Children of Men (2006)

Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity has become one of this fall’s most highly anticipated releases. This is due in no small part to the director’s previous effort Children of Men, a 2006 apocalyptic thriller that earned a spot on many critics’ year-end top ten lists and scored an Oscar nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay (it’s loosely based on a novel by P.D. James). The movie certainly contains some of the most riveting action sequences seen in recent years, but when it comes to exploring the political and social ramifications of its high-concept premise, the film is never quite as compelling.

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The year is 2027, and it’s been 18 years since the last baby was born. The entire human race has been rendered infertile for reasons that are a mystery, and shall remain a mystery for the entirety of the film. In the face of impending extinction, most of the world has descended into anarchy (New York, Paris, and Moscow have all been nuked, presumably by terrorists), but the United Kingdom stands as one of the last remaining stable governments in the world. As a result, England finds itself inundated with refugees, or “fugees”, who are quickly rounded up and literally thrown in cages, in a none-too-subtle jab at the UK’s current immigration policies.

Children of Men (2006)

In the midst of this, we meet Theo Faron (Clive Owen), a disillusioned bureaucrat who spends most of his days wallowing in drunken self-pity. But that all changes when he’s abducted and brought to a meeting with his ex-wife Julian (Julianne Moore). They broke up twenty years ago when their son died, and Julian now belongs to a pro-fugee group of activists who call themselves the “Fishes”.

Children of Men (2006)

At her request, Theo uses his family connection to a government minister to acquire “transit papers” for a special African refugee named Kee. Theo and the group make their way to the coast, but they’re soon ambushed and Julian is shot and killed. This turns out to be the handiwork of a dissident faction within the Fishes that hopes to spark a violent uprising against the government, and use Kee as a propaganda tool. You see, Kee is pregnant, and the first woman to get pregnant in over 18 years.

Children of Men (2006)

With Julian dead, it’s up to Theo alone to keep Kee (and eventually, her newborn baby) out of the hands of the Fishes, and turn her over to a group called the “Human Project”, which sounds like something George Costanza made up, but which is supposedly a scientific group dedicated to curing infertility.

The film is full of top-notch action scenes that despite being meticulously planned out, still come off as chaotic and unpredictable. Cuarón shoots most of these scenes like a combat documentary, using handheld cameras and natural light wherever possible, and most notably of all, including several lengthy single-shot sequences.

The most well-known of these long unbroken takes happens during the ambush where Julian is killed, inside a moving car that was specially designed with seats that could slide in and out of the way of the camera as it gives us a full 360-degree view of the attack. There’s also a lengthy sequence where Theo runs in and out of buildings, and up and down stairs, all the while avoiding gunfire and explosions while trying to rescue Kee.

Children of Men (2006)

Thankfully, the technique doesn’t call a lot of attention to itself. The only people who will consciously recognize these as single continuous takes are big-time film nerds; but for the rest of the audience, these shots still provide a visceral, first-person point of view, making us feel like we’re in the middle of the action as bullets fly and bombs go off.

Though, a lot of these seemingly continuous shots are not truly continuous; plenty of digital effects were employed to blend together multiple takes. But even Alfred Hitchcock faked up a long unbroken shot, so Cuarón is in good company.

Children of Men (2006)

While the action is unparalleled, the movie stumbles when it delves into the larger geopolitical context. If you’re looking for a deep examination of what happens to the human race as it stares extinction in the face, this is not the movie for you. Some references to the end of humanity are tossed off here and there—Theo wonders why his minister cousin would bother to rescue Michelangelo’s David when no one will be around to see it in a hundred years—but ultimately, the underlying event that creates these post-apocalyptic conditions could just as easily have been any man-made or natural disaster.

Children of Men (2006)

Given the concept, it’s a bit of a letdown that the film is mostly about criticizing the anti-immigration stance of western countries. Clearly, this was a subject of deep importance to the filmmakers, but here, it feels awkwardly shoehorned in. Instead of dragging the last fertile woman on earth across a battlefield, wouldn’t it make more sense to simply turn her over to the government? The only explanation we get here basically comes down to “government bad, immigrants good”.

