Children of Men (2006)


Alfonso Cuarón is a director and writer that I can appreciate. It's not a new problem with movies; in fact, going all the way back into the 1950s there was always a character - more often than not female, but it could also be a teenage male - whose sole purpose to be there so the main character could explain everything.  Since that type of trope is considered rather sexist now an even worse method has come along: having one of the characters pretty much lay everything out in a speech, sometimes even bafflingly spoken directly to the camera.

This type of exposition is never needed.  Night of the Living Dead is famous for providing some speculation and background through its newscasts, but a probe bringing back a virus that brings the dead to life was always speculation, not fact.  It's completely abandoned as a reason from Dawn of the Dead forward.  The reason is because the why isn't important, but rather the action that's on screen.  What often doesn't need to be on screen is an extended break to explain a good part of the plot to the audience.  If the intended audience can't get the gist of the movie just by watching it then the movie has failed in a most basic way.

It's 2027, and the youngest human being on Earth, an 18-year-old in Argentina, has been killed.  The reason he is the youngest is that, for an unknown reason, women suddenly began miscarrying in late 2009 and since have become infertile.  The result has been widespread societal and economic collapse as people have realized that the human race will be extinct, at most, in just over a 100 years.  It is rumored that an organization called the Human Project is looking for a solution, but the UK has fashioned itself as the last bastion of civilization in the world.  Refugee camps are set up throughout the country, illegal immigrants (and many citizens) are brutally treated and government propaganda constantly tries to smooth over the concerns of a populace dealing with frequent terrorist attacks and human rights abuses.

Theo Faron (Clive Owen) is a worker for the Ministry of Energy and the ex-husband of a woman named Julian (Julianne Moore), who leads a terrorist group known as the Fishes.  She contacts him to help facilitate getting an illegal immigrant named Kee (Clare Hope-Ashity) to a rendezvous with a boat owned by the Human Project.  It turns out the reason it is so important to get her out of the UK is because she is the first woman to get pregnant since the events started.  However, the Fishes also want her for propaganda reasons, while everyone is afraid the government may try to hide the birth due to the fact that Kee is a refugee.  Theo is tasked getting her through an increasingly violent and unstable country to where she can be safe.  

Usually one of the frightening things is when a movie comes out and the director outright admits he did not read the source material.  In this case it's the novel of the same name by P. D. James.  This, naturally, led to many alterations and the movie having only a passing relation to the original story.  The major distinction is that it is female infertility in the movie rather than diminishing sperm count in men (followed by a feminist civil war) in the book.  In either case no explanation is made for why the infertility occurs or for why a viable infant suddenly appears.  Just as an aside, James was happy with the movie even if it barely resembled the novel, and understandably so.

Alfonso Cuarón, who also cowrote the final script, films the movie like a documentary.  And, for 2006, has some of the best digital effects I've ever seen - or, I should say, didn't see, since many of the scenes that look like long, continuous camera shots were edited digitally from a number of different takes.  Although much of the movie takes place in the near future, little has changed in the way of technology due to the stagnation of society.  The only noticeable changes are billboards and such due to the need to broadcast its propaganda rather than any real need for further advancement.  This leaves the big effects to be the hidden ones where Cuarón takes us through a road ambush and escape as well as through an intense battle in a refugee camp that decides to finally stand up to their oppressors. 

This type of filming gives the movie a documentary look, as if much of the movie is a reenactment of the events that led to some unspecified future.  Clive Owen is an everyman character as Theo is carried along by many of the events, only spurred into action when he realizes that, whether he likes it or not, he is about to play a key role in history, even though he has a good reason for most of his inaction.  Julianne Moore gives a good performance during her time, but often a lot of the characters they meet along the way - midwife Miriam (Pam Ferris), who is able to describe in some detail what happened when the infertility started, and Michael Caine as Theo's friend Jasper.  Caine is a long-haired ex-hippie growing pot in the middle of nowhere with his wife Janice (Philippa Urquhart), a catatonic who had previously been a journalist that was tortured by the government. He helps provide some reference to the world as it had been.

The best performance, however, is Clare Hope-Ashity as the pregnant girl Kee.  She didn't have a lot of movie experience at this point, and thus her emotional performance seems unforced, having been just a person living her life and not intending to get pregnant nor really sure what it was at first due to her youth and pregnancy seemingly being a thing of the past.  

The movie contains a number of great set pieces and scenes, largely as it makes its way toward its finale.  Though based on James's book, this is largely Cuarón's vision of how the human race would disintegrate if an actual expiration date was known.  I still have my own less cynical take, thinking that more people would explore the sudden opportunity to have a little peace in their lives rather than setting everything on fire, but it's still more a believable reaction to the inevitable than the sudden reverting to animalism seen in many zombie films.  Still, what could have been simply a contrived plot to get everything moving manages to make for quite an interesting speculative film.

Children of Men (2006)
Time: 109 minutes
Starring: Clive Owen, Clare Hope-Ashity, Julianne Moore, Michael Caine
Director: Alfonso Cuarón

 

Comments

  1. The most striking "documentary'" feature of the film for me is the lack of enhanced sound effects for the firearms. Audiences are so used to what "movie guns sound like", that there was an eerieness to all the scenes of gunplay sounding close to how they actually should.

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