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A Humble Review of a Soon-to-be Classic

September 25, 2011

Children of Men (2006)

Children of Men is as visually arresting as it is intellectually stirring. Writer/director Alfonso Cuaron (Y Tu Mama Tambien, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban) has accomplished so much with this film that it’s difficult to know where to begin.

Unfortunately it must be stated; this was a relative box-office bomb, failing to recoup its reasonable $74 million budget. It’s a high-concept film to be sure, but that’s a disappointing reason for a film of this caliber to be ignored. Then again, the same could be said for Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner in 1982, which has since become known as an indispensible classic.

The setting is England in 2027. Infertility has swept the entire world and there has not been a child born since 2009. With the youngest person in the world now 18-years-old, the world has become a wasteland of nihilism. Clive Owen stars as Theo, a heavy-drinking, embittered former-hippie. Apathetic to the dying world, Theo is roped into an urgent mission by his former flame Julian (Julianne Moore) to escort a young woman out of the country.

When the woman, Kee (Clare-Hope Ashitey), reveals her miracle pregnancy to Theo, all falls on him to guide her safely through a maze of danger and political treachery to deliver her tummyful of hope to a mysterious agency that intends to cure the planet of its’ infertility.

The story is powerful, but it is technical proficiency and attention to detail by the production staff, and the abilities of the actors which elevate Children of Men into rarified sci-fi air.

The film conjures up a fair amount of 60s imagery through picketers, hippies and even a touch of Woodstock whimsy. The film’s countercultural elements are personified by the hippie styling of Jasper, played by the incomparable Michael Caine (The Italian Job, The Dark Knight). Jasper is one of Theo’s few friends, and his scenes are accompanied by 60s music such as Deep Purple’s “Hush,” and a cover of The Rolling Stones’ “Ruby Tuesday.” While on the subject of casting, Chiwetel Ejiofor proves himself to be an under appreciated actor.

Children of Men is a new take on the common “end of the world” narrative. There is no asteroid, no doomsday device and no alien invasion. It’s not about people losing hope in the face of devastation. The world of Men is hopeless at the outset, yet hope arises, and that distinction makes this film startlingly different.

Theo, the source of the story’s power, fits the classic reluctant hero archetype. The countdown to human extinction is simply background noise for him. It’s his elevator music. Theo is slowly awakened from his zombie-like detachment to the point of doing anything and everything he can muster to help Kee. The world may be going straight to Hell, but not if Theo has anything to say about it. He is given new purpose in life, and more than that; a second chance.

The catharsis of this transition grabs viewers by the throat and dares them not to care.

As if that alone were not enough, Children of Men thrills from a technical standpoint as well. Outside of the story, the star of Men is the photography. There is some truly legendary cinematography at work. The documentary-style shaky-cam frequently becomes an unseen character in the film. Whether observing a panorama of the surroundings or the positioning behind a broken glass window that evokes a person peering out at the action from a safe distance, the camera forces the viewer participate in the film, adding extra weight to Theo’s arc.

The real technical showpieces of the film are two staggeringly long takes. A car scene involving five passengers conversing and all receiving face time comes in at 5 minutes 7 seconds. Then the sprawling climax of the film follows Theo in a desperate pursuit for a breathless and incomprehensibly choreographed 6 minutes 18 seconds. *After some additional research, it appears some of these shots are not truthfully uninterrupted takes, but rather a few takes cobbled together with very cleverly hidden cuts. No matter the case, the scenes are presented as singular uninterrupted sequences and are a sight to behold.

Children of Men is loaded with other goodies as well. Production and set design are painstaking and utterly impeccable. We even get a glimpse of what “texting at the dinner table” might look like. The shantytowns of future England reflect the degradation of society to the point that residents no longer care about the planet’s future or the non-existent younger generation. Social issues such as theme of overmedication and the possibility of Homeland Security operating under dubious and perverse motivations.

Aesthetically, Alfonso Cuaron is adamant about this film being the anti-Bladerunner, which boasted bustling, globalized metropolises, but Children of Men just might be its spiritual successor. Thematically, and in every other way, this film measures up to the seminal 1982 film as well as the other progenitors of the genre.

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