Children of Men Review

At first glance, Children of Men is perhaps the most inappropriate Christmas release in theaters, trumping even that horror remake Black Christmas. The latter at least takes place during Christmas time and a deliberate twist on the holiday spirits, sure to give certain people a lively laugh to counter all the goody-goody X-Mas niceties. Children of Men however, is a somber, harrowing, realistically violent reminder of today's political state of chaos that will leave you shuffling out of theaters in a numbing daze, thinking about how the apocalypse might just be around the corner.

Yet, underneath all the depressing images lies a message of hope and personal faith that the more observant portion of the audience would sure to appreciate.

The movie takes place in the year 2027, long after the human race had become infertile. The opening scene depicts the whole world in mourning over the murder of Baby Diego, the youngest person in the world, who was a little over eighteen years old. One man who doesn't seem to care much is Theo (Clive Owen), the ultimate anti-hero incarnate. He's a gambling, drinking, smoking, drug-using working man who's cynical to the bone. His only friend in the world is Jasper (Michael Caine), an aging political cartoonist who moonlights as a pot dealer. After being kidnapped and bribed with money, Theo agrees to help a terrorist group led by his ex-wife Julian (Julianne Moore) in smuggling Kee (Claire-Hope Ashitey), a teenage refugee who's miraculously pregnant.

The refugees are where the film draws most of its visual allegories. In 2027, mankind's infertility had caused the world to go mad. Nearly every country on Earth has gone into a state of total anarchy. Britain manages to survive by being a fascist police state (the only country still standing, according to their propaganda), hunting down refugees from other countries, only to lock them up in inhumane cages and ships them off to camps. It's amazing how many of these seemingly fictional dystopian images are so familiar to what we see in the news today. It's damn near impossible to see the police lining up naked refugees with bags over their heads and not think of Abu Ghraib. Yet never once do they feel like heavy-handed messages, because the circumstance that lead to these situations are chillingly possible.

Director Alfonso Cuaron not only crafted what is possibly the most believable depiction of the end of the world, but also the most realistic "Big Brother" scenario. There's no all-seeing, all-controlling, sterile-enforcing evil government as seen in 1984, or more recently in V For Vendetta; Just a desperate administration trying to control a growing immigration problem. The terrorists that Theo associates with are also not freedom fighters like they usually are in Science Fiction stories. They deliver deaths and have their own political agenda to push. What you have then are two sides trying to maintain sanity in a crumbling society, rather than clear-cut heroes and villains, and they know only violence to achieve that end. Theo himself is not the heroic type. He's a normal person caught in the crossfire, with his own role to play.

Don't expect a Science Fiction story, because you won't get it. The film doesn't dwell in the premise of the human race's extinction as much as the social and political aftermath that comes with it. It is, essentially, a contemporary urban war film that just happens to be set in the near future.

The screenplay has little narrative punch to it, and there are no memorable dialogues, but that's because Children of Men is a film told entirely with visuals. Cuaron has said that most movies nowadays, you can watch with your eyes closed. In a sense, he was right. A lot of them are little more than big budget TV programs, where you can follow the movie just by listening to the dialogue, and the stories are quickly and easily understandable. You can't do that with this film. So much of the story is told in clues and imageries. There are newspaper headlines and propaganda billboard ads littered in the background throughout the film, and they are important in helping you grasp the world of this film. There are no expositions or long-winded explanations. Cuaron made full use of the wide shots, as you'll find your eyes darting back and forth across the screen, noticing the subtle clues.

Speaking of visuals, the action sequences in this film are absolutely breathtaking, and sure to be the subject of coffee shop talks after the viewing. In the history of cinema, there have been a lot of impressive long takes (such as the opening shots of Touch of Evil and The Player, as well as many shots in Scorsese's films), but none of them navigate through an elaborate warzone with tanks firing, motorbikes flipping, molotovs flying, and buildings exploding. This may sound like a gimmick at first, but it's incredible how they create the feeling of watching real war footage, and ramp up the suspense in those action sequences. Those "gimmick" shots put you right there in the warzone with Theo, and it's mesmerizing. In fact, everything happening on screen are so engrossing, that you barely notice that there hasn't been a single cut in the past 10 minutes.

I don't know how many people are up for this film during the holiday season, but those who aren't are sure missing out on a terrific experience. It's okay to be sour a little for two hours. We shouldn't let all the shopping sprees and dangling ornaments cloud us from real world issues. Some would say that's missing the point of Christmas. Children of Men may be bleak, but it's bleakness that results in not only the best film of the year, but also one of the best films in many years.

This is the kind of film that cinema was born for.

"Children of Men" opens December 25, 2006 and is rated . . Written by P.D. James (novel), Alfonso Cuaron, Timothy J. Sexton, David Arata, Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostb.

Arya Ponto • Contributor

As former Editor of JPP, Arya likes to entertain peeps with his thoughts on pop culture, when he's not busy watching Battle Royale for the 200th time. He lives in Brooklyn with a comic book collection that's always the most daunting thing to move with, and writes for Artboiled.com.


New Reviews