Children of Men: Wow.
A quick warning: Children of Men is not popcorn entertainment. It quickly announces itself as a film that is brutally uncompromising. I heard cries of “Oh my God” and “What the fuck” at numerous parts in the film. It is not a movie for the faint of heart.
In Children of Men, Alfonso Cuaron drops his audience into a not-so-distant future where there’s almost none of the technological progress that other futuristic movies display. He wastes no time in showing just how violent and chaotic the world has become: the opening segment of the movie ends with one of the most haunting images I’ve seen in a film. Even though the British government attempts to prop up its facade of stability, the last foothold of civilization is standing on its last legs. The catastrophe that caused such total collapse of the world is the infertilization of women across the face of the Earth. There hasn’t been a baby born for 18 years and no one knows why. All hope for the future has been lost.
Theo, played by Clive Owen, has more than a few reasons to be miserable, but when his supposed terrorist ex-wife (Julianne Moore) comes to him to ask for a favor, he’s willing enough to do it – for a price. Once he finds out that the cargo he is trying to transport to the coast is a girl carrying the first baby on Earth in 18 years, Theo becomes a man with something to believe in. The girl, Kee, is the last hope for humanity and together with Theo they go on an extraordinary and intense journey through what’s left of Britain.
Cuaron masterfully reveals bits and pieces of the ravaged future alternate-reality (hopefully) that provides the setting for Children of Men. From graffiti signs and commercials that expose the hopelessness that has enveloped the people of Britain to detention camps and immigration policies that display the harsh measures the government has resorted to in order to keep the nation afloat. The film almost feels as if it does not take place in the future, but instead at times appears to take place in a war-torn part of Eastern Europe.
Clive Owen gives a terrific performance throughout the film as Theo, as he deals with violent setbacks and unexpected circumstances along the journey. His elder pothead friend Jasper, played by Michael Caine, does a great job of providing some much-needed comic relief and lightheartedness throughout the almost crushingly depressing film. Kee is played by an unknown young actress named Claire-Hope Ashitey, but she does a competent job of acting scared throughout the movie. The rest of the cast does a well-enough job to enrich the audience with a some knowledge of the people that populate this collapsing world.
The entire film develops into what is basically a massive chase scene, but it’s more gripping than any other I’ve seen in a long time (Apocalypto included). The entire fate of this world rides on Kee reaching the elusive and mysterious Human Project, and the desperation of this goal presents itself in the numerous frantic action scenes that litter the movie. These scenes only increase in intensity throughout the film, cumulating in one of the most unforgettable and uniquely shot action sequences I’ve ever seen. Cuaron deserves a Directorial Oscar nod for this scene alone. The film does not cut for 10 minutes of non-stop action through a massive city battlefield. The effect makes the audience feel as if it is watching footage from an real event, or even actually there. Cuaron uses this directoral effect in many other parts of the movie, but it really shines in that spectacular sequence. Because of those long shots, I was more wowed by the action in Children of Men than in any other movie I’ve seen in the past year. It was so different from the usual blockbuster fare where there’s cuts every second. (Michael Bay, I’m looking at you)
Go see Children of Men. It is a film meant for viewing in a movie theater. It is a film that sticks with you, and one that you will want to watch again, even though you felt disheartened for most of it. At its core, it is a story that displays the worst aspects of human nature, but allows for some trickles of hope to get through. Some people might feel a bit empty at the end, hoping for more… but I couldn’t help thinking it was one of the best movies I’ve seen in a while.