Brilliant, poetic and provocative are only three adjectives I could use to describe Alfonso Cuaron’s Children of Men. His tale of a world on the brink of self-annihilation in the wake of nearly twenty years of infertility is stark though reservedly hopeful about the fate of man. Along the way, Cuaron makes some pointed comments about immigration, political extremism and, in some ways, the nature of humanity. Frankly I can’t think of a more compelling or original science fiction from the last few years outside of maybe one or two examples.
In the year 2027, it’s apparent that England is the last place on Earth that still has some semblance of civilization. Theo Faron (Clive Owen), an employee with the Ministry of Energy, apathetically goes about his daily routine, even though everyone else around him is mourning the sudden death of Diego Ricardo, the youngest person on the Earth at nearly 18 years and five months. If the realities of the future of humanity aren’t enough to get everybody down, then the fact that Britain is locked in an internal struggle between its semi-totalitarian government and the freedom fighters/terrorists known as “The Fishes” should keep everyone afraid. Cuaron quietly sneaks subtle cues into the production design to demonstrate just how much the world has changed in 20 years time. Bus ads, bits of graffiti, newspaper headlines and set design all paint a world of desperation and depression without any real expository dialogue necessary.
Theo’s connection to a government minister, his cousin, makes him a target for the Fishes lead by his ex-wife Jillian (Julianne Moore). Jillian needs transit papers to get someone associated with the group out of the city and down to the shoreline. The woman the Fishes are trying to help is named Kee (Claire-Hope Ashitey); she’s an illegal immigrant and eight months pregnant. Theo, the man who didn’t believe in anything anymore, becomes Kee’s guide and protector as he attempts to get her to the coast where Kee and her unborn baby will leave for the thought mythical, philanthropic group of researchers called “The Human Project”, who are trying to find a way of reversing human infertility.
Cuaron’s direction is powerful and dynamic, whether it’s capturing an emotionally potent moment or immersing the audience into a verite-style action sequence. He uses the long take several times, giving you the feeling that you’re a passive participant in the narrative. At one point during the British army’s climactic raid on a refugee camp the camera follows Theo as he tries to evade explosions around him, and suddenly (fake) blood splatters the camera lens. It’s scenes like this that add to the visceral feeling of the picture, a very documentary-like style of filmmaking that makes you think you were suddenly plunked from your seat and thrown into the battle scene. And it should be pointed out that these aren’t your ordinary, sterilized sci-fi action sequences, but as intense and gory as anything in either Saving Private Ryan or Black Hawn Down.
Cuaron offers neither easy answers nor complete and total despair. There is a simple message of hope that occasionally is allowed to peak out amongst the visuals of a world tearing itself apart. These are moments of tremendous beauty as well, and a truly emotional denumont that makes you both optimistic and disgusted about the human race at the same time. Children of Men is one of those movies that inspires on every level, from the inspirational to the artistic.