On Children of Men

Children of Men, based on the P.D. James novel of the same name, features Clive Owen (The Bourne Identity), and Chiwetel Ejiofor (Serenity). According to The Studio Exec‘s article, “47 FILMS: 24. Children Of Men“:

The future is a grim reality. Children are not being born and humanity is on a nihilistic march towards its own extinction. Theo (Clive Owen) is a working stiff who likes his drink, an occasion flutter on the dogs and to just get by. But when he is contacted by his ex-wife Julian (Julianne Moore) to do a job for her radical movement the Fishes, he is tasked with guarding perhaps the only hope in a world of increasing hopelessness and violence.

Alfonso Cuarón’s film takes PD James science fiction novel and creates one of the most interestingly subversive and thoughtful dystopias of recent times. The Britain of virulent anti-immigration hatred and militarized police is all too recognizable. As with his Harry Potter film, the Mexican director proves to have a perceptive eye at capturing those particularly English details of rain wet tarmac and occasional beauty of the ‘Sceptred Isle’.

Clive Owen has never been better as the rumpled hero. His apathy and non-ideological stance attains a nobility in contrast to the fanatical opponents of the political process. Add to this Cuarón’s now famous extended one shot sequences and what we have is a deeply intelligent and witty political thriller (brilliant cameo by Michael Caine by the way) that is also an exciting chase film.

Also, according to Fogs’ Movie Review‘s article, “Movies That Everyone Should See: “Children of Men”“:

What would the world look like without hope?

“Children of Men” opens with a bang.


The movie opens with Theo Faron (Clive Owen) purchasing a coffee in a coffee shop. The crowd there is fixated on the tv screen, watching the news that “Baby Diego”, now 18 years old, the youngest person on the planet, the last baby born on earth… Has been stabbed in an encounter with a fan and has died.

As Theo heads out of the shop and walks a ways down the street, a bomb explodes behind him, destroying the shop he just exited.

Welcome to the world of “Children of Men”. Infertility has plagued the planet for almost 20 years. As a result, the current population has lost hope. There’s no new generations coming up behind, there’s no future to work towards… What’s the point? The human race is literally running out of time. Going through the motions.

Religious cults are pervasive. Bulldozers plow the streets of wreckage. Refugees are kept in cages, while people pray at wailing walls. It’s a despondent existence.

On the train Theo takes, the over-the-seat tvs play a montage of riots, famous landmarks aflame, and end of the world portents. As a mob of angry people throw rocks at the passing train, the commercial discloses its message. The other nations of the world are in disarray…

“Only Britain Soldiers On.”

And that’s what life seems to have boiled down to in “Children of Men”, “Soldiering On”. There aren’t many rational ways to deal without hope. Theo’s friend Jasper (Michael Caine) spends his time breeding marijuana hybrids like “Strawberry cough”. His cousin Nigel, a Government Minister, openly admits he lives in denial.

His ex-wife (or estranged wife, at least), Julian (Julianne Moore), has taken up with a terrorist organization known as “The Fishes”. The Fishes are fighting for human rights for immigrants and refugees. Along with being detained in roadside cages, the government has set up interment camps, where refugees are starving and being shot with little provocation. It’s a violation of basic human rights, under the guise of protecting the country’s citizens and their resources.

Julian and the Fishes kidnap Theo and ask him for his help… He’s to ask his cousin for papers in order to enable the movement of a young female refugee… Kee (Claire-Hope Ashitey). In turn, he’ll be handsomely paid.

Theo complies.

His involvement with the Fishes has brought him back into contact Julian. They begin to have fun together for the first time in years… Just prior to the infertility, the couple lost a child of their own to the flu. Their rekindled spark, along with a technicality in the papers he was able to obtain (the girl needs to be accompanied) wind up drawing Theo into the Fishes’ mission to escort the girl to safety.

But along their journey, the car they’re travelling in is ambushed. A rebel band blockades the road and attacks their vehicle, resulting in a shocking death. The group is forced to a safe house to regroup. It’s there that Theo learns the reason why the girl is so important.

Kee is pregnant.

What should be a miraculous occurrence is actually a dangerous situation. The government would want the child for their own political purposes. Perhaps they would suppress news of the birth altogether. It wouldn’t take much to imagine them conducting medical experiments on the girl. The Fishes, far from wanting to protect her, want to use the baby as a rallying cry for their revolution. They feel that the fact Kee is a refugee will inspire a refugee uprising.

Thus, Kee’s pregnancy is a perilous proposition. There’s a possibility of safety… a rumored “Human Project” – a place of safety in the Azores. In order to get there, though, Kee would need to reach the shore, find a boat, and make it safely to the rendezvous point – an offshore buoy.

Theo, once he grasps Kee’s importance, becomes her shepherd and guardian. He sacrifices his own safety in order to get her to the rendezvous. It’s a mission that will bring them through the middle of a war zone, and risk the lives of everyone he loves, but he knows the importance of the situation… The baby – the only baby on earth in almost two decades – needs to get to safety.

