Monday, January 15, 2007

Children of Men

CHILDREN OF MEN (Alfonso Cuarón, 2006)

In the year 2027, humans are no longer capable of reproducing. It has been eighteen years since a human has given birth. No explanation exists for the problem in CHILDREN OF MEN, and no hope for a solution is on the horizon. With the extinction of the human race imminent, the world goes to hell in a handbasket. Violence and depression are at record levels. One of the most popular pharmaceuticals is a suicide pill.

Theodore Faron (Clive Owen) doesn't see much reason or value to life. He smokes like a chimney and has an ever-present bottle of whiskey in his pocket. And why not? Everyone is doomed. Do what you want while you can. A resistance group led by his ex-wife Julian (Julianne Moore) promises to fatten his wallet, an enticement in good and bad times, if Theodore will transport a woman from London. Initially he is in the dark as to who this woman Kee (Claire-Hope Ashitey) is. When word slowly spreads and he sees evidence that Kee is pregnant, the stakes are raised on her life and his as they attempt to reach The Human Project and solve the infertility pandemic.

At the heart of CHILDREN OF MEN is the intriguing question of how we would go about our lives if we knew that humanity was on the brink of elimination. Whether we have children of our own or not, we go about our daily lives with the expectation of improving things for the future. If there were no future generations, would we devolve into scared, greedy scavengers?The film posits that a world we know to be finite within our lifetime is one in which we would be susceptible to fueling our fears and worst impulses. CHILDREN OF MEN'S essence is acknowledging that children are our future, literally and figuratively, although it's more substantive than a similar sentiment in a Whitney Houston song.

From a filmmaking perspective, CHILDREN OF MEN is a dazzling piece of work. Cuarón's deft direction and Emmanuel Lubezki's cinematography drop us into an immersive dystopian atmosphere. The film has already been lauded many times over for the unbroken shots that play out for minutes and for good reason. While these long takes demonstrate technical virtuosity at a mind-boggling level, the primary purpose is to enhance the reality of the environment for the audience. Whether one realizes or not that no cuts are used in the two standout sequences--an assault on a car and siege at an immigrant detention camp--the technique gives the scenes a suffocating feeling, something less easily accomplished through multiple edits. Even when not indulging single-shot scenes, Cuarón uses cuts judiciously throughout CHILDREN OF MEN, again to serve the illusion of verisimilitude.

For as bleak as CHILDREN OF MEN sounds, a vein of dark humor runs through it, both in dialogue and visuals. Kee has some fun teasing those who learn of her pregnancy and think they might have stumbled upon a new nativity story. Cuarón gets in a sly reference to a Pink Floyd album cover with the view from one character's apartment.

Invigorating in its ideas and style, CHILDREN OF MEN conceives a dystopian future, but its questions are just as relevant to our modern lives. The news is littered with tragedies. Wars rage. Fear grows. What's to keep us from chucking our best efforts? The film's answer may seem pat in words, but nevertheless, the talented people who made CHILDREN OF MEN give such hope an uncommon power.

Grade: B+

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