Children of Men (2006)
Starring: Clive Owen, Julianne Moore, Michael Caine, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Charlie Hunnam, Claire-Hope Ashitey, Pam Ferris, Danny Huston
Directed by: Alfonso Cuarón
I’m going to admit from the top, this isn’t going to be the best of reviews. I know, that’s a silly thing to write, as it both tells the audience they might not want to waste their time reading it and begs the question “why not do a better job then?” (of course, some of you may simply be wondering “shouldn’t he put this disclaimer before all his reviews?”).
Why the disclaimer? Two reasons: one, so much of this film is in the subtext and background, that it’s hard to fully form my opinion on the movie in one viewing. Two, my expectations going into the movie were quite high, believing that Children of Men could contend for movie of the year status, so when the movie failed to meet my expectations, it may have shadowed my opinion of the movie unfairly.
So, yes, Children of Men is not the best movie of 2006, and left me a bit disappointed. But it’s still a fantastic movie, with some amazing scenes, solid performances, creative ideas, and cultural significance, using science fiction to tackle the issues of today. It’s a wildly ambitious movie that misses slightly in its aims, but is to be admired for the attempt.
Alfonso Cuarón adapts a story from P.D. James that takes place in the year 2027, a post-apocalyptic world where England is the last remaining world power, with the rest of the world having collapsed upon the realisation that they are the last generation of humans. When the movie begins, the world’s youngest citizen has died, at the age of 18. Without the ability to procreate, humanity’s hope has disappeared, breaking them down to its most base instincts, while the government rounds up all illegal immigrants to keep Britain safe and pure.
We follow this world through Theo Faron (Clive Owen), a minor bureaucrat sleepwalking through humanity’s last days, until his former flame Julian (Julianne Moore) enlists his help in getting a refugee (Claire-Hope Ashitey) the necessary travel papers to travel across Britain. Theo will later find out that this young woman (the not-too-subtly named “Kee”) is pregnant, making her the most significant person on the planet.
Cuarón’s vision of the future is as mesmerising as it is bleak, with cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki bleaching out the picture to present a world with as many greys as those symbolically presented in the moral conundrums of the movie. Some of what Cuarón is able to do with Children of Men is truly spectacular, giving long takes that put the viewer in the action, almost as an extra character. While most of the movie is fairly action-packed, and breathless at times, Cuarón lets these scenes breath, drawing us in, until they explode. It’s a truly impressive achievement, and one that serves to let the movie rise above standard sci-fi fair.
However, the story itself, while interesting and gripping, didn’t feel near as original to me as many observers give it credit for being. A lot of the same themes in the movie felt too similar to themes from V for Vendetta (both the comic and the movie), 12 Monkeys, or Y the Last Man. In fact, while it is certainly a more artful movie than The Wachowski Brothers‘ V for Vendetta, I’m not sure it was as effective.
Moreover, while Cuarón’s decision to push a lot of the issues and exposition to the background and subtext can be effective and thought-provoking, it also leaves a couple large holes in the story to its detriment. The goals of the counter-revolutionary group led by Chiwetel Ejiofor are never adequately explained, making their actions in the film puzzling (what did they possibly hope to gain in the movie’s final act?), and the role of the Human Project is never explained enough to understand what Theo and Kee hoped to accomplish by getting to them. These questions were a significant distraction during the movie’s otherwise stirring final act, which dropped the quieter, more haunting elements in favour of an all-out action blitz. Which was incredibly exciting, but also a bit disappointing.
All in all, Children of Men is a well made, exciting, thought-provoking vision of the future with another strong performance by Clive Owen and some fantastic shots by Alfonso Cuarón. It has as much to say about today’s world as it does about the world of the future it presents, but ultimately, feels a little familiar if you’ve read or seen other post-apocalyptic Britain works.