December 19, 2006


There's no place like hell for the holidays: Director Alfonso Cuarón intensifies a novelist's grim vision in 'Children of Men.' (John Horn, December 19, 2006, LA Times)

As imagined by British novelist P.D. James in "The Children of Men," the very near future isn't a place you'd ever want to visit.

A worldwide infertility crisis threatens the human race, terrifying gangs prey upon the dwindling populace, and the desperate and elderly queue up for government-sponsored euthanasia. Yet as bleak as James' vision might be, it can't compare to the horrors dreamed up by filmmaker Alfonso Cuarón in adapting her novel for the screen.

Hollywood stands rightly convicted of whitewashing previously published material, but Cuarón and his "Children of Men" creative team are not ones to follow show business precedent. The director didn't just want to make "Children of Men" more visceral, he also tried to make it additionally prophetic. And that's when Cuarón and his collaborators found that the more suffering they invented, the more credible they believed their movie became.

"We didn't want to do a science fiction movie," says Cuarón, the director of "Y Tu Mamá También" and "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban." "We wanted to do a movie about the state of things."

The state of things, as the movie has it, is one narrow step shy of the apocalypse. Almost all of the cataclysms imagined by James remain, but in the film they're juiced on steroids: Infertility shares the stage with an all-out war against immigrants, and the environment is collapsing at an alarming rate. The crumbling social and political infrastructure from the novel has become in Cuarón's movie a chaotic mix of anarchy and totalitarianism. [...]

James says that even with its many departures, she very much enjoyed the film — amazingly, the first feature made out of any of her 17 novels.

"It's not very much like the book, but that always happens," she says. "I described much more the loss of hope. The movie is more of an adventure film. And there's far more open violence in the movie, undoubtedly. It's a brutal picture of a society in complete breakdown. The film does grow out of the book, there's no doubt. The ideas are just treated in very different ways."

James says that even though the book and novel "are not really credible," she says both are grounded in indisputable truths — the falling birthrate in some parts of the world, the marginalization of the elderly.

James says she isn't sure how prophetic her book might be, and Cuarón certainly hopes his movie isn't describing an imminent crisis. But the filmmaker still sees "Children of Men" as making a statement, reverberating long after the movie is finished.

"Enjoyment of the present — I think that's what modern capitalism is about: Our immediate needs, without consideration for the consequences of our actions," Cuarón says.

"We wanted to make a movie that begins when the lights come on."

Hard to imagine a more appropriate Christmas story.

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 19, 2006 8:30 AM

Cuaron still doesn't get it. It's not capitalism that enforces enjoyment of the moment to the exclusion of all else, it's the welfare state. Typical Hollywood b.s., and I highly suspect loaded with politically correct viewpoints.

Posted by: Lisa at December 19, 2006 9:58 AM

It's funny that they can't see the forest for the trees. The book does a good job of describing what conditions are like in continental Europe. Although exagerated, the hopelessness depicted is firmly rooted in the banleaux and ghetto block houses there. The environmental decay, the rampant hooliganism, etc... it's every day life in socialist Europe. But yet the bad guy is capatilism?

I'd just like to point out that people generally like trees, clean rivers, and clean environments. But only prosperous societies have the excess money necessary to maintain that. And prosperity comes from the free market. People that can't figure that out by now deserve the extinction that they have worked so hard to realise.

Posted by: lebeaux at December 19, 2006 10:44 AM

The first half of the book was quite good in its picture of the horrors of a society in which no one has any hope for the future. The second half was a substandard chase story. So, given that all the reviews are making it very clear that the director entirely missed the point of the first (good) half of the book, what would make the movie worth seeing?

Posted by: b at December 19, 2006 1:15 PM

Anyone who makes a science fiction movie with the intention of not wanting to make a science fiction movie is off to a bad start.

Posted by: PapayaSF at December 19, 2006 4:33 PM

Anyone who makes a science fiction movie with the intention of not wanting to make a science fiction movie is off to a bad start.

Posted by: PapayaSF at December 19, 2006 4:35 PM

it's an allegory, not science fiction.

Posted by: oj at December 19, 2006 5:05 PM

Cuaron is frequently pretty irritating when he's expounding on political subjects -- like comparing Bush to Saddam Hussein -- but there is no question he is a very gifted director and, just incidentally, they ought to let him handle all the HP films from here on out.

My favorite example of this sort of thing is the director's voice-over from Flight 93, in which Paul Greengrass deplores violence as a solution to problems ("There has to be another way"), right as the passengers attempt to wrest the plane back from the terrorists and it hits the ground. Kind of reminds me of Family Guy's Seth MacFarlane just barely missing a ride on one of those flights and still saying that the war on terrorism is an absurd overreaction. I gotta admit, these guys keep the laughs coming whether they're trying to or not.

Posted by: Matt Murphy at December 19, 2006 6:55 PM

Theo Faron is the least sympathetic protagonist since John Forbes Kerry. He's completely unlikable, and in the second half of the book it becomes clear that what motivates him, in the end, is possession of the woman. He's nothing more than an over-educated, pessimistic, nihilistic Neanderthal -- okay, he's a socialist.

I had much more sympathy for the Warden who was actually trying to manage an orderly implosion of the society that had been given to him.

Posted by: Steve White at December 20, 2006 12:09 AM

Of course. The desire for security often outweighs that for freedom.

Posted by: oj at December 20, 2006 12:22 AM