But still, the race to rescue Kee is harrowing. After the shocking murder of Julian earlier in the film, you’re constantly waiting for one errant bullet or one bit of shrapnel to take down Kee and end the entire human race as we know it. As far as action movies go, the stakes don’t get any higher.

The exact reason for the human race becoming infertile is never explained in the film. This was a bone of contention for some viewers, but I’m perfectly fine with this being an open-ended question. If the movie explained that it was something like, say, vaccines, would that really make it a better movie? When the end of the world comes, will it really matter what caused it? (Actually, the film does mention the “2008 flu pandemic” that killed Theo and Julian’s only son; as an explanation for global sterility, that works about as well as any other.)

Thanks to this, the Harry Potter film he directed, and early raves for Gravity, it seems Cuarón has now been claimed by the geek crowd as one of their own. It’s amusing to think that the director of Y Tu Mamá También and a Dickens adaptation with Gwyneth Paltrow has now become some sort of sci-fi icon, but he’s definitely the type of gifted filmmaker the genre needs.

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  • StevePotter

    This is the only film that I’ve liked Julianne Moore in, mainly because she’s not on screen for very long.

    • Thomas Stockel

      So, are you saying less is Moore?

  • AndreBrock

    And as usual for this increasingly smug and insular website that spends way too much time on obscure video-game episodes and rubbish movies NO-ONE has ever heard of and don’t care about, you completely ignore one of the Best parts of this particular movie you actually bother to “review”: Michael Caine. Shame on you.

    • StevePotter

      In his defense, Michael Caine is in it for about ten minutes and most of his scenes have to do with thematic content as opposed to the plot. I mean, I loved Michael Caine in this too, but he’s not necessary for a complete analysis of the film.

      That’s like saying your analysis of Kenneth Branagh’s “Hamlet” is invalid if you don’t mention Billy Crystal as the Gravedigger. Yeah, it’s a great part, but you can “review” the film without discussing it.

    • MichaelANovelli

      Hey, proper insulation is important! Winter’s coming, ya know…

      • Thomas Stockel

        Was that Game of Thrones reference deliberate or accidental? :)

        • MichaelANovelli

          Que?

          • Thomas Stockel

            In Game of Thrones each house has a family motto. House Stark’s is “Winter Is Coming”.

          • MichaelANovelli

            Ah.

    • Fantasy Mission Force

      Are you new here, or something…?

  • Muthsarah

    “If the movie explained that it was something like, say, vaccines, would that really make it a better movie?”

    For Michelle Bachman’s crowd, it would.

    I’m confused. Are you recommending this movie or not? It sounds interesting, and I remember reading up on it many years ago – back in a time when I couldn’t really afford movies – and I was on the fence, but opted instead for food and rent. Is it an imperative rent at $2.25 (meaning it’s really more about the two hours), or can it be placed in the lower half of la grande queue? Currently, I have Dirty Harry, Scanners, Bonnie & Clyde, and Le Quai de Brumes at the top, if that matters any.

    I’m seeing Gravity regardless, FWIW.

    • Cristiona

      I’d say it’s worth seeing, personally I just tossed it on my Netflix queue. As for the review, I think he’s captured my own ambivilence about the movie rather well. It certainly had its moments, and there were some stunning scenes, but as a whole, I just sort of shrugged at the end.

      Which kind of surprised me. I’ve heard people rave about this movie using every superlative they could find, while talking about multiple viewings in the theater, but it kind of left me cold. Not a bad film, but hardly earth shattering either.

    • Michelle Kirkwood

      Yeah, it’s worth it,because it’s not your typical sci-fi flick dealing with spaceships and star wars—-it’s more grittier and down to earth–it’s a good recomendation.

  • Severian

    As far as the film missing “a deep examination of what happens to the human race as it stares extinction in the face,” be careful what you wish for. After seeing the movie I was intrigued enough to seek out the original P. D. James novel, and was pretty deeply let down. It provides context, all right, loads of it – but it’s generally the opposite of the raw, violent, increasingly crazed world of the movie. As I recall, one of James’ biggest beefs with the apocalypse is that it would cause church attendance to suffer. She goes on and on about the importance of faith (she’s especially fond of a stuffy, proper, veddy veddy British kind of mainstream Christianity) to such an extent it sometimes felt like those champion Anglo-Catholic navel-gazers Evelyn Waugh and Graham Greene had somehow gotten together to write a post-apocalyptic novel. Anyway, the world of the film, while only very lightly sketched in, is miles away from James’ vision, and that suits me just fine.

