Friday, June 29, 2007
Children of Men (2006) Cuarón
Wowzer. I have no idea why I resisted seeing Children of Men for so long. When the trailer was initially in cinemas, I thought it looked great and had an interesting premise, but when it finally landed I was just apathetic about seeing it. Probably didn’t have the funds or maybe just lack of incentive, either way I left it and then forgot about it until happening across it in the dvd shop yesterday. I couldn’t see anything better to rent, so I came home with CoM.
And I was blown away.
It had it’s flaws, there’s no question about that. There were certain plot points that I didn’t fully comprehend - why was Kee the only woman able to conceive for 20 years? What exactly was the immigration problem about? Who were the Human Project and what was their purpose? - but overall these discrepancies just added to the bleak disorientation of the film. For the uninitiated, Children of Men is the filmic adaptation of P.D. James’ dystopian novel. It takes place in Britain of the future, which by the year 2027 has been rendered a living nightmare. Chaos reigns with secret societies abound, London has degenerated into an urban wasteland and for some unexplained reason, women are no longer able to give birth. The film opens with the death of the youngest person on earth, an 18 year old boy named Diego. This death creates a minor ripple through a world already disaffected and devoid of hope.
From the very beginning, director Alfonso Cuarón grabs the viewer by the hand and hurtles us along the rollercoaster ride from hell. Explosions rip half the screen apart, but these are no Michael Bay-type booms, these are gut-clenching explosions, truly frightening and strangely beautiful. Blood splatters out and actually remain on the camera for an excruciatingly long take in which I just wanted to applaud long and hard. There is no easy way out; important, sympathetic characters die or get carted off and it all seems awfully bleak and disturbing. At the same time, our protagonist, Theo (a wonderfully on-form Clive Owen), is the perfect anti-hero, a gruff, bemused loner who’s lost everything and therefore has nothing left to lose. Unwittingly, Theo gets thrown into dealing with a covert operation who have uncovered a young woman, Kee, who is inexplicably pregnant. His ex-wife, Julian (Julianne Moore), who is the leader of the terrorist group known as The Fishes, adds some fun to the proceedings - her scenes with Theo are sweet and touching - until things turn nasty and Theo is forced to go on the run with Kee. It’s a dangerous journey that takes them deep into the heart of the urban jungle, filthy and depressing and achingly human.
It’s in the little details that Children of Men triumphs. Theo’s escape is so hurried he doesn’t even have time to find his shoes and spends most of the movie in a muddy of socks or a pair of dodgy sandals borrowed from his ageing hippy friend Jasper, a hilarious Michael Caine. Caine is a pure delight whenever he is on screen; he’s a stoned joker who holes up in the woods to listen to Aphex Twin and Radiohead, but the photographs and newspaper clippings that litter his cabin betray the hardship that lurks beneath his funny veneer. The London of 2027 is startingly rendered; background signs and thoughtful graffiti add a realistic depth and I’m sure that one could not possibly pick up on all the details through one viewing. It’s a technical dream; the cinematography does not rely on sunets or beach scenes to be beautiful and the lighting is similarly striking. There are numerous scenes that I found just fascinating to look at; the room in which Theo is kidnapped, the walls covered with newspaper, the whole scene in the car which begins lighthearted and funny and descends into one of the most heartwrenching scenes I've seen in a long time, the very last shot etc.
Despite it’s brutality, Children of Men never gives up on humanity. It is pure, visceral filmmaking with a good heart, an eye for the cinematic and a central character who is flawed, lonely, depressed and heroic. What more would you need in a film?