Children of Men
For many of us science fiction is the first genre we come to love as kids. With the space ships and fantastic creatures the sci-fi flick captures our imagination. While there will always be a place for such light faire there is a more serious side to science fiction. It can provide food for thought by showing us an alternate future or reality. Shows like the Twilight Zone and the Outer Limits were great examples of hiding political and social commentary in the guise of entertainment. Now a new film has taken its place among the greats of this use of science fiction, ‘Children of Men’. This film by writer-director Alfonso Cuarón offers a scary and all too realistic look at a world where the future of mankind is in serious doubt. The dystopia portrayed here is based on the novel of the best selling mystery writer P.D. James. There is enough in this well done movie for everyone; mystery, political conspiracy and the harbinger of doom for mankind.
The film opens in England in the year 2027. After decades of warfare and ecological misuse the world is in ruins. It has been almost two decades since the last human child was born. The birthrate is down to zero and for those are alive the world is a brutal place filled with rampart and random violence. What ever remnants of hope the world may have had is shattered completely when news of murder hits. ‘Baby Diego’, eighteen and the last known human born was killed. The level of violence is slightly less in Great Britain so relative to anywhere else it is a virtual paradise. With this immigration is out of hand in England. Even there the air is constantly filled with the sound of televisions and its constant propaganda. This Orwellian state has become draconian towards immigrants openly stating that the resources of Great Britain must be conserved for natives of England.
In his younger days Theo Faron (Clive Owen) was a politically active man. Now, he stumbles off each morning to his mind numbingly boring job as a minor bureaucrat. Once he would have been in the forefront of the world’s problems, now his apathy leaves little in him to care. On November 17th Theo goes to the local café to pick up coffee but this time he is nearly killed by a bomb. The Fishers, a terrorist group fighting for immigrant rights claims responsibility. Theo is shaken and decides to visit an old friend, Jasper Palmer (Michael Caine), a former political cartoonist. Jasper lives out in the country side where he cares for his catatonic wife, a former war photographer, while he grows marijuana hidden in the lush forest. Just as Theo returns to London he is kidnapped by his ex-wife Julian Taylor (Julianne Moore). Thing have not been too amicable between them since they son died in a flu pandemic some twenty years ago. She explains that there is £5,000 in it for him if he can provide a travel permit for a young, African refugee, Kee (Claire-Hope Ashitey). While Theo’s bureaucratic pull is not enough to get the papers he is able to turn to his cousin, Nigel (Danny Huston), who just happens to be a minister who works as the curator of the "Ark of Arts", a warehouse for ‘rescued’ artworks. To his surprise and chagrin the papers have a stipulation that he must accompany Kee in her travels. Theo, Julian and Kee obtain a driver and head out but are soon met with violence. When Julian is killed in the attack Kee reveals the true purpose of her journey; she is pregnant and has to get to safety with a group called the Human Project. This secrete organization is looking for a way to save humanity. Theo councils Kee to tell the public about the impending birth but she is afraid that both she and her child would become subjects of government experimentation. Meanwhile, the Fishers are after the expecting mother to further their own political agenda.
While science fiction used to be a genre on its own now it serves well as the backdrop for another type of film. Here the story line is forwarded by the science fiction elements but it certainly holds together on its own. The writing is taut and precise building the suspense nicely. Alfonso Cuarón is obviously influenced by works such as Phillip K. Dick’s ‘Blade Runner’ in the look and feel he employs in this film. This is not a bright and cheerful look at the future. Instead it takes problems prevalent in today’s world and expands upon them to a grim conclusion. In most newspapers you can see the growing debate about immigration. People call for such extreme measures as building walls to keep out people who just want a better life for their families. Here Britain is experiencing an immigration problem that also has become political in nature. While many now are worried about the state of the ecology this film takes the point to an even more extreme level, the end of human reproduction. The government has made the population against immigrants but their only hope may be in one such person. Like any good socially progressive science fiction this one is sure to inspire much conversation long after the closing credits role.
This is a great cast for a film bound to be a classic. Clive Owen is an everyday man who is easy for the audience to identify with. Instead of the usual Hollywood hero who rushes into the fray to save the day; Owen plays Theo as a more reluctant man. He is apathetic, worn down not only by recent events but by seeing his dreams of activism dashed on reality. Owen portrays Theo as someone who just outlived his dreams. In his youth he fought against the establishment but now in his job as a low level bureaucrat he finds himself as a cog in the machine he once opposed. This conflict is well underplayed by Owen who has the acting talent to present a role in a believable fashion. The only fault with the performance of Michael Caine is it is too brief. He is perhaps one of the best character actors ever and his time on screen is fantastic. The same could be said about Julianne Moore who unfortunately has too little screen time. Claire-Hope Ashitey is new to films but has a promising future ahead. She gives a stellar performance as a young woman who just wants to have her child instead of being the focus of international conflict.
The release of this film on DVD is excellent but I would expect nothing less from Universal Studio Home Video. The technical mastering is well crafted. The anamorphic 1.85:1 video is top notch. The color balance is a bit bleak but that is by design and fits with the mood of the film. The contrast is near perfect with no signs of defect or artifact. The Dolby 5.1 audio provides a full sound stage that puts you in the middle of the action. There are also extras that do more than pad the rest of the disc; they add to the enjoyment of the film as well as provide more material to consider. There are alternate and deleted scenes which are routine but the featurettes shine. The commentary by Alfonso Cuarón is insightful providing technical details as well as some views of how the film relates to today’s world. There is a making of featurette that details what it took to create this dim view of the future. Also included are featurettes on such topics as hope and the back story behind Theo and Julian. In all this is a must have film that is entertaining, exciting and thought provoking.