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Children of Men

2009-01-09 17:06

It is 2027 and the youngest person on earth – an 18 year old – has just died. No-one has been able to explain this sudden pandemic of infertility, but it has plunged the world into complete anarchy. In reaction to the crisis Britain has become a brutal police state. Surrounded by this climate of despair, ex-activist Theo (Clive Owen) has turned to alcohol and nihilism. The only thing that keeps him sane is visits to his friend Jasper (Michael Caine), a cannabis growing political cartoonist with a wicked sense of humour. But when Theo is contacted by radical members of his old organisation led by his ex-lover Julian (Julianne Moore), he finds himself caught up in a desperate attempt to smuggle a young woman (Clare-Hope Ashitey) out of the country. At first he cannot understand the urgency, until he learns that the woman is more than just another refugee, she is pregnant with the world’s first child in nearly two decades.


“The end of the world as we know it” is one of science-fiction’s most overused premises. Every two-bit hack out there has set a story in the “not too distant future” where “society as we know it is crumbling”. It takes a filmmaker of uncommon vision and ability to make this tired set-up fresh again, and Alfonso Cuarón is undoubtedly the man for the job. He has crafted Children of Men into a terrifying yet utterly engrossing picture of a world gone mad.

Rather than allowing the story to take place at arm’s length from our present, Cuarón has retooled P.D. James’s novel, setting it just 21 years from now. As such the dystopic world he creates is uncomfortably similar to ours, with many of our current problems simply magnified. This brings a grim immediacy to the story, a fascinating horror that makes it both hard to watch and impossible to ignore.

Cuarón refuses to dress this future in the ubiquitous glossy attire of mainstream sci-fi epics. His England is grey and grimy, full of billowing pollutants and shattered buildings. Even when the characters venture out into the countryside it is filled with piles of burning livestock and choked rivers.

And yet, despite all the gloom, this is first and foremost a story of hope and shared humanity. Much of this burden rests on Clive Owen, who brings pathos to his role as the unlikely and unwilling hero. There’s nothing gung-ho about Theo, he simply does what he feels is right. When he loses his shoes late in the film he is forced to wear flip-flops, a detail that should be ridiculous but here becomes almost emblematic of a brand of everyday heroism.

It’s this kind of attention to detail that sets Cuarón apart from many other filmmakers. He will spend hours personally planning and rearranging a single scene or shot, and the results are unmistakable. By packing so much meaning into every frame, he gives the film a documentary style palpability. As he allows the camera to linger over the detritus of people’s lives, their photographs and mementoes, we come to feel that the characters in the film exist outside its frame.

Cuarón also goes to great lengths to make his audience part of the action. Much of the film is shot handheld, using as few cuts as possible and putting us right alongside the characters. The action sequences are particularly impressive, with extraordinarily long, roving takes that carry us into the thick of the chaos and out the other side. The climactic final scene, some 15 minutes long without any cuts, is a work of sheer genius.

Action oriented movies rarely allow for much significant acting, but Children of Men’s cast are of such high calibre that you can’t help but pay attention. Michael Caine is particularly good as Theo’s ageing hippy mentor Jasper. He is clearly enjoying every minute, bringing both humour and poignancy to the role. Julianne Moore is less convincing, but does some good work, as does rising star Chiwetel Ejiofor.

The film is not without its faults. Cuarón gets a little heavy handed with the thinly veiled political commentary, and some of the more frenetic scenes risk becoming parodies of despair. A few of the minor performances are badly overplayed (Charlie Hunnam is particularly hammy), and sometimes the film seems too gloomy for its own good. Many things are left unexplained, like why refugees would willingly seek out fascist England, only to be imprisoned in camps. Then again, the real world is rarely a very logical place.

Flawed or not, Children of Men is a not-to-be-missed treat. In amongst all the awfulness is a wonderful warm hope – a celebration of the human spirit that should prove irresistible to even the most cynical viewer. If for no other reason, you should watch it to see a filmmaker at the height of his powers. Is Cuarón the next Kubrick? Perhaps. But until he is anointed, we should just enjoy the ride.

- Alistair Fairweather
Paints a grim and fascinating picture of a world where all humans are infertile. It's sci-fi filmmaking at its very best.

Mandy 2006/11/10 1:15 PM
Can't wait to watch it again Cuaron is a visual master. This film is completely enthralling. Well worth the ticket, popcorn, coke AND astros!
Endre 2006/11/13 1:37 PM
The movies movie If you still haven't been to the movie theatre this year, still waiting for "that" movie - well here it is. This is an immersion movie that needs to be seen at the theatre and encapulates you from start to finish. What is particularly interesting is that the movie is mostly shot from head height with normal view giving the impression that you are really there. There are also occassions where given the situation you would cower, and the camera drops about 40cm or so in the same vein. I left the theatre utterly exhausted and battered, trampled over and finally - utterly exhilarated.
Ed 2006/11/17 3:51 PM
zzz To me it was a mixture of Black Hawk Down's senseless combat scenes and scifi twist of Aeon Flux. Neither were fun to watch.
Meegyn 2006/11/20 2:59 PM
Pathetic!!! We were SO dissapointed by this movie. It only really got started half way through - I would say its a definate TV movie and wouldn't recommend it to anyone. Our whole group walked out the cinema feeling dirty and depressed - it brings no hope and it's sad to see that this is the reflection of how a deprived world feels. Honestly if you wanted that much hopelessness we would suggest watching the 7 o'clock news.
Lucie 2006/11/23 10:51 AM
Children of Men ABSOLUTE RUBBISH - Never have I felt so cheated! The cost of the movie tickets was an absolute rip-off for the crap that we were exposed to. To say that this movie is slow, would be the understatement of the year! The acting is average, the violence gratuitious and the story line thin. The ending is so bad that it is almost amusing. DON'T WASTE YOUR MONEY!
Fred 2006/11/24 2:30 PM
It seems South Africans aren't ready for decent movies With comments like Lucie's and Meegyn's (is that actually a name?), it's no wonder that garbage like Little Man stays in the box office top 10 for three months, while everything good falls out within a week or two. Don't listen to either of these two whiners - the film is brilliant. They suffer from a terminal lack of taste, and should be treated with the contempt they deserve.
dustin 2006/12/11 6:22 AM
bestest flick since... i can't remember! What a great movie! had my stomach turning from all the tension. its a must see, and especially on the big screen!
craM 2007/03/18 10:18 AM
Awesome! This movie gave me goosebumps.It paints a very possible & realistic picture of what the future may look like. Negative reviews probly from intellectually challenged people who cant keep their concentration on the screen for 2hours. DEFINITELY worth a look.
Leo 2007/03/19 10:31 PM
Children of Men Excellent Sci-Fi. Brilliant movie!
Hilde 2008/02/07 1:38 PM
Children of Men Not bad and disturbing. Not a feel-good movie, some not so good acting.. But none the less worth while to watch. Makes you think...
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