Futuristic action thriller
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Children of Men (2006)
20th Sep 06
In a future world where women are infertile, ex-activist Theo must secure a pregnant woman's path to freedom.
Global warming...terrorism...famine...disease – the future is a pretty scary place to think about and, as one character says in Alfonso Cuaron’s latest piece, Children of Men, it’s only around the corner. The world of 2027 is a dark world indeed. The UK is a militarised police state, illegal immigration is so out of control that holocaust-style camps are erected, and - most significant of all – women have been barren, infertile, for the last 18 years. An underground terrorist/activist group led by Julian (Julianne Moore) is fighting for freedom, trying to make a better tomorrow and they believe they have a key weapon in the form of a young immigrant girl, Kee (Claire-Hope Ashitey), or, more importantly, the little person growing inside her womb.
When dissaffected former activist Theo (Clive Owen) is called upon by old flame (and mother of his deceased child) Julian to usher Kee to safety, he reluctantly accepts. This is where the real fun begins. Soon they find themselves in a situation where they can trust no-one, not even the activists who are supposedly there to help them on their journey to safety. No-one, that is, except Theo’s old pal Jasper (Michael Caine), an ageing hippy who lives in the sticks with his dementing wife, growing a healthy crop of weed and listening to music that the rest of the world has probably forgotten all about. It is he who helps facilitate their road to safety, using the perillous route of Bexhill - an immigrant prison based on the English coast from where, it is planned, they will secure their freedom by crossing the water.
Cuaron has envisioned a bleak, dismal but ultimately realistsic and believeable future with his latest work, and for those of us who happen to live in the UK (in particular London), it proves to be a somewhat haunting rendering of what could possibly happen to society. He resists showing us lots of London landmarks in a future hell postcard fashion, but in one scene we get to see from the inside out of Battersea power station, above which is a floating pig - obviously Cuaron's own tip of the hat to rock legends Pink Floyd.
The concept of a world without children is handled with extreme care, e.g. when Miriam (an ex-midwife played by Pam Ferris) and Theo take refuge in an abandoned school where you can almost hear the children playing outside, and the classrooms are ghostly reminders of what normality once was. Perhaps what makes this, as well as other aspects of the picture work, is the realistic way in which it is handled, which is probably why such a hellish environment seems like it could so easily be around the corner. No laser guns and futuristic gadgets here. In this future, people dress pretty much how they dress today, and the buildings are no different, except for the dilapidation and decay we see from the barred windows of Theo's train.
No-one feels safe, there is an immediate sense of threat everywhere and more poignantly, there really is no hope left. No future. And this is how one is left feeling when the ending credits roll, although the bitterness of the pill is slightly sweetened for the sake of commercial appeal. Shame.
Mostly, the cast all do what they do well. Caine is an absolute treat as the old stoner who just can't wait to share his strawberry cough with guests, and Owen is, well, just as you'd expect him to be, playing a disillusioned ex-activist who drinks and smokes too much. In other words, he's mostly quite deadpan, a character attribute that's fast becoming his trademark, whether you like him or not. Also look out for Peter Mullan as Syd, the practical joking, weed-smoking cop with a devilish twinkle in his eye - he's sure to bring a smile to your face amidst the horror of this otherwise bleak affair. On a personal level, I found Pam Ferris' midwife less believable as a character - her lines feel laboured, as if they were scripted for someone else, although this may partly be an issue with the script in general. Occasionally, the obvious is annoyingly spelled out for us and a little more care could have been taken over some expository aspects.
On a technical level, the crew more than meet our expectations - the production design is top rate, never letting itself go over the top and always retaining the plausibility factor where it counts. And Cuaron's hand-held camera keeps things racing along at a furious pace, nowhere more than the final uprising scene, a sequence of which is obviously shot with a single camera amidst a sea of explosions, gunfire and falling buildings, following Theo and Kee through the hellish ruins in one ingeniously sustained take (although admittedly, there are hidden 'cuts' in there somewhere).
The violence in the film really shocks the senses, most likely a result of Cuaron's sparingness of such a feature, but when it happens, the sense of realism will, refreshingly, remind you of what violence really is, as opposed to the desensitising, cartoonish bloodletting we are so accustomed to on these pages.
Part of the reason I liked this film is because it’s not only a non-remake, but also a thoughtful and intelligent suggestion of possible things to come, and the fact that sweetheart director Alfonso Cuaró set it in the UK, making its impact seem all the more jarring. We need more films like this.