Children of Men (2006) / Sci Fi-Thriller
MPAA Rated: R for strong violence, language, some drug use, and brief nudity
Running Time: 109 min.
Cast: Clive Owen, Claire-Hope Ashitey, Julianne Moore, Michael Caine, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Charlie Hunnam, Pam Ferris, Danny Huston
Director: Alfonso Cuaron
Screenplay: Alfonso Curaron, Timothy J. Sexton, Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby, David Arata (based on the novel by P.D. James)
Review published October 29, 2006
Children of Men is a very loose adaptation of the 1992 P.D. James novel of the same name, which sees a future (the year 2027 in the film) marked by infertility in all women on Earth simultaneously, After over eighteen years of trying in vain to produce another generation, human beings have literally gone mad, as the near certainty of their impending demise from the planet produces a mass state of anarchy. Only Great Britain, adopting a very totalitarian government whose main purpose is to drive all refugees from other countries out, remains intact as a ruling nation, although the standard of living has been on a serious decline, with the brutal police and other authorities systematically torturing and killing those they deem as outsiders or troublemakers. The surviving Brits do what they can to eke out a normal existence, hoping that the sole remaining organization still working on the problem of fertility, The Human Project, can somehow find a way to stop the certain decline of humanity and produce a means to fertility again.
The story in Children of Men revolves around one man, Theo Faron (Owen, Inside Man), who is kidnapped by a terrorist organization headed by his ex-wife Julian (Moore, Freedomland), who uses him to try to get travel permits in order to bring in a young African refugee, and that he must accompany her back. It turns out that, miraculously, the woman, called Kee (Ashitey), is in late-term pregnancy, and her best hope for survival in this mad world is to try to get on a ship bound for The Human Project and hope they can assist her, as well as the rest of humanity, in finding a cure for the infertility. However, some people in the world would want to use the baby for their own devices, if not kill it altogether, which makes it imperative to try to get to the ship without anyone finding out.
Cuaron's Children of Men is a harrowing, if not altogether successful vehicle that provides a provocative scenario that definitely does keep the interest level high, while also raising a few more questions than your typical dystopian science fiction premise. I'm not certain I can really buy this version of the future should human female fertility cease, as it would seem that more effort would be made to either try to find a way to cure it, perhaps even trying in vitro pregnancy with existing eggs in storage in the hopes of a reboot to conditions that existed before the mysterious event that resulted in such an unlikely event. I suppose, given the fact that the film is set in the future, that almost all efforts that might come readily to mind have been exhausted, although the film doesn't make many attempts to answer any possible question that may arise in the minds of the viewers.
Cuaron (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Y Tu Mama Tambien) pushes forward themes regarding two of the most pertinent issues facing many countries today: terrorism and immigration. As the world becomes a global environment, through ease of travel and connections made through the internet, countries that were once isolated now find the world has grown to be a very small place. It's a tightly directed piece, if nothing else, with each scene evoking the claustrophobic conditions and sense of random violence necessary to create a bleak environment where anything can happen, and life becomes a not so precious commodity after all -- unless it's a new one.
While there are many intriguing aspects to Children of Men, enough to give it a recommendation if it piques your interest, ultimately it's just too disjointed in its approach for me to give it high praise. The religious symbolism and allusions throughout are a bit too pat to take at face value (the hero's name is "Theo" (or God in Greek), "Julian" was name of the emperor of Rome who attempted to restore Paganism, the "Fishes" has its own Christian connotations, the key to the solution is actually named "Kee", the allegory of Christ's birth as chronicled in the biblical chapter of Luke (another character's name), where the first-born are ordered killed )etc.) The title can be seen as reflective of how Jesus is often referred to as the "Son of Man". Heck, even the release date, at least in the US, is December 25th, AKA Christmas Day. While these sort of heavy-handed references might work in the knowing artifice of one of the Matrix movies, as a real-world premise for our near future, it seems a bit too rooted in self-awareness to not continuously take us out of the moment for extended ruminations of symbolic reflection.
For all of its flaws, some of them perhaps too considerable to not draw its share of those who will hate it, Children of Men does at least succeed in holding one's interest throughout. The action is well-shot, the acting is uniformly solid, and Cuaron's direction is certainly assured. If only the concepts and screenplay could have been a bit more rich, we could have a genuinely great science fiction masterwork, instead of merely one that toys with interesting possibilities, mostly unexplored.
©2006 Vince Leo