Saturday, November 04, 2006

Children of Men

Children of Men may be based on the book of the same name by P D James, but it nevertheless could have gotten a lot of benefit from a more appropriate title.

The movie posits a world of the near future, where for unexplained reasons the entire human race has fallen simultaneously sterile. No children have been born for 19 years. Torn by rioting, terrorism, suicide, religious extremism and war, most of the rest of the world has fallen into chaos. Britain, however, continues on. Refugees flooding to Britain's shores are locked in Auschwitz-like concentration camps, and extremist groups of various persuasions are poised on the brink of civil insurrection.

Clive Owen plays a government worker who is thrown into the midst of this chaos when he is approached by his ex-wife (now wanted by the government) to ferry a refugee woman called Kee from London to the coast to meet with a secret scientific organisation known as the Human Project. What begins as a simple plan rapidly spins out of control, as Kee is pregnant with the first child since the disaster, and is being hunted by both the government and a violent pro-refugee group called the Fish.

Don't let the babies-and-sterility plotline fool you. This is not a movie about babies. It is a movie about immigration. It's a story about a future that is scarily near at hand, particularly for Australians, where immigration pressure is ramped up by an exponential level, and the government responds with exponentially more extreme policies. It's a future that could happen, and if there's one element where the film doesn't ring true, it's that the film's setting of the year 2027 isn't close enough.

Children of Men is directed by Alfonso Cuaron (Y Tu Mama Tambien, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban), and you can't help but be struck by exactly how good a job he has done. The film employs a level of visual storytelling approaching genius. It uses few quick cuts, instead preferring to let the often violent and disturbing themes of the movie be played out by the movement of actors and objects through the field of vision of the camera. Mini-stories are told through the view out a bus window, from a car windshield, or the view from a fourth-story apartment. A great many single-take extended camera movements are used.

Cuaron also has an aptitude for transforming the magical into the mundane, and the mundane into the magical. Using the same skill with which he made the grounds of Hogwarts feel at once a fantasy land, and yet part of the English countryside, in Children of Men he blends the politics and technology of a near future Britain seamlessly into our present-day memories and expectations. Much of the film feels less like a staged production than it does modern-day newsreel footage.

Children of Men is a visually engaging, powerful, and thought provoking movie. It's probably the best science fiction movie of the year (although sadly it doesn't have much competition) and it absolutely deserves to be seen on the big screen. If you haven't already been, go now, while it's still showing.


Anonymous said...

I am really looking forward to Children of Men. I'm glad that the film appears to live up to expectations.

I thought Y Tu Mama Tambien was well-directed and a good watch. Good to know that Cuaron is still doing well.

I agree with you on the title, though perhaps not for the same reasons, since I haven't actually seen the film yet.

GregT said...

Well, basically the title makes the movie sound like an emotionally-charged exploration of the world of gender politics and reproductive technology, and those are two places that the film doesn't even go to the same hemisphere as, let alone deal with in depth.

Hope you enjoy the film. It really is driven almost entirely by Cuaron's skill - if you've liked his style elsewhere, you'll love this.