Director Alfonso Cuarón creates an incredible world for us in this film. It’s gritty and despondent… bleak. It’s almost a post apocalyptic world, without having had the apocalypse. It’s the people that are barren, not the landscapes. The fact that they’re bereft of hope permeates every aspect of the film.

Cuarón’s direction enriches the story. The film is famous for its lengthy, continuous takes, the longest of which is reportedly some seven and a half minutes long. It’s actually a bit of an illusion, as many of the famous shots are composites, seamed together digitally in order to give the impression of a single take. Nonetheless it’s impressive, and it makes for a relentless viewing experience. You’re never given respite from the action. It’s also still an incredible technical challenge. In order to film the scene where Kee and the Fishes drive into the ambush in one take, for example, a special rig was built atop the car, the car’s windshield was designed to be removable, the front seats tilted out-of-the-way, and four people rode on the roof of the moving vehicle in order to film.

But it’s not just the shooting style that makes the direction so notable. Cuarón also manages to create a realistic, depressing, hopeless film world, most notably in the shelled out, urban ruin of Bexhill. He creates an insane sense of realism with the opening terrorist bombing, and later in the small theatre warfare in the Bexhill streets. Throughout, his sets, settings, and special effects consistently strengthen the bleak tone of the film, they compliment the movies themes as well as propelling the narrative.

There’s a number of thoughts to be mined from “Children of Men”. Many people will point to it as a political commentary, given the militarism, terrorism and security issues. Others may view the film as a modern nativity allegory.

But to me, it’s all about hope.

The theme of hope is central to “Children of Men”. Sometimes the most effective way to illustrate something is to portray its utter absence. The world of “Children of Men” is a hopeless one, and without hope, the bonds of society have broken. People no longer treat each other with respect, it’s every man for himself. Suicide, murder, war, theft, totalitarianism, terrorism… the predominance of such evils due to the lack of hope in “Children of Men” suggests that it’s only through the presence of hope in the world today that such conditions are kept in check to the extent they are. The future, the promise of a better tomorrow, the world we’re building for future generations, that’s the great human motivator. Not survival, or wealth, or any personal self-satisfaction.

There is a power inherent in the hope that we’re all working towards something better over time. That our lives have improved through history, and that the betterment will continue into the future. That common belief is a powerful bond that motivates so many aspects of society. Without it, the world would surely, and quickly, crumble.

And even amongst the wreckage and the war and the wickedness of “Children of Men”, the fact that there IS a child born in this film symbolizes that even in the darkest times, amidst the deepest despair, there is always the possibility of a miracle. Of rebirth, resuscitation, renewal and redemption.

Cuarón has created a masterpiece of a film here. It’s bleak and powerful and thrilling to watch. Gripping. And through it runs an unmistakable message about the power of hope and the impact that it has on human life. It’s impossible not to be engrossed by watching it, and impossible not be moved by having seen it.

Finally, according to The Odyssey’s article, ““Children Of Men” Revisited“:

In 2006, Alfonso Cuarón released his breakthrough hit, “Children of Men.” The film centers around a post-apocalyptic world where the lack of pregnancies has led to the collapse of the world and modern society as we know it.

The film focuses around Clive Owen and his band of refugees that try to get the first woman to get pregnant is 18 years to safety so that she can have her child. They have to escape their current situation that includes Britain, which has become the most militarized country in the world that now wants to exterminate refugees.

The film also stars Julianne Moore as an American who is killed off in the beginning while the group is trying to escape from a band of savages. Chiwetel Ejiofor plays a leader of a group who put together the murder of Moore’s character. Clare-Hope Ashitey plays the first woman to be pregnant in 18 years, she spends the majority of the film being used as a pawn for the political system that has become a product of the destruction of society.

Upon its release, much like the rest of the films and TV shows that I cover in this series, it was not heralded as much as it should have been. After all, it was released in the same year that films like “The Departed,” “Letters From Iwo Jima,” “Babel,” and “Little Miss Sunshine” were released.

But with scenes like this, it’s hard to not stick out and become a classic piece of modern cinema.

Looking back on it, this film started Hollywood’s mainstream love for the long and continuous tracking shot that became so popular with the films “Birdman” and “The Revenant.” Both films are directed by Alejandro Inarritu, who also directed “Babel,” which was nominated for Best Picture the same year that “Children of Men” received its three Oscars: Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Film Editing, and Best Cinematography.

This film has single-handedly changed the way that we all look at movies and how we expect them to be shot. It opened up a door that had been closed shut. The continuous shot has been something that is only good when it is done the right way, and this opened the door for long shots from Cuarón and other filmmakers.

