Children of Men is an excellent piece of science fiction movie. Powerful and brooding, the film, based on the eponymous novel by P.D. James, revolves around a unique idea.
Review by SAndman
January 5, 2009
Director: Alfonso Cuarón
novel: P.D. James
screenplay: Alfonso Cuarón, Timothy J. Sexton, David Arata, Mark Fergus and Hawk Ostby
Clive Owen as Theo Faron
Michael Caine as Jasper Palmer
Julianne Moore as Julian Taylor
Maria McErlane as Shirley
Clare-Hope Ashitey as Kee
Theo Faron: I can't really remember when I last had any hope, and I certainly can't remember when anyone else did either. Because really, since women stopped being able to have babies, what's left to hope for?
At the beginning of the twenty-first century humanity is hit by a pandemic of infertility. Men can't make babies any more for reasons unknown. The director of Children of Men, Alfonso Cuaron, never bothers to provide a back story as to the origins of the pandemic, though a couple off-hand explanations are put forward by various characters throughout the movie. But this lack of explanation, rather than crippling the plot, actually works in favor of the movie adding to the overall gloom.
The plot of Children of Men centers on the character of Theo Faron (Clive Owen), the former activist turned disillusioned civil servant with a drinking problem. In the opening scene, as Theo walks into a coffee house he witnesses an outpouring of public grief triggered by the death of Baby Diego, the world's youngest living man who was stabbed to death by a fan after denying him an autograph.
The faces of the customers are glued to the TVs which broadcast the news of Baby Diego's death. Somebody's sobbing in the background while most customers are stunned speechless. Only Theo doesn't seem to be affected by the news. Casting a cursory glance at the screen, his face deadpan, he buys his coffee and walks out. Moments later as Theo stops down the street to spike his brew the coffee house blows up.
Home-grown terrorism, security state, paranoia and the all-pervading sense of futility underpin the harsh realities of the world Theo lives in. It is a world in which the Western civilization has descended into chaos and anarchy, and England is the only country which seems to have maintained a semblance of law and order, albeit at the price of becoming a police state with all the usual checkpoints, buses full of immigrants escorted by the police, TV commercials instigating anti-immigration sentiments, ghettos overflowed with luckless non-English residents, detention camps with barbed-wire fences and watchtowers.
Against this dismal backdrop we follow Theo as he embarks on a task of helping Kee (Clare-Hope Ashitey), an African girl, get across the border. At first he seems to act out of purely selfish motives - namely, he will get paid for the job. Then again, the fact that he got in touch with the girl through Julian, his ex-wife (Julianne Moore), a former activist, too, and now the leader of a home grown terrorist group which calls itself Fishes, probably has something to do with it. However, after he discovers the secret that the girl carries he realizes that her survival means more than he initially believed.
Children of Men is deftly directed and offers a number of set pieces with cross-references to classic works of art and literature. It is all very low-key, and you never get a sense that the director is condescending or preachy. Far from it, you really come to appreciate Cuaron's minimalistic style, which charms you into the story and doesn't let go until the very last scene. It goes to show what you can do with a story using less rather than more. Provided you have tons of talent, of course.
The choice of music, from the vintage rhythms of the 60s and 70s to the classical score is exceptional; it underlines beautifully the nostalgic themes of the movie.
The fall setting, too, is a nice touch, and it works well as the metaphor for the general decay. The performances are powerful, especially Clive Owen as every man Theo Faron and Claire-Hope Ashitey as Kee, the vital and down-to-earth girl who might just hold the key to the fate of mankind.
Children of Men is a poignant and thought-provoking reflection on a plausible vision of the future. I am not sure if it provides any answers but it sure raises some damn disturbing questions. Masterfully done.
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