Review: _Children of Men_
Director Alphonso Cuarón creates a believable dystopia where the last human child was born eighteen years ago. Focusing in on Great Britain, the film develops themes of immigration, the police state, the nature of insurgency, neutrality in a time of war, and how natural, unbridled Creation can succeed in the face of chaos.
Cuarón also made Y Tu Mama Tambien, a film I really liked, which has a mix of thoughtful cinematography and excellent character development. In Children of Men, the story takes the form of a chase movie with battle sequences, but the central character's (Clive Owen as Theo) move from cynicism to cause and then having to find out who to trust with the most important commodity imaginable -- a pregnant woman and then her and her baby -- hold the film together.
Children of Men may not have direct references to Orwell's 1984, but the themes match in many ways: a sanctuary from the Police State in the trees, the paranoia of surveillance, government propaganda (there is an advertisement a few times in the film saying "Avoiding fertility testing is illegal"), and the question of how to act against government injustice. 1984's Winston, like Theo, works in a government ministry yet has ties to the resistance. Law stands in the way of love, perpetual war stands at the gates, and the fight for one's humanity is the only fight.
In Children of Men, the fight for humanity becomes literal -- Theo must save Kee (Clare-Hope Ashitey) from the Fishes, a pro-immigrant radical group, the government itself, and any number of self-interested people along the way. He somehow finds the right people, and the film ends with a long but somewhat amazing sequence that defends neutrality and anti-violence in a time of war.
The film's set pieces must have cost a fortune to make, since 2027 London is turned into a dirty, graffitied nightmare vision for the future. With the possibility of $200 a barrel oil fast approaching our day, the film shows us the ugly possibilities of factionalism and social hysteria. I like Cuarón's use of the English countryside in contrast to the urban center to show how the political affects all. This rural versus urban trope seems to get utilized in many of the British novels and films I've enjoyed.
Overall, this film is a winner, and it's rated in the top 250 films on imdb.com. Different parts combine for a successful film: the creation of a milieu of dystopia, strong character development, a pulse-pounding chase movie plot, as well as contrasting battle scenes reminiscent of Black Hawk Down.
My only quibble is that like many films of this type, the director makes the violent scenes just a bit too difficult to believe. Also, one must be in the mood for the action sequences; for my screening, I was only partially in the mood, which forces me to realize that Y Tu Mama Tambien stands as a better representation of Cuarón's work. But matching the most recent successful action flicks, serious actors raise the level of the proceedings: Julianne Moore, Clive Owen, and Michael Caine all deliver.
A tragedy like Children of Men can make us believe that although so much may be wrong in the world, there can still be something right in the hearts of people.
No profanes - sacred