Children of Men

Children of Men

Film review by: Witney Seibold

children1.jpg

            In 2027, women have become barren. No one knows why, and, at this point, no one much cares anymore. With human extinction on the near horizon, the world has been thrown into lawlessness in the countryside, and martial law in the cities. People are in a constant state of depression and resigned cynicism. The youngest person on the planet has died at age 18. The British government has been encouraging people to commit suicide.

 

            Theo Faron (Clive Owen), an ex-activist, after surviving a coffee shop explosion, and being encouraged by an eccentric old friend of his named Jasper (Michael Caine), who lives off the grid, joins with his activist ex-wife (Julianne Moore) to join a mysterious underground resistance force called The Human Project. What they are fighting is unclear for a while, until we learn that they are harboring a young woman (Clare-Hope Ashitey) who appears to be genuinely pregnant. The world is too dangerous, and the government to Big-Brother-ish to reveal this news directly to the public, so The Human Project must spirit her off to a secret island where she may give birth in peace. Of course things don’t quite work out the way anyone plans, and Theo finds himself on the lam, alone with the pregnant woman.

 

            This is a good sci-fi conceit, even if it has reflections of Margaret Atwood’s novel The Handmaid’s Tale. The world in “Children of Men” is palpable, dank, dreary, immediate and real; photographer Emmanuel Lubezki (“A Little Princess,” “Sleepy Hollow,” “The New World”) adds a strange quality to the light, as if it’s about to fall out of the air at any second. The thriller elements of the story are genuine, but are greatly helped along by director Alfonso Cuarón’s photography and impressive camerawork. Indeed, “Children of Men” has some of the best tracking photography I have seen, perhaps some of the best to date. The film is punctuated by several extended shots (aided by computers), in which a casual conversation explodes into violence, and stays violent for a long time. The camera dips and swerves and zooms and never blinks for an instant. One shot during a shootout takes us from out in the street with the military side of the gunfight, along the battered walls, into a crumbling building, up a staircase, and in with the other side of the gunfight. I think it lasts for nearly 10 minutes.

 

            So “Children of Men” is an immensely intense and well-wrought piece of cinema. But there was one thing that bothered me. This may seem like a nitpicky detail, but it seems vital (and this will give away a few plot details):

 

            Theo ends up delivering the all-important infant himself. Like many of the shots, the birth scene is done without edits. This means that the baby employed in the scene would either have to be slipped in off screen somehow, or animated. Cuarón decided to go with the latter in this case, and we’re given a creepy, jerky, CGI-animated infant that is obviously not alive. Birth scenes in films are rarely convincing, but animating the baby was not only unconvincing, but a poor aesthetic choice. The infant is supposed to represent new life, hope, joy, organic human material entering the world again, and all the audience can think while looking at it is how impressive a cartoon it is. The central symbol of life in your film should not be so obviously lifeless.

 

            But a friend of mine has said that she didn’t mind the animated infant. She noticed that it was animated, but didn’t mind. Perhaps you won’t either.

             Otherwise, “Children of Men” is an amazing thriller, a melancholy sci-fi meditation, and a beautiful showcase of photography and editing.

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Published in: on September 20, 2007 at 9:16 pm  Leave a Comment  

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