Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Another Vision Of A Dark Future: Children Of Men Is Inspired And Unsettling!

The Good: Generally good acting, Interesting plot/concept execution, Moments of character, Lack of soundtrack
The Bad: Pacing, Lack of DVD extras
The Basics: Children Of Men is a dark, quiet and disturbing film that starkly explores the world decades after infertility becomes epidemic.

I think that encountering new actors is something like learning a new word. Until a few months ago, I do not believe I had ever seen anything with Clive Owen in it. Then, all of a sudden, he was in The International and Duplicity and when I popped in the DVD for Children Of Men, there he was staring back at me. Not exactly the most earthshattering actor of our times, Clive Owen is at least entertaining and fills his own niche well, he was not a selling point of Children Of Men for me, but he did a good job in it nonetheless.

Children Of Men is another in a recent series of near-apocalyptic visions of humanity that is designed to thrill viewers while presenting another possibility for the end of the human race. This is more cerebral than some other recent hits in the genre, like I Am Legend (reviewed here!) and the essential difference is that while I Am Legend establishes its premise before becoming an action adventure film, Children Of Men establishes its premise and remains entrenched in the results of the concept with tension and more psychological (as opposed to physical) horror.

Theo is a divorcee living in the aftermath of an unnamed contagion whereby humans have lost the ability to reproduce. With the sudden death of the youngest person on the planet - "Baby Diego," who was eighteen at the time of his death - the human race is feeling more desperate than ever about the declining condition of the human race. In Britain, where Theo, his aging hippie friend Jasper, and ex-wife Julian, live, strict immigration controls keep the population in check and the island nation intact while the rest of the world has collapsed. Theo's monotonous life is disrupted when Julian re-emerges in his life to ask Theo to use his connections to get travel papers for a friend. Julian, though, is part of a group the government deems terrorists and trying to procure the papers puts Theo in the crosshairs of both the government and the freedom fighters.

Amidst myths of the Human Project - a group committed to fertility experiments which will rejuvenate the human race - Theo is effectively conscripted to see humanity's last, best hope secured and delivered. In the process, his faith and personal history collide.

Children Of Men is a very political film set in a near-reality of 2027, years after the epidemic began and with humanity losing hope and purpose. Unable to reproduce, humanity is in a desperate place and the concept is a strong one. Moreover, the collapse of places like the United States - where freedom and self-determination are strong cultural values - illustrates an attention to detail that most movies lack. The five screenwriters who adapted Children Of Men from the P.D. James novel cleverly keep the action trapped on the isle and the sense of claustrophobia permeates the entire movie. There is a restricted feeling throughout, not just in the border scenes where cages of people are illustrated pressing to get onto the mainland.

Characters like Jasper, though, illustrate a strong anarchic sentiment that is not only necessary within the authoritarian Britain of Children Of Men, but clearly predates it. He is an old freedom fighter and he lives in isolation as a pot dealer in part because his wife is a vegetable from government torture years before. Theo's associations with people on the fringe - the pot dealer, the disenchanted ex-wife who pines for her lost child, the artist brother - makes him both a realistic and reasonable choice for exactly the type of smuggling mission he is set on. Moreover, Theo's own pain over the loss of his child, and the loss of others in the course of the film, make it realistic that he would continue with his mission.

Children Of Men is a thematically bleak film and director Alfonso Cuaron makes sure viewers get this right off the bat, by washing out the images. Everything in the film is muted gray and blue, so there is always the feeling that humanity it living in twilight. Humans in this movie are not so much brutal, as in crazed or twisted, as they are ruthless in their efficiency in their desperate attempts to change their circumstances. As a result, the resistance that Julian is a part of is not only desperate for humanity to survive, but for their politics to be empowered by humanity's survival. As a result, Julian - and her cohorts, especially Luke - see the population crisis as a way to advance a cause.

In this way, Children Of Men maintains a stark, if understated, sense of reality to the human animal. Unlike optimistic visions of the future, like Star Trek, humanity is not an essentially different animal with everyone suddenly working toward peace, love and the common good. Instead, humans have the same avarice, the same drive to overthrow the current institutions in power as they always have. They bear grudges, they remember the wounds of their past. Nowhere is this more true than in the character of Jasper. Jasper appears flighty and old school rebellious, but his mirror on his dresser is littered with newspaper clippings of past wrongs toward himself, his wife and his causes.

That element of basic human realism makes Theo's quest to deliver the hope for humanity to the rumored Human Project that much more desperate and, strangely, heartening. Humanity, if it does survive this plague, will not suddenly be something which is not human and there is some comfort in that idea. There is also desperation in every moment Theo is threatened, first by his own people, then the military. Theo's journey is hardly a safe ride around Britain and Children Of Men is gruesome in its process. As Theo tries desperately to keep safe humanity's best hope, he is surrounded by those who appear crazy, many who are dangerous, but several who rise up only for the purpose of sacrificing themselves.

One of the other elements that helps separate Children Of Men from other political and apocalyptic thrillers is the soundtrack. Long tracks of the movie go by with no soundtrack whatsoever, helping to repaint the world as a bleak, childless place. The lack of music is striking and the appearance of music - often covers of songs by The Beatles - is often shocking and obtrusive. This keeps the viewer even more unsettled, as does humor when the movie pops up with it - Jasper and Syd being the vehicles for both humor and a serious potential for dark and depressing turns.

Anyone who likes near-future apocalyptic scenarios or dramas that explore desperation within the human condition will find something to love in Children Of Men.

For other films featuring Chiwetel Ejiofor, be sure to see my reviews of:
Four Brothers
Love Actually


For other film reviews, be sure to check out my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2012, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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