[FILM] "Children of Men" - Tales of a Future to be Feared
- 'Children of Men'
The intense "Children of Men" is set in a near future to give us
pause today. CRITIC'S CHOICE
By Kenneth Turan, Times Staff Writer
The best science fiction talks about the future to talk about the
now, and "Children of Men" very much belongs in that class. Made with
palpable energy, intensity and excitement, it compellingly creates a
world gone mad that is uncomfortably close to the one we live in. It
is a "Blade Runner" for the 21st century, a worthy successor to that
epic of dystopian decay.
Like that earlier film, "Children of Men" is based on a novel (P.D.
James this time, not Philip K. Dick) and deals with the question of
the future of human life. It brings so much urgency to the
possibility of the world ending that we feel the kind of terror we
would if the scenario were taking place tomorrow instead of 20 years
in the future.
Also, in Alfonso Cuarón, "Children of Men" has a strong director with
a powerhouse visual sense who is at home with both action sequences
and philosophical concerns. Cuarón, with such widely diverse films
as "A Little Princess" and "Y Tu Mamá También" behind him,
demonstrates once again that no genre is beyond his mastery.
The plot hook of "Children of Men" is simple but devastating: the
infertility of the entire human race. The date is 2027, and it's been
18 years since the Earth's last human child was born. James, whose
novel has been altered considerably by the film's five credited
screenwriters, says she wrote it to answer the question, "If there
were no future, how would we behave?" The answer, in a word, is
For what "Children of Men" shows us is a world coming apart at the
seams. Britain, where the story is set, has survived by becoming a
chaotic police state in which rioters fueled by pure fury attack
whatever moves and heavily armed police and savage dogs keep a close
eye on ever-present refugees stuffed into sidewalk holding
tanks. "Renouncers" flog themselves for the forgiveness of humanity,
public service ads insist "The world has collapsed, only Britain
soldiers on," and an underground group called the Fishes fights for
equal rights for that flood of immigrants.
This, again like "Blade Runner," is an undeniably pulpy premise, but
two things elevate "Children of Men": One is the sheer forcefulness
of the storytelling, the other the film's brilliant visual look and
The story line here is again quite simple. A disheartened bureaucrat
named Theo (Clive Owen, master of the disillusioned look) has cut
himself off from most human contact except for an old friend and
hippie drug dealer named Jasper (Michael Caine in a way we've not
seen him before).
This all changes when Theo comes face to face with Julian (Julianne
Moore), his old flame who turns out to be part of the leadership of
the Fishes. She and her lieutenant, Chiwetel Ejiofor's Luke, want his
help in procuring exit visas for a young refugee woman named Kee
(Clare-Hope Ashitey). It will surprise no one who has
noticed "Children of Men" is opening on Christmas Day that,
astonishingly, Kee is with child.
Theo reluctantly agrees to help, and all kinds of unexpected
complications follow in the wake of that decision. Everyone has
agendas within agendas, and even simple notions, like the importance
of getting Kee to safety, turn out to mean different things to
different people. And, because of Kee's urgent condition, every
decision is taken under the ever-higher pressure of increasingly dire
The critical factor in helping keep that tension at a high pitch,
critical in getting us to take seriously what could be a lurid
premise, is Cuarón's skill in not only motivating his actors but also
in creating such a ferocious sense of forward momentum that
everything feels more real and more terrifying than would seem
Essential here is exceptional work by production designers Jim Clay
and Geoffrey Kirkland, who create a world of garbage and decay that
looks both contemporary and futuristic. Most remarkable of all is
what Cuarón's longtime director of photography Emmanuel Lubezki has
accomplished by shooting entirely hand-held with few lights, greatly
increasing the film's verisimilitude. Although everyone will notice
the bravura work of camera operator George Richmond during one
continuous seven-minute-plus battle scene, the skill of the
cinematography team carries the film from the beginning to the end.
Perhaps most delicate of all is the way director Cuarón has
made "Children of Men" comment on the problems society faces today,
crises involving racism, terrorism, decaying infrastructure,
threatened environment, government-inspired paranoia and more.
This is a world of rubble, fear and hopelessness whose connections to
our own are never forced; Cuarón is such a fluid director with such a
powerful imagination, they don't have to be. This could well be our
future, and we know it.
"Children of Men." MPAA rating: R for strong violence, language, some
drug use and brief nudity. Running time: 1 hour, 48 minutes. Opens
Monday exclusively at Pacific's Grove, 189 The Grove Drive, L.A.,
(323) 692-0829, and AMC Century City, 10250 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.,