Children of Men (2007) dir. Alfonso Cuarón
Starring: Clive Owen, Julianne Moore
“Children of Men” is great entertainment and a surprisingly lightning fast tense thriller. A high-concept near-future story told very simply without unnecessary encumbrances. It’s pretty much guaranteed to satisfy.
It’s 2027 and Britain (and the world) is in a state of near anarchy. All women are infertile, cannot conceive and cannot give birth. Therefore the population is aging and the end of humanity is near. It’s been over 20 years since the birth of the last child in the world and the film opens with the announcement of the death of the ‘youngest’ person on the planet – Baby Diego. With the inevitable demise within the current generation, fear has struck the nation and as a result Britain has reverted to a fascist state. Refugees and immigrants are interned, and citizens require transit papers to travel from place to place.
Theo Faron (Clive Owen), former political rebel/activist, now cynical bureaucrat is like everyone else, passing the time with a glum apathy. His only solace are his visits to his hippie, pot smoking friend, Jasper (Michael Caine). Suddenly his long-forgotten ex-wife Julian (Julianne Moore) re-enters his life and asks him for help in transporting a miraculous pregnant girl, Kee, across the country to meet up with “The Human Project” - an organization devoted to discovering a cure to the world’s infertility.
The journey takes the team through a series of tense and thrilling encounters and adventures. The film is a mixture of near-apocalyptic thrillers like “28 Days Later” and “Mad Max I”. As mentioned, despite a potentially complicated plot, the film manages to distill away the backstory, science and over-reaching aspects of the story to concentrate on the escape to freedom of Theo and the Kee. After the first act, the film is essentially one long chase film, moving from set piece to set piece. Cuarón and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki have magnificently choreographed the action with a series of simple and effective ‘long takes’ covering most of the action with all-encompassing wide-angle lenses and minimal cuts. The effect puts the viewer in the point of view of the main characters – action, gunfire and explosions happen behind, beside and in front the characters and we can’t possibly take it all in at once.
This is how Cuarón creates and makes believable this new world. It feels completely realistic. As Theo enters the refugee camp, the set is never established in the traditional way, with the wide-angle view everything in the background is visible and so Cuarón trusts the intelligence of the audience to fill in the picture of the future world. And deep deep deep in the background are massive amounts of a detail, from billowing smoke, hundreds of extras, bombed-out buildings, explosions etc. It’s an auditory and visual experience in every corner of the frame.
Despite the praise, I can’t say “Children of Men” is not without it’s missed opportunities, specifically with “The Human Project”. They are established as a mysterious operation, which could or could not exist. The subplot around their activities is dropped quickly and never further explored. Since this is their destination, the mystery of whether they actually exist could have raised the stakes to a higher level. Unfortunately we never doubt they will find what they’re looking for. With 5 writers credited (not including the novelist) I can assume this avenue was likely explored and then discarded in favour of the simplistic approach – and perhaps for the better. We’ll never know.
But don’t worry, the film will keep you glued to the screen for 1 hour and 45 mins, and we all must thank Mr. Cuarón for not overindulging himself with an epic running time, and believe me, he had the cache to do it if he wanted. Mr. Spielberg, are you listening? Keep it simple stupid. Enjoy.
Buy it here: Children of Men (Widescreen Edition)
Here’s a featurette on Lubezski’s cinematography (warning: contains spoilers):