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Children Of Men

Monday, January 15, 2007

Hmmm…could that graffiti on the wall behind Clive Owen have anything to do with the plot?

Children of Men

Dir: Alfonso Cuaron

Cuaron’s film takes place in 2027, and it has been 18 years since the last baby on Earth was born; men and women have become infertile, and civilisation is crumbling. The only place left that has seemingly managed to maintain its civility is Great Britain, where people still go about their daily routine, quietly growing older, knowing that the world is going to end.

However, the civility is simply a mask hiding the real truth. This England of 2027 is much more like Nazi Germany of the early 1940s. While the government is trying hard to give its citizens a normal life in the cities, immigrants and refugees are being slaughtered in the countryside. This is a film that’s as bleak as any apocalyptic future you’re likely to see – and not because of some massive alien invasion, or global warming, or nuclear holocaust. In a world where there are no babies, or the sounds of laughing children, humanity is left without any hope. There is nothing to live for.

It’s a fascinating concept, and it was first explored by P.D. James, in her novel of the same name, released in the late-80s. According to my special source, the book and film really only share a few things in common – the title and basic outline. Plot-wise, they are completely different. In James’s future, there is very little violence, because as the population ages, activism lessons, people settle down.

Children of Men is a film that explains very little, but provides exactly the right amount of information. The plot is simple, and I loved the fact that information about the future was ladled out carefully, as opposed to big huge dollops of exposition. The viewer is invited to fill in the gaps. We are plunked right into the middle of the world – action begins – main story – action ends. In this way it feels very much like a Hollywood film from the studio days; very little character development except for what we need and a plot that moves swiftly from one event to the next, with most of the extraneous fat left on the cutting room floor. Not that it isn’t a gut-wrenching ride too, cause it is.

Of course the film is also a piece of tour de force craftsmanship, and while I could talk about the socio-political stuff, or the performances (Clive Owen, Julianne Moore, Claire-Hope Ashitey, Michael Caine – all great), it’s really the style of the film that is the most interesting to talk about.

It takes a good director to shoot action sequences that make sense. I find so many action scenes in movies these days are almost incomprehensible because shots fly by so rapidly that it’s hard to tell what’s going on. What Cuaron does in Children of Men is take the opposite approach – he rarely cuts at all, preferring to shoot many sequences in long takes. It’s a gutsy move, and poses huge technical challenges, but the results are well worth it. There’s a kind of suspense in the long take that can’t be matched any other way – though with Cuaron, it never feels like a gimmick (for that, see the opening of Brian de Palma’s Snake Eyes).

In fact, at one point in a suspenseful sequence early on in the film, it wasn’t till it was almost over that I suddenly realized that the shot had lasted several minutes. And while there are a few stationary long takes, the majority of them are highly mobile, with the camera swooping around characters, going in and out of cars, etc.

One particularly violent bit (again, all in one take) has Clive Owen crashing a concrete block over a bad guy’s head. Yes it’s brutal, it’s excessive, it made me almost cry out as if I was the one being hit over the head, but in the context of the story it works. Though, and this is a *spoiler* by the way so stop reading, Cuaron also employs the same technique for the birth of the baby, holding the shot as Owen delivers the child and holds it until she takes her first breath – and that scene is one of the most incredible ever put on celluloid. *spoiler over*

Children of Men is a rich visual experience, and it gave me the same kind of adrenaline rush as Romeo and Juliet (Lahrman) or Dogville (von Trier) or City of God (Merseilles) or Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Gagnon). A good story well told is all I ask of any film, but a good, thought-provoking story that makes me sit up and change the way I think about movies is something else entirely. This is a beautiful, and profoundly moving film – dark, chilling, but ultimately hopeful. It’s not right to bandy the word visionary about all willy-nilly like, but Cuaron’s film comes pretty darn close. llewopemearg

One Comment leave one →
  1. James17930 permalink
    Tuesday, January 16, 2007 5:22 pm

    Yeah — those long takes were incredible.

    Jamie and I were talking about how this movie couldn’t have even been done without the digital effects that are available today. And those effects aren’t for creating monsters or anything like that — simply to make a huge, long take filled with tons of movement and action look and feel as real as possible.

    Excellent movie.

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