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Justin's Rating: I haven't had babies in 30 years, and you don't see me running around screaming that the sky is falling, now do you?
I'd been dying to see Children of Men since I first saw the trailer, and in a packed Friday night theater on opening day, I got my chance. Director Alfonso Cuarón earned great respect from me for going above and beyond with Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, and he focused his incredible talent for details and settings on a film that needed someone to pay attention to the little stuff. Children of Men could've been a forgettable big-action flick, or a completely depressing bummer movie, but Cuarón takes this grand setting and gives us an intimate quest for hope in the middle of hopelessness.
It's 2027, and for the past 18 years no woman on earth has been able to give birth. Instead of going quietly into that good night, humanity seems bent on imploding before becoming extinct - terrorism, wars, pollution, refugees and totalitarianism is ever-present. Only Britain has any semblance of normal life, due to its isolation and extremely harsh immigration laws. Like so many around him, Theo (Clive Owen, haggard and worn) has no good reason to live - the future is pointless, because there are no more generations to pass ideas, wealth and legacies on to. It's only when a miracle drops into his lap — a pregnant mother named Kee — that he awakens from his 18-year funk. The world is dying, but there's a glimmer of possibility for something better. Isn't there?
Some futuristic films like to dazzle you with shiny technology and give us a hero that's a two-fisted action stud. Children of Men decides to go another route. With a few exceptions, the look and feel of this world is much like our own, although we're constantly reminded that things have changed so very much. Theo is a smart guy, but he's no James Bond or John McClane — he doesn't even really touch a gun during the whole film. Instead, this story parallels the nativity account in interesting ways, as a father-figure is tasked with protecting a pregnant woman holding the possible salvation of humanity.
What I loved, so very much, is how Cuarón gives lavish attention to the details of this post-apocalyptic world. Instead of trite character exposition or — God forbid — a huge opening text scroll spelling things out for us, details are what tells us of the larger story outside of Kee's flight. Newspaper clippings, headlines on billboards, TV commercials, animal carcasses on fire, little baby trinkets on people's desks… these all tell their own story without those pesky spoken words.
It even feels more real than a typical movie, although it doesn't quite launch into reality/documentary style. I particularly loved a moment when Theo is in the woods and the camera pans up to the incredibly tall treetops while the evening gust of wind filled the speakers. It's hard to explain, but few movies bother to connect with us in how we see the world ourselves, and the somewhat-silent moment of majesty in the woods is something I've loved in my life (Cuarón also gave some attention to the trees in HPPOA, if I recall). The violence, when it comes, is shocking and full of immediate danger — this isn't the showy gunfire of most action flicks, but the scary kind that we see on the evening news. Yet even in a dark setting, there's still a bevy of humor and bright touches to make us laugh and smile, and the ultimate tale of hope is one to root for.
I spent the first half, three-quarters of the movie holding my breath. Not because of the horrific odors coming from the walrus sitting behind me, nor because the tension was so great I could not — in my weak mental state — handle it. Have you ever gone in to see a movie and it just leaps out of the gate stunning you with how incredible it is? Then you start to worry, big time, that it will somehow collapse and falter toward the end and ruin what could've been a masterpiece? That's why I held my breath. Children of Men is good, and I felt the same tingling of excitement that I felt when I saw The Matrix or Fellowship of the Ring for the first time. By the end, I let my breath out and smiled. Terrific.
Sue's Rating: Almost a thousand dollars worth of my property taxes went toward the local school district this year. Imagine the savings if there weren't any more kids to educate!
In any case, Children of Men, which had rather a different spin on the end of... well, us, interested me right from the start. No war to end all wars, no giant meteor, no instant ice age — just the sudden and unexplainable cessation of human reproduction. That's so simple, it's practically elegant.
Still, I took some umbrage at the idea that without the presence of ankle-biters, everyone would fall off the good behavior wagon and the world would collapse into chaos and government sponsored suicide. Surely, surely, I thought, we would show a bit more decorum and a lot more cooperation of spirit. Right?
So during supper a few nights ago, I presented the basic scenario to my children, who will be approaching the Clive Owen age range by 2027 when the story takes place.
"Total chaos," SoM1 (15 year old male) predicted.
"Everyone would kill themselves," SoM2 (13 year old female and heretofore unsuspected cynic) added.
"Yeah," SoM1 nodded and shoveled more spaghetti into his gaping maw than science or mathematics can explain, "I mean," he went on in a spray of tomato sauce, "everyone would die anyway, so why not go nuts?"
Treading carefully, for fear of fomenting anarchy, I ventured, "Actually everyone dies eventually, no matter what."
"But there's no future," SoM2 said, brandishing a chunk of Italian bread at me. "Life would be pointless."
"Consider," I tried a different tack, "that I have personally reached the end goal of my presumed biological purpose. I've had kids. I've added my two cents to future genetics. I'm not going to have any more children. (Heaven forbid!) Do you see me offing myself because I'm getting gray hair?"
"But hardly any wrinkles yet," SoM1 said cheerfully.
