IMDB #185 Children Of Men

With climate change, overpopulation, food shortages, international terrorism and strife, and economic destabilization, you can make a pretty convincing case that the world is going to sh*t. But there's always hope, even intangibly, for the future- a promise we may not live to see fufilled, but a promise that's nonetheless always been there.

What Alfonso Cuarón's modern classic, 2006's Children Of Men asks us: what if that promise were revoked?

In a world where all women become mysteriously infertile, where there's no future on the horizon, a chaotic and bleak dystopia hangs on for dear life in 2027 England. Join me for a road-movie with lots of rubble, broken ideals, a curious lack of editing, and some delicious stork dinners.

The Key Players:

Cuarón made a reputation with the classic-lit adaptation of A Little Princess and the modern update of Great Expectations, both of which are better than you remember them being. He would gain critical acclaim with Y tu mamá también (earning a screenplay nomination) and add commercial success by knocking Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban completely out of the park (still the best film in the series. I will fight you.).

Clive Owen, stubble-enthusiast and Oscar nominee (for the miseryfest known as Closer), has balanced indie roles like Gosford Park and his breakthrough in the BBC TV film "Croupier" with big-time starring turns in Inside Man and Shoot 'Em Up and so on.

Michael Caine pops up again in support, and Julianne Moore has a bigger part than in Magnolia (but still not a second-billing level role. That's a fake out).

Click for More...

The Story:

Owen stars as Theo, a weary office worker in a drab 2027 London. He keeps his head down and tries to navigate terrorist bombings, a hyper-xenophobic government rounding up all illegal immigrants, and the memory of his long-dead son.

No one has been born since 2009, and the youngest person alive ("Baby" Diego) is murdered by a crazed autograph-seeker, to the sadness of the general public. Theo spends his days avoiding trouble and occasionally visiting his friend Jasper (Caine), a hippie-tastic former political cartoonist with a secret forest hideaway.

But soon Theo's ex Julian(ne Moore) shows up to offer him a job: arranging transport of a young woman to the coast. Julian, the mother of said long-dead son, has channeled her grief into leading a group of rebels called the "Fishes," that fight government oppression and the Holocaust-like treatment of foreigners.

Theo visits his cousin, a government minister, to get the papers, and soon hits the road with Julian, the girl Kee, and other Fishes Luke (Chiwetel Ejiafor!) and Miriam. But their car is attacked, and Julian shot in the neck and killed. Soon Theo learns "what's at stake": Kee, a young African immigrant (young being 19 or 20), is miraculously pregnant, and Julian wanted to get her to the mysterious "Human Project," a long-rumored society said to be researching a cure for the mass infertility.

At a crossroads, the Fishes decide to keep Kee in the country to give birth- Theo quickly discovers that they killed Julian, and intend to use the baby as the rally point for an armed uprising- you know, instead of trying to save the human race, whatever.

So Theo and Kee are on the run with no transit papers, no money, no sensible shoes, and only Jasper the hippie and Miram the zen-chanting midwife to help them try and get to the Human Project's ship.

The Artistry:

Production designers Geoffrey Kirkland and Jim Clay, along with set designer Jennifer Williams, would win the BAFTA for Art Direction for their amazing work on Children Of Men, but astonishingly (in retrospect) not get an Oscar nomination: (You're telling me Dreamgirls, The Good Shepherd, and the second Pirates movie were all beter? Please.).

But the lived-in plausibility of Children Of Men's future is what makes it such a great film. In the features, Cuarón says he wanted to make the "anti-Blade Runner" and keep it as much in the background as it could be. So there are new, different types of cars, but they're already rundown and dingy. There's commonplace, Tokyo-like, LCD billboards everywhere, but we only see them briefly in a handheld, casual shot, as if to say "meh."

The thing about the future is, the people in it don't think of it that way- so the only context we get are tv news reports, casual references, and old headlines we can read off of newspapers stuck to the wall- the only reason any characters exposit on the fertility crisis (the cause is never made clear) at all is because Kee's pregnancy makes it relevant to talk about.

