Children of Men

Dir: Alfonso Cuaron. 2006. Starring Clive Owen, Julianne Moore, Michael Caine. English. Science-Fiction.
Children of Men

As much as science fiction films are maligned for being the playground of geeks and fanboys, the genre has a pretty stellar track record when it comes to reinventing what we as an audience expect from the cinema. To those that saw them in their original theatrical release, films like Star Wars, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Blade Runner are described as "experiences" more often than as "films;" drawing out the hyperbolic sides of people, phrases like "life-changing" aren't at all uncommon.

As soon as there's a generation of filmgoers young enough to have missed it, I imagine I'll be saying the same things to them about Children of Men.

Children of Men is a film in the dystopian tradition of 1984, Brazil, and Brave New World, presenting a vision of a future where everything has fallen apart. In the case of Children of Men, which is set in England in 2027, the trouble started in 2009 when humanity mysteriously lost the ability to have children. This left people without a future to worry about and without hope, and the resulting chaos appears to have brought about turmoil all over the globe (I say "appears" because we never leave England, though the British propaganda suggests that the English are doing better than most). England has remained above the fray by becoming a de facto police state, complete with armed soldiers in the streets and a network of internment camps for housing the "fugees," refugees from parts of the world that aren't faring as well.

In the middle of this we find Theo (Clive Owen), a worker for some unnamed bureaucracy, on the day when the world's youngest person has been assassinated. Theo is soon kidnapped by a radical group that it turns out is lead by his ex-wife Julian (Julianne Moore), and she asks him to help her group get someone through a security checkpoint or two. This sets the plot in motion, and what follows allows for a rich exploration of this strange future and of the causes of that situation.

Ordinarily, science fiction films present an ambitious view of the future featuring flying cars (Blade Runner's 2019), or space travel (2001's 2000), or some other far-flung technology that excites the imagination but strains belief. Instead, Children of Men's 2027 features a few technologies that feel new, but the world very much looks and feels like it currently does. In highlighting the state of the world and considering the history (from 2006 to 2027) that led to that state in every detail of every object featured on camera, the art direction creates a rich and unique world that feels alive and lived-in for 21 years.

While this rich and detailed world sets Children of Men apart from most of its peers, the way in which it was shot is what truly sets it apart. Much of the film plays out in very long takes featuring a great deal of movement and allowing for persistence of experience. Because the takes are long, the audience is given time to analyze all of the detail of the setting and because cutting is infrequent, the action that plays out feels chillingly real. Much of the film, especially the seven-and-a-half minute long large-scale battle sequence near the end, recalls nothing so much as news footage from the sites of disasters and tragedies of the past 8 years. The result is that the art direction and cinematography (helped considerably by Emmanuel Lubezki's extremely naturalistic lighting) work together to create a vision of the future that feels shockingly real; whereas most science fiction films take place in an unbelievable future, feel like they're built sets, and save money by cutting to avoid having to show any more of the world than is necessary, Children of Men immerses you in its world and doesn't let go. And while many of these techniques have been used before, they're not often used together, they're rarely used in science fiction, and they've never been employed at this scale.

Avoiding hyperbole entirely, I can say that Children of Men was an experience like no other film. And that's something I'd be saying even if I wasn't a geek or a fanboy.


Children of Men was nominated for 3 Oscars:  Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Cinematography, and Best Editing.

Posted by:
Will B
Sep 29, 2008 5:18pm
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