And the ‘Children’ Shall Lead
|Starring:||Clive Owen, Julianne Moore, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Peter Mullen, and Michael Caine|
There’s nothing like a little doom and gloom to ring in the Holidays.
To that extent, you can consider the latest from visionary director Alfonso Cuarón (“Y tu mamá también,” “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban”) as the cinematic equivalent of a Christmas present – a gift to passionate moviegoers who thrive on films that are simultaneously entertaining, thrilling, topical and provocative. Based on the best-selling novel by P.D. James, the exhilarating “Children of Men” is a spectacular work of art that stands alongside “Blade Runner” as one of the most compelling, mesmerizing and visceral sci-fi movies ever made.
Imagine a future where technology has ceased to progress, a future where the rot of urban decay has set in, a future where the environment is collapsing at an increasing rate – and a future where, inexplicably, mankind has become sterile. Welcome to the planet Earth, circa 2027. It’s been almost 19 years since the last baby was born, and with humanity crawling towards the brink of extinction, hope for the future has become a thing of the past.
Chaos reigns supreme all over the world, but in Great Britain, order – or lack thereof – has been maintained through a strictly-enforced policy of militaristic imperialism. That’s just fine with Theo Faron (Clive Owen), a former activist-turned-bureaucrat who’s content to stay out of trouble. But trouble finds him when his former lover, Julian Taylor (Julianne Moore), asks him to help escort Kee (Clare-Hope Ashitey), a woman within her resistance group, safely out of the country before she ends up in the wrong hands. And it soon becomes apparent why Kee is so valuable – eight months pregnant, she and her unborn child represent the last best hope for humanity’s continued existence.
Sci-fi has always been at its best when it is most relevant, and it doesn’t get any more relevant than the dystopian future depicted in “Children of Men.” The groundbreaking classic “Blade Runner,” which was way ahead of its time when it was released in 1982, also depicted a bleak vision of the future, but its technologically-advanced society – with its flying cars and human-looking androids – kept it just beyond the reach of reality. By contrast, “Children of Men” is much more realistic – perhaps too realistic – because it holds up a mirror to today’s crumbling civilization, where political, societal and environmental strife already run rampant.
And that’s precisely why there was no need for Cuarón – who co-wrote the gripping screenplay with Timothy J. Sexton, David Arata, Mark Fergus and Hawk Ostby – to front-load the $87 million-budgeted film with unnecessary exposition. We already know why the future looks so foreboding. Just look outside, read the paper or watch the news – we’re almost there as it is. That doesn’t explain why humanity has become infertile, but given the state of decay in the year 2027, it’s no wonder why women lost the ability to conceive. (Try to imagine a story set in the ominous future projected by Al Gore in “An Inconvenient Truth,” and you get the idea.)
The performances are all top-notch, starting with Clive Owen as Theo, the ultimate anti-hero for the 21st Century. Disheveled, disillusioned and complex, he ultimately rises to the occasion to do what’s right, and he does so without ever picking up a weapon to ward off his oppressors. The always-reliable Michael Caine adds some much-needed comic relief to the relentless proceedings as Owen’s good-natured former comrade-in-arms, and Julianne Moore gives a strong performance as the covert group leader fighting for the rights of Britain’s dwindling refugee population.
“Children of Men” is not a pleasant movie to endure, but like the year’s other totalitarian wake-up call – “V for Vendetta” – it is an important one. And Cuarón lets some of the more suspenseful scenes play out in continuous takes, resulting in an even greater sense of immediacy and urgency. It’s an impressive film to behold, and like “Blade Runner,” it will surely stand the test of time as an instant sci-fi classic. But more than anything, “Children of Men” is a cautionary tale – a warning to take the appropriate steps now to save our future, before it’s too late.
And on that note, Happy Holidays.