Children Of Men is really about today even though it's set in the future, which is a large part of why there are no silver jumpsuits and why the film wants us to experience the harrowing action sequence in real time. A few masterfully choreographed, long takes (or takes blended to look like one take through some sort of trickery) in particular stand out:

1. the first scene of the film follows Theo into a coffeeshop, out on the street, and pans around him just as the coffeeshop explodes. The extras, explosion, and all the cars in the street had to be precisely in place at the right moment.

2. When the car is attacked and Julian is shot, a special camera rig swivels all around the interior.

3. When Kee gives birth (uh, spoiler?) it's all in one take, culminating in a real-looking lil' CGI-baby.

4. A 7+ minute sequence in a raging refugee-camp battle near the film's end follows Theo through streets, buildings, and hundreds of extras as bullets and bombs fly.

It lends a raw, documentary feel to the proceedings- at one point during the battle sequence, fake blood spatters on to the lens- cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki convinced the director to keep the take.

Children Of Men is about the world dying; it's a film about loss. Julian tells Theo the ringing in his ears from the cafe explosion is the sound of the ear cells dying. "Once it's gone you'll never hear that frequency again."

We hear the ringing as well, on the soundtrack, and not only after the bombs- Julian's shooting and Jasper's death at the hands of the rotten Fishes are scored with high-pitched death rattles as well, a note of finality.

There's no beauty to the future, usually a pristine visual place to visit- the only works of art left are collected by Theo's cousin, who dines next to Michealangelo's David and Picasso's Guernica (and even a Banksy piece) as his dead-eyed son ignores him. When Theo asks this conniseur how he can pretend preserving art matters anymore, he cooly claims "I just don't think about it."

The similarities of the refugee camp to war footage from Iraq was striking in 2006, and even moreso now that the war's more than doubled in length in the years since. And though it strains belief a bit, it's a powerful moment when everyone stops shooting upon hearing the cry of an infant, a death song of the past or the birth of a future.

If I have one complaint about Children Of Men, it's the complete lack of chemistry between Owen and Moore- they only seem like they've even met before in one moment in the car, which is right before Moore's character dies anyway. Otherwise the roles are very second to the atmosphere, with only Caine's inimitable character acting rising above an archetype. But that's fine with me.


There's no beauty, and almost no hope in Children Of Men, but "almost" is the key word. The Human Project, which only Julian had spoken to directly, turns out to be real after all. Theo and Kee dodge bullets and tank mortars to row out to sea to greet them.

Theo, sadly, has taken a bullet to the stomach, and slowly collapses as they wait in the fog. Kee settles on a name for the first baby in eighteen years- after considering "Bazooka," she names her daughter "Dylan," in honor of Theo's son.


Overall: Should It Be Higher, Lower?

Higher than high: not to get too Oscar-centric (though when am I not?), I don't know if any of those nominees will stand the test of time against Children of Men- not even The Departed, and especially not Little Miss Sunshine.

The Legacy:

It would settle for Writing, Editing, and Cinematography nominations instead- though it won a BAFTA for Art Direction and Cinematography- Lubezki also took home the guild award for his trouble.

The Best Video Of It On YouTube:

This making-of featurette (mostly about the long takes) is pretty neat.

Leftover Thoughts:

-"Gossip Girl" star Ed Westwick has a wordless bit part as Theo's cousins' zombified son.

-Cuarón's next film, Gravity will open with a 20-minute long tracking shot and at least co-star Robert Downey, Jr. I am so there already.

-Isn't the plural of "fish" still just "fish"? Just saying.

Coming Up...

184. The Wild Bunch

183. The Killing

182. Judgment At Nuremberg

1 Response to "IMDB #185 Children Of Men"

  1. What idiot doesn't recognize Azkaban as the best film in the series?! Beat the crap out of anyone who disagrees!

Powered by Blogger