The film was a refreshing break from all that we, as viewers, were used to seeing and was something so original, even so much that even the first time I saw it, I wasn’t really ready for it. But it conveys an actually realistic way of the crumbling of the world and the highly-touted society that we all claim that we have made, and it realistically portrays the human mind and how it would have resounded to the same situations. “Children of Men” is something that had never been seen at the time, and has rarely been seen since.

According to The Guardian‘s review:

What will the end of the world look like? As shabby and nasty as the way it looks here is my guess. This explosively violent future-nightmare thriller, directed by Alfonso Cuarón and adapted from the novel by PD James, has simply the most extraordinary look of any movie around: a stunningly convincing realisation of a Beirut-ised London in the year 2027, in which terrorist bombs have become as dreary and commonplace as cancer.

No one does dystopian satire like the English and this story is in a recognisably vernacular tradition, though owing as much to John Wyndham as George Orwell. It actually reminded me of bygone television chillers such as Barry Hines’s Threads and the 1970s classic Survivors, with their distinctive and now unfashionably high-minded determination to confront the worst outcomes imaginable. It is, perhaps, odd that Cuarón sticks with the 1992 novel’s reluctance to predict the internet, and media-watchers will be intrigued to see that in 2027 the London Evening Standard has evidently seen off web and freesheet competition to stay in its monopoly pole position on the capital’s sandbagged streets. But despite the stylisations and grandiloquent drama, there is something just so grimly and grittily plausible about the awful world conjured up here, and the full-on urban warfare scenes really are electrifying. Clive Owen stars as Theo, a former radical protester, who in defeated middle age has become an alcoholic and low-ranking employee of a government department: a miserable guy in a miserable world. Pollution has rendered humanity infertile. The world’s youngest person is all of 18 years old and there is a global malaise of disorder and despair, which our right little, tight little island is toughing out, offering its citizens free suicide pills with the Shakespearean brand-name of Quietus. Britain’s relative calm and prosperity have attracted waves of illegal immigrants; it is the responsibility of the UK’s Homeland Security department to pen them into vast mesh-fenced internment camps, the biggest of which is a gigantic caged shanty-town in Bexhill – a very English Guantanamo-on-Sea.

Theo’s world is further shattered when he is abducted by a terrorist group called the Fishes, led by his former lover Julian (Julianne Moore), an unrepentant activist who inveigles him into helping her smuggle one of their number out of the country. This is Kee (Claire-Hope Ashitey), a terrified young woman with a sensational secret, whom the terrorists want to use for their own ends. Kee looks to Theo for help – a very unpromising hero, who is hardly less scared than she is. But Theo recovers some of his idealism and even romanticism in protecting her.

Cuarón’s movie has softened the blow of James’s book just a little, but the cinema screen here is like an opened window on to a world of Arctic fear and despair. His script is a little cumbersome occasionally: some characters are required to deliver awkward set-piece speeches with bullets whistling past their nose. So much else is outstanding, though. The hard, flat, cold images recorded by cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki – reporting back from the futureworld of decay dreamt up by production designers Jim Clay and Geoffrey Kirkland – are stunning. Cuarón’s gun battle between the terrorists and the army is a bravura piece of work, deploying a very scary sort of first-person shooter graphics; incredibly, it turns Bexhill into a Middle East warzone, like the strange Vietnam of Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket – famously filmed in the surreal moonscape of London’s undeveloped Docklands. And the first terrorist detonation hit like a punch in the solar plexus. There are witty and shrewd small parts for Michael Caine, as the ageing hippy ganja dealer who hooks Theo and Kee up with a counter-cultural support network, Peter Mullan as the psychotic border guard and Danny Huston as Nigel, the elegantly despairing apparatchik who salvages great works of art from the philistine mob.

One of the cleverest touches is the ancient, manky sweatshirt Theo wears -advertising the London Olympics of 2012. To us, it is a symbol of London’s last-ever demonstration of untroubled national rejoicing, when this country was awarded the Games, before that mood was cruelly shattered by the 7/7 bombings. Now London 2012 is Theo’s veteran-badge of despair, and a memento of his lost career in political dissent.

So what would happen to us all, psychologically, if the end of the world was at hand? Danny Huston’s mandarin tells Theo that he personally gets by from day to day by simply not thinking about what is happening, and his stunned, bleak acquiescence in the creeping horror of global death is symptomatic of the vast spiritual sterility which ushered in the catastrophe in the first place.

Freaky chiliastic cults start springing up: the Renouncers and Repenters – whose frenzied self-laceration reminded me a little of Roy Andersson’s millennial fantasy Songs from the Second Floor, in which a little girl is sacrificed to stave off the last judgment. But what Cuarón’s film suggests is that despair and disgust would manifest themselves overwhelmingly in tyranny. A mass, irrational longing for punishment would gather; checks and restraints on the political classes’ natural tendency towards repression would be removed, and our energy to resist the agencies of the state would be eroded. All of these ideas make a very grim backdrop to an excellent thriller. Cuarón has created the thinking person’s action movie.


3 thoughts on “On Children of Men

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