    • Thomas Stockel

      Yeah, sometimes a film adaptation is actually better than the source material. I read Do Androids Dream Electric Sheep and I have to say Blade Runner is much better in every way.

  • Greenhornet

    “Hello 2013, this is 2015 speaking.”

    Consider the “…none-too-subtle jab at the UK’s current immigration policies.” in this movie to the incredible invasion Europe and America are suffering now. Both unions are being THREATENED by countries who seem desperate to get ride of their trouble-makers and unemployed.
    Take them in and we will not only lose our national identity but have race, tribal and religious wars. Keep them out and we’ll have war with the countries who want to get rid of those who are of no use to them.
    THE WORLD is screwed no matter what we do.

    Note that I’m not pointing the finger of accusation at anyone, but SOME MORON will jump in and say that I’m talking about THEIR beliefs.

    • Greenhornet

      BTW, I meant to type “Compare”, not “Consider” in the opening sentence.

    • Michelle Kirkwood

      Oh, give it a break. Refugees have always flooded our country and any other country around the world that could afford to take them in—usually due to war or a bad economy. We Americans are always do quick as hell to forget that the U.S. itself was started by mostly refugees from other countries—keep that in mind. And,uh, every country in the world has had their tribal, religious and race wars since human started fighting each other over land and everything else—-been there, done all of that. That being said, Children Of Men is one of the most realistic sci-fi flicks I’ve seen—caught it when it came out, and found it to be very sobering and moving at the same time.

      • Greenhornet

        And when the trouble in the old country is over, will they go home? No they will not. Tell me, what’s this crap about their demanding that WE change OUR heritage and customs and laws in favor of THEIR ways? If THEIR countries are so screwed up, why do they want us to become like the old country?
        Yeah, America was created by people whose ANSESTORS came from another country, but they CHANGED the things that they felt were wrong with the old country. Read up on the immigration of the late 19th and early 20th century; those people wanted to become AMERICANS, they didn’t try to change the people who were born here. There are many “immigrants” today who are demanding that we adopt their ways and it’s not just in America. It’s out of control and no amount of “compassion” will change it.
        My family came to America as slaves from Ireland in 1750.

    • CaptainCalvinCat

      Well, if the world is screwed up already, greenhornet, then we can take the refugees in – after all, whatever you’re doing, you’re doing it wrong.

      • Greenhornet

        Can we REALLY take them in? Can we REALLY abandon our nation and borders and become a dumping ground for every fool who thinks America is a “magic land” that will provide their every need? There are several people who want to eliminate America’s borders, like Paul Ryan who said that America is “an idea, not a country”. What about the Reconquistadores? They want at least half the western states. Some of them are demanding parts of CANADA. Shall we give up land out of “compassion”? What happens to US, then? Where do WE go?
        HINT: There is NO WHERE for us to go. Pretty much every place on Earth has been tainted by socialism; not that there is any land we can settle.

        • CaptainCalvinCat

          I hear those questions every time, when it comes to refugees in Germany. “What if they want to destroy our country? What happens to our welfare state, if people are still coming, seeing this country as “soziale Hängematte” (social hammock – or as a song title of the band Dire Straits “money for nothing and the chicks for free”)? What if those persons will one day notice, that this is not some socialist Wunderland, but a capitalists wet dream?”

          Yeah – sure… there is a risk – but… shall that stop us from helping those in need?
          Or let me put it this way: If roles were reversed, how would you like to be treated? Would you like to be denied of refuge, because one will never know, if you do want to destroy that country you’re seeking refuge in? Would you like to be denied of refuge, because some person said “Well, the boat is full -sorry, we cannot take you, because we’re a welfare state and that’s not working”?

          Do as you would be done by. If you have no problem, that some persons say “Well, sorry, you’re a refugee, and we don’t know what you’ll do to our country” – then go ahead.

          Concerning the reconquistadores: Do they have any legal stand? If not – well…. then there’s nothing to be afraid of. And if they have a legal stand – well, then you can still panic, use your second amendmant and your “stand your ground” policy.