“Children of Men”, written and directed by Alfonso Cuaron (“Y Tu Mama Tambien”, “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azbakan“) is a bleak, but interesting look at the future. Cuaron apparently used the “Harry Potter” film as a bargaining chip to get this film made and it resembles a passion project every step of the way. Throughout the film, the story takes turns most big budget Hollywood films would not and could not showing the passion and clout the director has used to get the project made.
London in the year 2027 is a crowded, dirty, bleak place filled with people who are gray and dour. Hopefully, this is not your stereotypical vision of London today, because it is much more than this. But Cuaron and his team have drained all of the extra bits out of the future vision of this great city. Large plasma billboards have been erected advertising a drug you can use to gently put you to sleep forever and they’ll pay two thousand pounds to your next of kin. They also continuously remind people to report illegal refugees, who have been nicknamed ‘Fugees’. The buildings are dark and gray and people look consistently depressed. In addition, parts of London have been walled off, patrolled by security, and reserved for the use of the privileged; they have parks to walk their dogs, to lead an existence cut off from the rest of the world. The production design for this film is complete and very Oscar worthy. Unfortunately, it helps create a very realistic view of a future that is extremely depressing.
Clive Owen has always been an interesting actor and he brings a conviction to the role of Theodore, making him believable and real. From the first moments, Theodore is clearly a numb individual and Owen makes this a part of his character throughout. Yes, he has a moment or two of enjoyment when he visits Jasper (Caine) at his home, but he lives in a world where there is little to enjoy or be happy about. He walks around in a fog, desperate to add some alcohol from his ever ready flask into a Styrofoam cup of black coffee. But even this moment of respite is interrupted by a bomb at the coffee shop.
Theodore is a very reluctant hero. Too many years of living in this society have numbed him to anything but a mere existence. But he has also been personally affected by the problem; he and Julian lost a son to an illness at the beginning of this madness, breaking them up and causing Julian to take some action. It causes Theodore to become depressed and stay that way. But when Julian calls him to action, the memory of their son and the possibility of getting back together, lead him to help out.
There is a lot going on in “Men” and Cuaron and his co-writer Timothy Sexton thrust us into the middle of the action, sometimes explaining things, but more often than not, we have to catch up and pick up little pieces of information here and there. This seems like the smart thing to do; if the film had to stop every time something new happened and explain why the story would never go anywhere. We learn the human race is infertile and that is enough. We learn a little about Jasper and his wife through a camera pan across newspaper clippings. We learn some about the society through brief comments. Stopping to fully explain everything would make the film too long and full of lengthy, preachy passages. Cuaron has made the right choice.
Julianne Moore’s Julian is a strong character who benefits from this lack of exposition. How did she and Theo meet? What happened to their son? Why did she go off to join this terrorist group? Or did she in fact start the group? We don’t learn a lot about these things, but that isn’t as important as their relationship. We have to feel that they still care or each other and we do. The moment they set eyes on one another, we see a little of the old spark, below all of the pain and anguish.
Michael Caine turns in a memorable performance as Jasper, the former political cartoonist who is now content to care for his wife and grow pot, which he supplies to the guards at a nearby Fugee Detention Center. His role is funny and helps to bring a few brief moments of comic relief to the film. It is a testament to Caine’s acting that he is able to make us care so much about his character in such a brief time. It is a testament to Cuaron that such a brief appearance seems so natural and fully integrated into the rest of the story.
Chiwetel Ejiofor plays Luke, Julian’s second in command. For much of the film, he is accompanying Theo or chasing Theo and Kee, trying to keep the pregnant girl in their control. His role doesn’t allow for a lot of emotion, and he appears cold throughout. But he does appear tenacious.
After Theo meets Kee, the film becomes much more linear. Theo has his assignment; he must get Kee to the Human Project, who will meet them at a specific time, on the Coast. From that moment forward, the clock is ticking and everything but getting her to these people becomes unimportant. Initially, Theo has a large group of people to help, but slowly, they disappear, are injured, killed, leave as a few more people join in. Soon, it is just Theo and Kee.
As they get closer and closer to their goal, we see more and more evidence of why this pregnant mother is so important to the survival of the human race and why Theo is so determined to help her. They travel through some terrible obstacles and meet some unusual people along the way. And the journey is never anything less than interesting. Along the way, Theo realizes what she could mean and we see her through his eyes.
But Cuaron’s picture of the future is bleak. And consistent. This is not one of the most uplifting films I have ever seen, but it is an interesting one.
Don’t go to this film if you are feeling depressed. It might send you over the edge.