“Everything is a cosmic battle between faith and chance”
Alfonso Cuarón’s dystopian thriller film Children of Men (2006), based on P. D. James’ The Children of Men (1992), presents a hypothetical reality set in 2027, eighteen years after the last birth of a child. Drowning its characters in a world of financial and social ruin, the British-American-Japanese co-production offers a study of human nature – in all its despair.
Theo (Clive Owen) leads a quiet life, turning a blind eye on the British government’s vehement violence towards the illegal immigrants in the country. However, when his ex-girlfriend and current leader of the rebellion, Julian (Julianne Moore), reappears in his life, he is stripped of his choice to refrain from getting involved. Theo finds himself tugged into the tumultuous world of the underground movement, protecting the only remaining hope for the world, Kee (Clare-Hope Ashitey), from every treacherous face in sight.
The reality presented in the film seems oddly real, giving us a taste of a world that may not be as hypothetical as it must have seemed in 1992. Within Britain’s borders, immigrants are hunted down like wild animals before being thrown in brassy, overflowing cages.
Interestingly, their lack of human rights seems to stem from their lack of spoken English, as British soldiers are seen jeering condescendingly at their inability to communicate. This eerie reflection on human territoriality doesn’t seem to steer too far from the imagined reality of a post-Brexit world. Even the mention of a flu pandemic feels gratingly sore.
The hopelessness of the world is reflected in the shaky camera shots that nauseate almost as much as the blood-spattered lens. The disfigured, screeching characters on-screen add to the thrill of delving into artful suspense-building, with many long takes that may even outcraft the likes of Atomic Blonde (2017). The film’s integrity is only heightened by the fact that Alfonso Cuarón joined Alex Rodríguez in the editing room, preserving the image he no doubt had in mind when directing Children of Men.
The government’s construction of a ghetto for foreign-tongued immigrants, along with the army’s efforts to completely eradicate them, is akin to the events of the Holocaust. The grimness of this fact may not be as shocking, however, when we consider the fact that the author of the book was in her twenties during World War II. To balance out such a hair-raising topic, there is a hefty dose of humour, delivered mainly in the form of Theo’s friend Jasper (Michael Caine), who is The Big Lebowski (1998) reincarnated. Clive Owen, in contrast, cripples before us in moments of anguish just as easily as he assumes the role of a charismatic protector. So not all is lost.
That being said, the film has quite a few shortcomings. The most resounding one would have to be the confusion brought on by the tyre-scraping events. This is understandibly caused by a lack of familiarity with the novel itself. But as a stand-alone piece of art, it falters. When we do finally manage to wrap our heads around the plot, the idea of one female saviour – as any story narrowed down to The Chosen One – seems overdramatised in an oddly archaic way.
The truth about human nature, boiled down to shifting interests and treacherous schemes, is as regretful as it is predictable, robbing us of a much-needed twist. Worse still, the most unique mysteries of the story are never solved. And so, sadly, the film fails to engage emotionally as much as we would expect.
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