Clive Owen as Theodore Faron
Julianne Moore as Julian Taylor
Chiwetel Ejiofor as Luke
Charlie Hunnam as Patric
Danny Huston as Nigel
Claire-Hope Ashitey as Kee
Peter Mullan as Syd
Pam Ferris as Miriam
Michael Caine as Jasper Palmer
Juan Gabriel Yacuzzi as Baby Diego
Directed by Alfonso Cuarón
Not quite science-fiction as much as a hypothetical view of what the world might turn into under extreme circumstances, Alfonso Cuarón’s grim, stark vision of the future is one of the most amazing and original films of its kind.
In the year 2027, the world hasn’t seen a baby in 18 years and the lack of children has had a serious impact on the world. The borders of England have been closed off with immigrants being rounded up into refugee camps, and government employee Theo Faron (Clive Owen) finds himself involved with a group of rebels led by his ex-wife (Julianne Moore), who need to get a very special young woman named Kee (Claire-Hope Ashitey) to the mysterious Human Project.
It’s not often that a movie has you sobbing within the first few minutes, but that’s the eerie effect that the premise of “Children of Men” will have on you. 20 years into the future, 2027 to be exact, people haven’t been able to procreate in 18 years, and with the death of the youngest living human, 18-year-old “Baby Diego,” the world is looking even bleaker. Suicides are on the rise with heavily advertised drugs like “Quietus” offering an over-the-counter way of making it easier.
Despite nearly dying in a terrorist bombing, government worker Theo Faron (Owen) isn’t too concerned by what’s going on around him, until his ex-wife Julian (Julianne Moore) shows up after years to ask him a favor. She’s now leading a rebel group called the Fishes, who need to get a young immigrant girl named Kee to the Human Project, an organization trying to solve the issue of the world’s infertility. The appropriately named girl has a secret, one that could possibly change the face of this dire global situation, and Theo finds himself having to guide her to the British coast amidst the ever-escalating tensions in the country. Even after being abducted by his ex-wife, Theo seems relatively unaffected as they ride calmly through the countryside giving them a chance to reconnect, a brief moment of optimism that’s cut short as Theo and Kee end up on the run, not only from the police, but also the rebels. That’s all you’ll need or want to know going into the film, because like “The Departed,” there’ll be moments that are more effective if you don’t know they’re coming.
The origins of “Children of Men” lie in P.D. James’ novel of the same name, but it’s clearly Alfonso Cuarón’s vision of the future, a hyper-exaggerated view of today’s world, transposed onto a grim world where humanity’s last generation is on the verge of extinction due to their inability to procreate. . It’s not the shiny future with flying cars we’ve seen so many times, instead being a grimier version of England today that falls somewhere between Stanley Kubrick and Terry Gilliam’s “12 Monkeys,” humanity having given up hope on evolution or technological advances at this point. In response to the ensuing chaos, England has closed its borders, rounding up immigrants and putting them in cages for deportation or worse.
This incredible premise and vision is only partially what makes “Children of Men” so special, the other part being Clive Owen himself. This very well could be Owen’s best film and role since “Croupier” as he plays a real person suffering great loss, but trying to endure and remain positive. Owen does a superb job acting as the viewer’s eyes, the camera staying on him the entire film so we can see how the horrors of this world affect him. As grim as the future may be, the film allows for a few moments of humor, much of it coming from Owen’s dry, cynical delivery and his rapport with Kee, played with suitable naivety by newcomer Claire-Hope Ashitey. Most of the film’s more entertaining moments involve Michael Caine as Theo’s pot-smoking hippy friend Jasper, who has a much more jovial view about the situation of the country.
What leaves an even more lasting impression is the way the film is shot by Emmanuel Lubezki. At times, it’s shot like a documentary, but it also uses a few unconventional camera techniques, including many long shots that belay the film’s unique sensibilities. In one scene, Jasper tells Kee about how Theo and Jules lost their baby, not knowing that Theo is listening to the entire conversation in the next room. Instead of focusing on the people talking, the camera remains on Theo, as the others talk out of focus in the background. It’s subtle, but it’s a clever and inventive way to show the true sorrow in Theo, another testament to Owen’s performance.
When Theo and Kee arrive at a refugee internment camp with the help of Jasper’s pot-smoking police friend Syd–an insanely funny role by the great Peter Mullan–it looks like something out of Nazi Germany with “fugees” being corralled into a camp that bears too close a resemblance to a concentration camp. It’s not the best place for them to be, especially when the rebel uprising shows up, followed by the army, turning the entire camp into a full-scale battle zone. As Theo desperately tries to find Kee after being separated from her, the camera stays on him for an incredible extended long shot that puts the viewer into the middle of the warfare, as Theo tries to avoid being killed in the ensuing firefight. When someone nearby gets shot, splattering blood on the camera lens, it only takes you out of the moment for a split second. The impact of this climactic sequence makes you realize that you’re watching something that’s never been accomplished on a film, and it’s something that’s likely to be studied by film school students well past the year in which the film is set.
The Bottom Line:
More than a few correlations can be drawn between “Children of Men” and Mel Gibson’s “Apocalypto,” as they’re both personal political statements disguised as action films, both focusing on men witnessing the harrowing conditions of the world around them for the first time. It’s disturbing how little has changed between then and now, but if the future depicted in “Children of Men” bears any resemblance to reality, things aren’t getting any better. Despite that dour worldview, Cuarón uses this grim hypothetical future to show that however bad the world may get, there’s always hope on the horizon. As a whole, the experience is effective at leaving you emotionally drained and breathless.
Children of Men opens in select cities on Christmas Day and expands wider in January.