Fishes kidnap Theo in broad daylight. The Fishes then demand that Theo escorts a mysterious girl out of London.
The girl is an immigrant to Britain. Normally this isn’t a big issue, but with the world in a complete state of disarray, Britain has outlawed anyone from entering the country. Theo hitches a ride with Julian and her cohorts as they take this immigrant (her name is Kee) out of the city to refuge at a cottage in the English country side. What Theo discovers next is the biggest revelation anyone could have made in 20 years. Kee is pregnant.
The rest of Children of Men has Theo taking control of Kee’s destiny into his hands as he guides her to the The Human Project. This project (that may or may not exist) consists of a group of scientists dedicated to finding out why humans cannot conceive anymore and trying to possibly find a cure.
As I mentioned earlier, the filmmaking choices in Children of Men are some of the best any director has made in recent years. Everything on a technical level is brilliant. Most movies would’ve had a narration or an opening crawl explaining the film’s situation. Cuaron instead chooses to explore the plot of the film with information about the collapse of the world being provided in the background. Newspaper clippings, newscasts, protesting marches through the city and massive digital billboards show the audience what kind of world we live in. He trusts his audience to go along with this. All of this works with ease as we unknowingly go along with tons of information being thrown at us.
In terms of the film’s special effects, Cuaron makes the right choice not to distract from the film. Instead he uses them to enhance the world the film occupies. Some shots of London are given a dystopian uplift as tons of huge LCD screens adorn the buildings of the English metropolis. These screens show everything from ads about how to turn in an immigrant to world news. The visual effects also help out with Emmanuel Lubezki’s stunning Cinematography.
Lubezki’s camera work is some of the best this decade, if not the best. In fact, it’s a crime he lost the Oscar for it. Cuaron’s direction and Lubezki’s camera team to put you as close to the action as possible. Using hand held camera work we are thrown alongside Theo as if we were helping him.
Cuaron made a decision to film as much as the film as possible in long takes. This heightens the realism of the film. There are a lot of long takes in the film and if that isn’t enough to keep the actors on their toes, then a couple of exquisitely fine set pieces will. There are two scenes in the film that are downright insane in terms of their difficulty to film.
The first scene involves Theo, Julian, Kee and two members of The Fishes as they are driving through a road in the forest as they are viciously attacked by a marauding gang. The camera is situated in the middle of the car during the attack and basically turns in a 360 degree angle for over 4 minutes showing the carnage being inflicted on the group. The camera work combined with the visual effects creates a realistic nightmare for us as we are situated right in the middle of all the action.
The second shot of brilliance comes at the end of the film and has to be one of the greatest shots ever put forth on the silver screen. Lasting over 6 minutes the camera follows Theo through a hellish warzone as he seeks out to protect Kee from those who mean to do her harm. Following him through bullets, explosions, blown out cars and eventually a dilapidated building; the camera never loses him. Granted the shot is aided by visual effects it’s nonetheless audacious filmmaking.
The production design of the film is top notch. Every scene feels completely authentic to the film’s setting. I can’t imagine the planning of the film or even the shooting of it. The streets of London, even if it’s the last civilized city left, are a complete mess. Trash permeates the streets of the city and makes the city look like a decaying cavity that is Britain’s society.
What makes Children of Men so special is its endearing heart that pushes its characters hope through the most terrible odds. The film is the most violent Valentine ever filmed about the endurance of the human spirit. In a world of absolutely no hope, a man is given the most arduous task of his life. Everything is stacked against him. What do you even do with the only child born in 20 years? Do you trust a group who wants to use the baby as a symbol for a society to overthrow its government? Or do you take it to a one that may not even exist? Children of Men throws Theo head first into these tribulations.
What I love about the film is how it presents hope. Hope is one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to describe. Hope is a thing not guaranteed. I first saw the film during a time in my life where I was pretty down and out. When I finished it, I wasn’t given the answers I needed, but instead I was filled with the confidence I needed to make changes.
That’s what makes the film so special. It doesn’t tell you everything but it does supply the idea that anything, no matter how difficult, can be accomplished. The film plays by these rules too. The film ends on a note that doesn’t show you what ends up happening as a result of this pregnant woman. It ends at a pretty abrupt moment. But the point I think most people miss is that this is Theo’s story. Not the pregnant woman’s. When he leaves the story, the film is done. But the idea that something good will come about from all of the hard work is what I think the film is about.
Alfonso Cuaron is a Mexican director of vast talent. He has shown great promise in the past with such films as Y tu Mama Tambien and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (easily the best of the series), but Children of Men is Alfonso on another level. His previous films only hinted at what he accomplishes here. There is no stopping him either. The film he is involved with now (Gravity), looks to see him taking his filmmaking to the next step.
Despite its ugliness and crassness, Children of Men is a film of great beauty. Yes, it is very violent and full of brutality. The film, however, shows great moments of tenderness throughout; enough at least to keep our hearts cheering for a happy outcome to all the suffering endured by Theo and Kee. Never has the human spirit suffered a more perilous task in a film. Come for the brilliant filmmaking, stay for the sounds of children’s laughter as the credits run over your screen. Children of Men is one hell of a film.