Monday, March 31, 2008

GREAT FILMS: Children of Men (2006)

Directed by Alfonso Cuaron

After the critical smash Y Tu Mama Tambien, and summer blockbuster Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, director Alfonso Cuaron then moved on to his passion project. A film based on the dystopian novel by P.D. James entitled Children of Men. What came forward was an incredibly bleak film, detailing a future in which all hope is lost. In the near future, woman can no longer reproduce, spelling certain doom for the human race within the century.

As a result of this, the world has become a wasteland (note the many references to T.S. Elliot's work throughout the film), and only Britain has been able to continue as a somewhat functioning society. Not that they don't have their own issues, the country has to make sure to keep out any desperate refugees who are attempting to escape the horrors of the outside world in which everyone must fend for themselves. Amidst this all, the whole country is mourning the death of Baby Diego, who was, at 18, the youngest person on the planet.

Amongst the many shoved into the small island of the U.K., there is Theo Faron (Clive Owen), a disillusioned bureaucrat who's only pleasure comes from spending time with an old pothead/dealer named Jasper (Michael Caine, in a purely Lennon-esque look). Theo's life changes when he's kidnapped by his estranged ex-wife Julian (Julianne Moore), who is the head of the terrorist group called the Fishes, who work for the rights of illegal immigrants. She wants Theo to get transit papers in order to get a young woman to the coast.

It isn't until later in the film that we find out what makes the young woman, Kee (Clare-Hope Ashitey), so special. Somehow, she has become pregnant. Realizing what is at stake, and later threatened by the crumbling Fishes, Theo convinces Kee and her midwife/bodyguard Miriam (Pam Ferris) to travel with him toward the coast in an attempt to get her to the Human Project, a mythological group of scientists who are attempting to find out what has stunted humans' abilities to make babies.

The plot, as convoluted as it sounds, is tight and flowing, as to not create confusion. The audience is left to suppose quite a bit of details for themselves. For example, there are no details given as to why most of the world has been destroyed, and until the end, you aren't even sure whether or not the Human Project exists or not. That said, those details are only complimentary, and by taking them away from us, Cuaron puts more of the film's focus on the turbulent journey of Theo and Kee.

The film is the total and complete vision of Cuaron, who experiments in long takes and grainy cinematography (by Emmanuel Lubezki). The film's violence--which there is much of--is shot entirely at eye-level, making you feel almost like an unwilling participant within this horrific society. In a moment of stunning filmmaking, a small splatter of blood gets in the lens of camera. As opposed to cutting away, the shot stays with the blood on the lens for nearly the entire six-minute take. There is even another long take, which takes place within a car. In the scene, the mood changes from cheerful to horrifying in a matter of moments, and it is all captured within one shot.

The power of the film comes from the human element. It is an unflinching meditation on the best and worst humanity is capable of, and the power of human will even through the world's darkest times. This element is supported by it's incredible cast. Clive Owen has always been an actor who has brimmed with subtle darkness under every character he plays, which makes him perfect for the role of Theo. Clare-Hope Ashitey's almost unaware portrayal of Kee is uncanny, mixing fear and toughness so well. The excellant supporting cast includes Moore, Ferris, as well as Chiwetel Fjiofor as Luke, the incredibly radical member of the Fishes. Above all, Michael Caine's small role as the long-haired, be-speckled Jasper is one of great exhilaration from a great actor, giving the film some comic relief which it desperately needs.

The film's climax is as satisfying as any classic film, and despite the film's dreary outlook, it's almost surprising to find that the film's entire theme depends on hope. Human beings have managed to survive on Earth for millions of years, and this film manages to capture the resiliency of the human race to find the light throughout all of the darkness. A true masterpiece in the tradition of 1984 or Fahrenheit 451, I do not see Children of Men as a cautionary tale. After all, we don't know why the world was destroyed, and film has no ecological preaching. Instead, the film stresses the importance of continuing soldier on, despite the desolate odds.

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