Silence ensued while he belatedly contemplated his own very personal and imminent Armageddon.
"I mean no wrinkles," he corrected himself. "No wrinkles at all. Did someone mention wrinkles? Ha ha."
"Did anyone notice how the rhubarb crop was quite exceptional this year?" his sister rushed in with our family's version of the default conversational safety mode.
"But incidentally," SoM1, gathering that his life might yet be spared, "how did things go in the movie?"
"Chaos and suicide," I begrudged.
"Yes!" The SoM's exchanged high fives.
Well. So much for humanity. Phooey.
Anyway, Justin and I are basically in agreement over Children of Men. Aside from the fascinating predicament facing mankind, the strength of the movie is in the sense of immediacy; of being there and seeing the chaos and feeling helplessly swept up in events far beyond any one person's control. With no disrespect intended to anyone, I can think of a few places in the world right now where the people live in similarly uncertain and often suddenly violent situations. It's frightening and sobering to watch.
The best part of Children of Men to me is that despite all of the violence and fighting, you'd be hard pressed to pick out an absolute villain without hope of redemption. Everyone has a motive, everyone is searching for a more secure future, and even those driven to extreme violence and cruelty are — in the end — only doing they best they can in a horrible situation. "If you aren't my friend, you're my enemy," is very much the standard moral code for all of these people.
This is a movie that stays completely honest and true to itself from beginning to end. Excellent. Not fun, but excellent all the same.
Lissa's Rating: This is how fandoms are born.
Can you see where I'm going with this?
To be honest, the plot of Children of Men was totally predictable, once we were given the setup of the world-wide infertility plague. Disillusioned hero must save the one pregnant woman on Earth. Does he do it? What do you think? Is the baby born during the movie? I'll leave you to guess. Do the two leads fall in love? Mercifully, no. For once, someone actually believed that a man and a woman could interact for 24 hours and not feel the need to have sex. (We'll ignore the fact that the woman was heavily pregnant, because I don't think the relationship ever would have gone that way.) So, yeah. Plot was nothing to write home about. But the world….
What pulled me in to Children of Men and didn't let me go is the world that was created. And even better, we're just dropped into this world with no real explanation. While I can formulate some good guesses, we never get full descriptions of different political groups' agendas. Heck, we never even see The Human Project, except for a tiny glimpse at the end. We get flashes of religious groups that have popped up, different government agencies, but never any full exposure — just tantalizing tastes. It's frustrating, and yet it's just enough to completely capture the imagination.
Now, don't get me wrong. I don't want to live in a world like the one that's shown here. I really don't, although some days I wonder if we aren't headed that way. (It was hard not to when the movie evoked thoughts of both Auschwitz and Abu Ghraib.) But it's absolutely mesmerizing. I truly believe that a lot of the credit goes to Alfonso Cuarón. I find that I don't often notice the director's work, but this is a movie that the director definitely made. I'm very disappointed that he wasn't nominated for an Oscar for this, although at least he was for the screenplay. (Although, ironically, the writing didn't really jump out at me that much. But hey.)
As both Justin and Sue have said, it's not a fun movie, nor a cheerful one. Any humor that is present is quite dark, as befits the time and the situation. But it's a fantastic movie that stays with you for days, and one well worth seeing.
Shalen's Rating: Ten out of twenty deaths viewed from a minimum of fifty yards away.
It's a darn good film.
The camera work is for the most part wonderful, shaky when it should be, steady when we need not to be distracted by it. The dialogue doesn't strike one as scintillating until you realize how very reasonable it is — people talk, well, the way people talk, not the way people talk in movies. I wasn't expecting much from the director, but Mr. Cuaron seems to have gotten the best out of his cast — and it's no shabby cast, either. (Clive Owen seems to be this year's Clinically Depressed Hottie, but he does seem able to convey more than one emotion when necessary.)
An interesting example of how this film works has to do with the way deaths are handled on-screen. There's no closeup. There's no slow motion. In fact, most characters that perish (which, no real spoiler, is nearly all) do so far from the camera, at a cold and distant remove from the viewer. We can see them, but there are none of the usual tricks used to give significance to a character's last moments. This renders death much more frightening, like watching newsreel footage of Nazi executions — near-bloodless, grainy, and absolutely terrifying in its awful reality. I never thought tanks were actually scary until I saw this movie.
I would strongly urge you not to watch this movie if you've ever been or are currently depressed. I personally plan to never watch it ever again. But there's no denying it has its own sort of beauty, and it might be worth a look just for that.
So when does Ghost Rider come out, again?
Is It Worth Staying Through End Credits?
The Book [some sources: Wikipedia]
Intermission! [some sources: IMDb]
Theo: Who's the father?
Jasper: Pull my finger!
TV Reporter: The world was stunned today by the death of Diego Ricardo, the youngest person on the planet, the youngest person on earth was 18 years, 4 months, 20 days, 16 hours, and 8 minutes old.
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This review page was last updated on 2.16.07
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