No children. No future. No hope.
In the year 2027, eighteen years since the last baby was born, disillusioned Theo (Clive Owen) becomes an unlikely champion of the human race when he is asked by his former lover (Julianne Moore) to escort a young pregnant woman out of the country as quickly as possible. In this thrilling race against time, Theo will risk everything to deliver the miracle the whole world has been waiting for. Co-starring Michael Caine.
Children of Men 8.0
eyelights: the phenomenal sound design. the intriguing setting. the solid performances. the amazing direction.
eyesores: the bleakness of the setting.
“As the sound of the playgrounds faded, the despair set in. Very odd, what happens in a world without children’s voices.”
‘Children of Men’ is a 2006 motion picture based on the eponymous novel by P. D. James. It’s set in 2027, in a world that’s crumbling under social unrest caused by a devastating worldwide epidemic.
Set in Great Britain, it follows Theo, a civil servant who gets caught up in a scheme to smuggle an illegal immigrant out of the country by his ex – a woman who now leads a radical immigrants’ rights group. The picture follows Theo as he tries to help his protégé, Kee, make her way to a rendez-vous point – all the while being chased by the authorities and a handful of unrelenting terrorists.
‘Children of Men’ may not seem like much at first glance. In fact, the first time I watched it I was unimpressed; it was a good, but not exceptional, picture. It left me with a feeling of indifference.
That was then. This is now.
I can’t exactly tell what the key difference might be this time around. Lowered expectations, perhaps. Different mood, maybe. But one thing that was notable this time was the audio experience. You see, the first time I watched it was on a friend’s TV. It wasn’t an especially large screen (no matter), but there wasn’t a surround sound system; we were watching the film on the TV’s stereo speakers.
Now, this may not seem like the type of movie that should be made or broken by a simple thing like the speaker set-up, but I’ve discovered this second time around that its aural quality is to die for. In fact, it can be so astonishingly immersive that I jumped when random elements burst onto the soundstage. And even when the audio was more subdued, there was always something going on.
I enjoyed the experience so much that I am considering upgrading my DVD to a blu-ray – even though I doubt that I’ll return to this picture very often. That’s just how compelling the audio was for me.
The film’s unique vision also grabbed my attention, I must say: aside for the pandemic, which is slightly far-fetched but not entirely implausible, I could see in ‘Children of Men’ humanity’s potential future.
And it wasn’t pretty.
There are constant riots and strife everywhere but in Britain. However, there is moderate terrorist activity there, as well as constant military police presence and government messaging everywhere. Unsurprisingly, it’s also a surveillance state, with constant monitoring even on remote woodland roads. Adding to this dystopic reality, the government of the day sponsors suicide pills called Quietus.
It’s a world gone mad.
And yet this world doesn’t look that different from ours. The technology is sensibly more elaborate than it is here; it appears as though the worldwide chaos has prevented major advancements. Mostly, the government control, threats of violence, and the lack of freedom and privacy are dialed up here. And the infrastructure is falling apart: all is grey, grim, dirty, and in shambles.
The most stunning change is the way that the authorities treat immigrants: like cockroaches, rounding them up in cages as they wait for deportation. The streets are littered with these cages. I found this the harshest aspect of the picture, seeing the abuse, the inhumanity, watching people treated like less than cattle. It felt all too real to me, as this is not an entirely unfamiliar sight.
In fact, we might see it again: the way that attitudes towards immigrants have changed in recent years, I wouldn’t at all be surprised to see this become reality by 2027. I despair at the thought.
There is also the matter of the epidemic that has barren humanity: the picture begins with the death of the world’s youngest person at the age of 18 – leaving everyone in a state of shock and grief.
If this seems strange, that’s because it is. (but I won’t explain further in order to avoid spoilers)
The original book apparently made many allusions to Christianity, and director Alfonso Cuarón carried some of this over in his adaptation. However, he decided to be very subtle about it.
Personally, I got the impression that Theo and Kee were analogous to Joseph and Mary to some degree, but the rest of the world and setting didn’t exactly connect with their own. So I wasn’t sure. Even after reading the wiki and imdb ages, I’m not entirely clear on what the Christian connection was; some of it was too subtle for me. I’m sure that devout Christians might find something in it.
It was lost on me, however.
I was more involved in the setting and characters. Although they are left somewhat nondescript, you got their motivations to some degree – especially Theo, Julian and Kee, the three central players.
The highlight was Theo’s friend, Jasper, played by Michael Caine – not because I enjoyed the character, who was a bit too goofy for my taste, but because Caine clearly relished playing the part of this old hippy. He based his interpretation on John Lennon, which was readily apparent in his look and manner of speaking. Interestingly enough, Jasper’s spouse is a former photographer, just like Linda McCartney.
All of these characters are honourable ones. While Theo’s motivations were purely selfish, initially, he grows into his new role of protector quite well. And Clive Owen has the seriousness to pull it off.
Of course, the whole picture would be nothing if not for Cuarón’s amazing direction. I had been quite impressed with the seamlessness of his work on ‘Gravity‘, but he is also quite impressive here.
Of note are the ambush when Theo and Kee first try to drive to the coast. Although it looks like one long take, it was shot in a few takes, and given a documentary look; you feel like you’re there. When the front passenger gets killed, you just can’t believe it: we’re so close to the chaos and it feels so random, unexpected that you’re left stunned. And when they smash the two bikers? Insane to see.
The random elements is part of what makes the film work. Cuarón somehow didn’t lead us to those moments, like other directors would. For all their weeks of preparation he was able to make it look spontaneous.
One terrific moment is one of Theo and Kee’s escapes; it felt so improvised: Theo took the time to sabotage the others’ cars before picking a car that wouldn’t start properly. Nice. No traditional Hollywood BS here. And yet Cuarón managed to make a chase out of it anyway, stripping it of its glamour and bombast. In fact, it was almost more dire because it was so pathetically put together. There was real risk of failure.
The final combat scene is another perfect example of this. Theo is wandering about in this battle-zone trying to find Kee and we’re in there with him, uncertain about how it will end. It doesn’t seem contrived at all. Gunfire comes out of nowhere, explosions rock the room. It’s crazy realistic; one has no doubt that this is happening, and I recall being very aware that I was immersed – that I wasn’t watching actors in a movie.
But, again, this is contingent on the right set-up. This would have looked and SOUNDED amazing at the big screen. It would have been incredibly immersive in 3D (the technology didn’t exist then, sadly). And so I highly recommend seeing this picture. It’s strong stuff. But make sure you see it in the correct environment; don’t see it on your stereo TV, your laptop or, god forbid, on your bloody cel phone.
It sucks that some movies lose their effect when viewed improperly (ex: ‘Akira‘, ‘Baraka‘), but that’s movie magic for you – that’s why it’s sometimes worth going to the cinema instead of streaming everything. Some filmmakers invest in their work – and, in so doing, help us invest ourselves in the experience. It’s well worth remembering that before we forget just how important artistic vision can shape our reality.
Art can move us. Art can make us think. Art has value.
Date of viewing: February 24, 2015