Sunday, January 07, 2007

Children of Men (Cuaron, 2006)

Twenty years into the future, the human race faces an extraordinary crisis. For nearly two decades, there has been nary a human birth. The entire planet, it seems, has grown infertile – although it is worth noting that this phenomenon has not extended to the animal kingdom. Whatever it is that has caused reproduction to cease has focused on human beings alone. Although the film remains vague about the specifics of the cause of the mass infertility, it seems clear that it is directly related somehow to mankind’s propensity for perpetual violence. All around the world, countries are devastated and some literally in flames. The answer to the mystery of the missing children may be as simple as this: we no longer deserve them.

The most noteworthy accomplishment to come from Children of Men is how director Alfonso Cuaron immerses us in this sad, damaged world that unfortunately does not look terribly dissimilar to our own. Governmental slogans abound, warning citizens about the dangers of hiring illegal aliens and avoiding fertility tests. In one of the film’s most chilling social commentaries, euthanasia devices are now abundant and advertised on buses throughout the city. In Cuaron’s vision, the human race is dying and not going out with grace. From the advanced technology to the jarring outbursts of violence, Cuaron’s vision of futuristic England is thoroughly convincing. Children of Men will no doubt be best remembered for at least three virtuoso sequences involving long takes that move through meticulously choreographed stunts, effects and high drama. Cuaron works against the typical action scene rhythm and astonishes us with how much he can convey without cutting away. As we follow Clive Owen’s central character, there always seems to be something going on in the periphery that is either posing a potential threat or revealing new information. Only a couple minor problems diminish the thrills, such as a scene involving an uncooperative engine that stretches plausibility too far and some unwelcome blood drops on the camera lens that disrupt the film’s reality by making the camera a concrete part of the scene. Is Owen’s character being followed by a documentary film team?

However, where the film really falls short of its extraordinary potential is exploring the ramifications of its extraordinary premise. A few characters offer brief thoughts on what it was like to have children and how the world has changed since their disappearance; however, the film’s writers seem more concerned with the various machinations of their plot and who will betray whom than they are with allowing the film’s potentially devastating themes to hit home. Despite not-so-subtle visual accusations directed against President Bush and his misguided war in Iraq, Cuaron and his writers are unable to convey the seriousness of the dark world we are creating. The film’s ending is technically complete in that it brings the central mission to a close; however, it leaves us with no idea as to how the accomplishment of this mission has changed those involved. It does not tell us what impact (if any) the mission will have on the world at large. Does the film’s brief moment of peace towards the end of the film tell us enough? It is a nice moment, but not a resolution large enough for the enormous questions that have been unleashed.

Despite all this, you would be crazy to miss seeing this film in the most ideal conditions possible. The film’s core themes may not linger, but Alfonso Cuaron will treat you to a couple things that you’ve never seen before.



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