Children of Men
April 2, 2007
Children of Men (2006) may be set in 2027 but it is a film for our times. It imagines a world where women are infertile and this has plunged society as we know it into chaos, plagued by environmental collapse. England has become a police state with armed soldiers everywhere and illegal immigrants rounded up like prisoners of war refugee camps. Civil unrest and terrorism is rampant – all the makings of a classic dystopian future.
Theo (Owen) is a burnt out bureaucrat sleepwalking his way through life punctuated by the occasional visits with his friend Jasper (Caine), a former hippie radical who shares his cynicism. Theo’s 9-to-5 routine is disrupted one day when he’s contacted by his former lover Julian (Moore) who asks him for a favour: escort a woman named Kee (Ashitey) out of the country as soon as possible. Much to his surprise she is pregnant and so begins a dangerous journey that sees Theo and Kee pursued by both terrorists and the government. He also begins to care and believe in something again, experiencing a political reawakening.
Clive Owen adds another excellent performance to an already impressive body of work as the world-weary Theo. He brings the same kind of rugged, rumpled charisma that Harrison Ford had in Blade Runner (1982). Owen does a first rate job believably conveying Theo’s transformation from jaded cynic to unlikely hero. He doesn’t care about the opposing warring factions and their ideologies – his concern is for Kee and her unborn child. The actor uses his expressive eyes so well to convey his character’s emotional state in a given scene, from the emptiness in the early scenes to one of concern once he finds something to care about.
Alfonso Cuaron continues to demonstrate that he is one of the most interesting filmmakers around, able to impart his own personal style and sense of humanity on independent films like Y Tu Mama Tambien (2001) and studio franchise fare like Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004). Children of Men is a curious blend of both kinds of movies while also including a strong socio-political message and a deeply profound sense of moral outrage.
As he demonstrated with the Harry Potter film, Cuaron knows how to immerse the audience in a cinematic world rich in detail and this film is no exception. Right from the opening scene, we are dropped into a bleak, brutal world that feels only somewhat removed from our own. There are powerful scenes with unforgettable images that are clearly meant to invoke the footage of fighting in the cities of Iraq, the terrorist attacks in London and the atrocities of Guantanamo Bay prison. Cuaron also throws in surreal images like that of a small herd of sheep running across a war-torn English street that in the next moment erupts in bloody violence. There are also some incredibly staged action sequences captured with startling intensity with a hand-held camera and long takes that required incredible choreography on the part of the filmmakers.
Ultimately, Children of Men is about hope, idealism and how one person can make a difference. Like any truly important science fiction film, it comments as much on our present as it does on our future. Cuaron has created a brilliant hybrid: a protest-SF-action-road movie that suggests that very little separates the methods of the government and the terrorists. Both employ ruthlessly violent means in order to get what they want and this both disgusts and outrages Theo.
Also included are three deleted scenes that are all brief in length and only flesh out more of this scary, dystopian future world.
“The Possibility of Hope” examines how the film’s themes relate to our own world. Several philosophers, scientists and historians pontificate about how globalization, technology, human mobility and socio-economic environments cause great upheaval. This featurette is a startling reminder of how messed up our world is.
“Children of Men: Comments by Slavoj Zizek” features this philosopher and culture critic giving his two cents on the film. He points out that the foreground story of the film acts as a facade for the powerful socio-political subtext by addressing hot button topics like immigration and the war on terror.
“Under Attack” takes a look at the visual style of the film. Cuaron wanted to do long takes in order to create the illusion of events taking place in real time. It shows how they were able to achieve this approach for one of the film’s exciting action sequences.
“Theo and Julian” explores the relationship between these two characters and how they are established archetypes thrown into unlikely situations. Cuaron credits Clive Owen and Julianne Moore with fleshing their respective characters out.
“Futuristic Design” examines the film’s elaborate production design. Cuaron wanted to make the anti-Blade Runner with ugly locations and creating a dirty, run-down world because people have given up. If nobody new is being born than what’s the point?
Finally, there is “Visual Effects: Creating the Baby” which takes a look at how the birth sequence was achieved via seamless CGI. This extra shows the various stages involved in pulling it off.