Children of Men

June 22, 2009


Children of Men

Review By: Staff

Try to remember your Sunday school lessons or your Hebrew school teachings about Jeremiah, the prophetically gifted man whom nobody would listen to. He was put in jail when he prophesized that King Nebuchadnezzar was going to siege the city of Jerusalem. One reading this review unfamiliar with the synopsis of Alfonzo Cuaron's upcoming film Children of Men, may excusably assume that the film revolves around the life and times of the prophet Jeremiah, whose story is most memorably told in the Old Testament. On the contrary, Cuaron's film in fact takes place in an anarchy stricken futuristic world, far from the ancient times of the Old Testament. This vague association will be explained shortly, but first Children of Men.

In 2027 women can no longer have babies. With no future in sight, the world has slowly decayed into a global mass of poor communication, corruption, and rogue militia groups, all taking place under the veil of a deep sadness. Global economies are collapsing, therefore so are their governments and countries. Britain has closed its borders as fallen Eastern European citizens attempt to make it across. They are treated as the slime of the earth and ultimately get banished to refugee camps outside of London. Our story begins on the day that the youngest person in the world, "baby Diego," is killed. Diego was a major celebrity due to his age. If hope was already lost in this world, then with the death of Diego it is most certainly gone. Theo's (Clive Owen) ex-wife Julian, (Julianne Moore), a "Fish" rebel leader pays Theo to help transport Kee (Clare-Hope Ashitey) out of the country. Theo agrees to do this, he needs the money for undisclosed reasons, and asks no questions. When plans go astray, Kee shares with Theo her secret, lifting her shirt she reveals a round belly with life inside it. A man without hope is now in the process of cultivating it.

This epidemic is a world wide problem. But the film does not waver from its London setting. Apart from showing some newsreel footage of other world cities, the film almost entirely is told in the first person, with Theo as our visual narrator. What Theo experiences, we too as the audience also experience. Theo starts to experience some contention and differing of ideals from the "Fish" rebel group. The rebel group with co-leader Luke (Chiwetel Ejiofor) wants to use Kee to help unite the rebellion against the national government, while Theo wants to bring Kee to a mysterious group called "The Human Project". These scientific people only operate through certain chosen satellites (people) to reveal their whereabouts and information about them, leading to their dubious nature. Theo is forced to take matters into his own hands and deliver Kee to "The Human Project."

Subtlety, like silence, is golden in this film. It may be because we are so often "beaten over the head" with the "point" of a film, that one can appreciate the subtlety of Cuaron's latest. I cite last years Academy Award for Best Picture winner Crash as an example. In the opening scene of Crash it made no qualms about telling the audience what the film was going to be about. As the film progressed, it did not waver from that format. Cuaron and his other screenwriters take a differing approach. A scene occurs at Jasper's (Michael Caine) house, Theo's best friend. While Theo is trying on shoes, Jasper and Kee are in the other room having an important thematic conversation. Now Cuaron could just as easily place the camera in the center of the room and let the thematic conversation be revealed to us so that we the audience can "get the point" of the film the way that a more conventional film may have done. Instead it follows Theo as he creeps around the corner and listens in on the conversation. Nothing is forced, Cuaron doesn't manipulate, he trusts the audience.

Unlike many other conventional filmmakers, he stays clear of manipulation. Cuaron uses cinematographer Emmanuel Lubenski (The New World), and while the film may not be as aesthetically pleasing to the eye the way The New World was, it is certainly beautiful when the photography is so purposefully functional. Cuaron and Lubenski allow their camera to be motivated by the story, not the other way around. Clive Owen said in a recent GQ article: "The camera follows me through a scene of war and carnage, for almost 20 minutes. You can't see how Alfonzo does it. It is absolutely seamless, all these invisible cuts "” it goes against the conventional wisdom that to create excitement you have to quick cut and jump all over the place," (September 2006, pg. 331). He doesn't manipulate, he lets the story reveal itself, and he trusts his audience. There is something unique to Cuaron's work, his films seem to have a heart beat, whether that heart beat makes you feel good or not, (see his most recent work Y Tu Mama, Tambien [2001], and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban [2004] for examples of this). All of his characters explode off the screen, they are rich, thick, full, and real. Children of Men is certainly no exception, most notably Owen, Ejiofor, and Caine give outstanding performances.

Some may be asking the question, what does Jeremiah have to do with any of this.. Jeremiah writes in the Book of Lamentations: "For he (God) does not willingly bring affliction or grief to the children of men," (emphasis my own). Theo narrates in the opening of the film: "I can’t really remember when I last had any hope, and I certainly can’t remember when anyone else did either. Because really, since women stopped being able to have babies, what’s left to hope for?" Both men are in search of hope. Jeremiah is being afflicted over and over again, God is continually punishing him. But he still, even while in jail, has a deep and meaningful hope. This verse from Lamentations is contained in the same chapter as: "The Lords compassions never fail, they are new every morning, great is your faithfulness." Jeremiah has hope. Theo has hope, otherwise he wouldn't question what's left to hope for? He gets his answer in Kee, and we get to experience these rushes of emotions with him. Alfonzo Cuaron has given us a very unique and powerful film, it may be subtle, but it is there.

Movie Grade: A

Note: This review is based on a screening at the Venice Film Festival, some changes may have been made to the film before its theatrical release.

Synopsis:

Children of Men envisages a world one generation from now that has fallen into anarchy on the heels of an infertility defect in the population. The world’s youngest citizen has just died at 18, and humankind is facing the likelihood of its own extinction.

Set against a backdrop of London torn apart by violence and warring nationalistic sects, Children of Men follows disillusioned bureaucrat Theo (Owen) as he becomes an unlikely champion of Earth’s survival. When the planet’s last remaining hope is threatened, this reluctant activist is forced to face his own demons and protect her from certain peril.

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