NO CHILDREN. NO FUTURE. NO HOPE.
I have no idea how P.D. James, the 86-year-old mystery writer behind the novel “The Children of Men”, reacted when she saw Alfonso Cuarón’s adaptation. He and the four co-writers made considerable changes to the story and parts of it are disturbingly bleak and realistic. I can only imagine the Baroness looking slightly shocked.
On the other hand, I also find it distinctly possible that a woman who has murdered countless of people in her books might have the stomach for it.
Refugees are trying to cross the borders
The year is 2027 and Earth is in turmoil. Britain has become somewhat of a haven and hundreds of thousands of refugees from around the world are trying to cross the borders. Not that it’s a paradise; the leadership has become fascistic, London looks like hell, riots are common… and so are bombings. A group called The Fishes are blamed for several terrorist attacks, including one that almost kills our protagonist. Theo Faron (Clive Owen) is a common bureaucrat who used to be a radical. Now he’s just another drunk in a hopeless world where no child has been born in 18 years. No one knows the reason for this horrific trend, but humanity is slated for extinction sooner than anyone had anticipated. Shortly after the latest bombing, Theo is kidnapped by The Fishes and it turns out that his former girlfriend and partner-in-crime, Julian Taylor (Julianne Moore), is involved. She tells him that they are not terrorists, that it’s the government that’s responsible, and she needs him to use his connections to help them transport a young woman, Kee (Claire-Hope Ashitey), to a seaside town. Reluctantly, Theo agrees.
Things go awry, but when Theo learns that Kee is pregnant he finds himself committed to the cause. She needs to be taken to a boat called Tomorrow that belongs to people who work for a key project aiming to save life on Earth. The hope of mankind now rests on the shoulders of a teenage girl and an alcoholic.
Trapped in dark, sinister worlds
Director Cuarón jumped from Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004) to this thriller; both portray good people trapped in dark, sinister worlds. Along with the production designers, cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki creates a future London and England that we can believe in (if things do indeed go to hell). No flying cars or nonsense of that kind, just discrete details. In one very scary and ingenious sequence where a car is ambushed, Lubezki also shows what kind of a professional he is; the camera moves in a thoughtful, meticulous way that captures events perfectly, but also creates a lot of tension. Because of the way that the sequence is directed, we’re at first lulled into a false sense of complacency. There’s also a harrowing battle near the end where the characters end up in the middle of urban warfare; the scene is shot in a way that even makes us in the audience fear for our lives.
Gritty stuff, but the story is truly compelling and the actors make us root for their characters; Owen as the grieving drunk who is pushed to fight oppression, Moore as the proud freedom fighter, Ashitey as the kid who is inexplicably chosen to jump-start procreation, and Michael Caine as the aging hippie who hides in the forest.
Aspects in the script that deal with illegal immigration, terrorism and the state of our world are particularly interesting when viewed with contemporary eyes, but you don’t need an interest in politics to find this film an emotional and terrifying rollercoaster ride.
Children of Men 2006-U.S.-Britain. 108 min. Color. Produced by Marc Abraham, Eric Newman, Hilary Shor, Iain Smith, Tony Smith. Directed by Alfonso Cuarón. Screenplay: Alfonso Cuarón, Timothy J. Sexton, David Arata, Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby. Novel: P.D. James. Cinematography: Emmanuel Lubezki. Production Design: Geoffrey Kirkland, Jim Clay, Jennifer Williams. Cast: Clive Owen (Theo Faron), Julianne Moore (Julian Taylor), Michael Caine (Jasper), Chiwetel Ejiofor, Charlie Hunnam, Claire-Hope Ashitey… Danny Huston.
BAFTA: Best Cinematography, Production Design.
Last word: “When I started working on the film I met with the art department and they undusted all the old rejections from science fiction movies they had done, they were so excited to do this movie that took place in the future. They started showing me all these amazing things. Supersonic cars, buildings, gadgets and stuff and I was like, ‘You guys this is brilliant, but this is not the movie we’re doing. The movie we are doing is this,’ and I brought in my files. It was about Iraq, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Northern Ireland, the Balkans, Chernobyl and I said this is the movie we are doing. The rule I set is this movie is not about imagination, it is about reference.” (Cuarón, Rope of Silicon)