Alfonso Cuaron’s bleak but brilliant film set in a self-destructive future borne of fascist authoritarianism and humanity’s loss of fertility is a damning, uncompromising picture of one possible eventuality. As a picture postcard of what a British National Party-run Britain could be, Cuaron’s film is the perfect antidote to their political and cultural ignorance. The film is deeply affecting, not just in its graphic depiction of violence and a society overrun by narcissism and government indignation, but in its believable view of a future not too distant from our own. Children of Men is a fascinating, original and frightening film that cuts so closely to the bone it actually hurts.
Clive Owen plays Theo, a working man who has left his activism days behind him. When an old flame (Julianne Moore) arrives with a proposition, he finds himself thrust into a political nightmare. Britain, in the 2020’s is, like every other nation on earth, dying out. Infertility has taken hold. No babies have been born for nearly twenty years and when the youngest man on earth is murdered, the tabloid news has, as you’d expect, nothing better to focus on. Migration has become a thing of the past in the United Kingdom. All non-Brits are holed up in detention camps not unlike Nazi ghettos during World War 2, and random acts of brutality and murder are rife. Theo is tasked to help a refugee escape the country. What he doesn’t know is that a miracle has occurred – the girl is pregnant. However, after Moore’s character is brutally killed by her own people, Theo finds himself trying to escape the police who wrongly believe he’s a cop killer and Moore’s revolutionaries who know and want the baby for political gain.
Cuaron’s film is certainly a take-no-prisoners affair. He cites a future overcome with fear and distrust, and insinuates that God may even be punishing us for our sins by taking away our ability to create life. It’s a world that has lost faith in both God and the political system – which one is worse is not known, but it needn’t be. Cuaron’s London of 2027 is a hell so real it actually feels like it could happen.
Any great science-fiction film takes some form of reality and extenuates it, blows it out of proportion or adds a level unheard of before. The fact it is based in a reality we can all relate to is what makes it believable and attainable. Children Of Men takes very topical political and cultural notions and turns them into the worst case scenario made real. What makes the film so fascinating is its ability to make the future seem very close to home. Cuaron achieves this through quality casting, a documentary photography style and the use of iconic London images such as the aging, dirty red buses parading around the capital. He also utilises newsreels as a grounding for a futuristic England as well as an economical exposition tool.
One particular moment of documentary realism occurs when Theo enters a refugee ghetto that is being attacked by an overzealous security force. With tanks blasting grenades into nearby buildings, bricks and mortar spitting in every direction, Cuaron guides his camera around Theo’s desperate attempts to evade the bombs and enter a building holding the woman he is trying to protect. The camera doesn’t cut away, following Theo across a street, ducking and diving behind broken walls, then into a building with the sound of bullets hitting walls and ricocheting off metal. It’s a fantastic scene that simultaneously puts the audience in Theo’s predicament while maintaining the film’s damning spirit. It reminds me of Spielberg’s opening to Saving Private Ryan – it’s direct, breathtaking, fast-paced, terrifying – in truth, real.
The film is blessed by a commanding performance from Clive Owen. In his transition from doe-eyed ladies man to rugged action hero, Owen displays a level of macho cracking over a surface of fragility. He’s our everyman – an undercurrent of fear and distrust of authority underpinned by a broken heart and a passion to make something of his life. Owen seamlessly allows Theo’s determination to save his own skin become a dedication to protect someone else’s. Like the authenticity of the film, Owen’s hero is born out of the situation and governed by the character’s contempt of the world. What we get is one of Owen’s most commanding and convincing performances.
Children Of Men is destined to be talked about for generations to come. It’s based on quality source material (the P.D. James novel) and tells the all too real account of man’s possible future. Cuaron’s documentary realism and Owen’s commanding performance give the film a sense of authenticity and in turn a powerful emotional edge that makes this nightmarish and bleak outcome of man’s own evils one hell of a frightening proposition.
Written by Dan Stephens