May 12, 2007


MIRACULOUS CONCEPTION: A REVIEW OF CHILDREN OF MEN: In Alfonso Cuarón’s brooding and brilliant new film, the promise of new life sparks a light in a lifeless world. (John Murphy, Godspy)

One character, a former midwife, observes, “As the sound of the playgrounds faded, the despair set in. Very odd, what happens in a world without children's voices.” Very odd, indeed, and very grim: gray and crumbling buildings loom like lowering clouds over gray and crumbling people in a world bereft of hope. The year is 2027 and the youngest person in the world has just been murdered at age 18. Life, love and color have been drained from the monochromatic universe Cuarón & Co. have envisioned, where London resembles the ravaged war-zones of Baghdad, and random café bombings are commonplace.

Most sci-fi films offer panoramic shots of meticulously designed cityscapes and “ooh-ahh” visions of flying cars, life-like robots and sleek, silver skyscrapers reaching to the stratosphere. In 2001: a space odyssey, Stanley Kubrick imagined a hyper-mechanized future in which humans had become indistinguishable from the computers they’d created. In Children of Men, humanity is moving in the opposite direction, towards a pack-animal mentality—suspicious, ghettoized and violent. With the human species on the out, the brakes of society have come off. News broadcasts give glimpses of once-great cities toppled by fear, panic and rioting.

Somehow, I think Cuaron got things more right than the venerable Kubrick. Critics have called his vision of the future “dystopian,” but the most chilling element is its utter plausibility, even its familiarity. As mankind’s expiration date draws near, what would prevent civilization from falling prey to the second law of thermodynamics?

Entropy has a human face in the protagonist, Theo Faron. (“Theos” is Greek for God, so perhaps I spoke too soon when I said His name isn’t mentioned in the movie.) A one-time political activist turned listless alcoholic and cog-in-the-bureaucratic machine, the loss of Theo’s young son, Dylan, and humanity’s ticking time clock have sucked the joy from his life. The detail that he works as a paper-pushing grunt for the Ministry of Energy is a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment of gallows-humor.

Like Graham Greene’s indelible Whiskey Priest, Theo is resistant to grace, disillusioned by life and reliant on belts of Bell’s snuck from his pocket to get him through the day. Played with masterful restraint and anti-movie-star grit by Clive Owen, Theo looks like he hasn’t shaved in a week or showered in a month. His disheveled hair, bleary, bloodshot eyes, crumpled trench coat, and hidden bottle of bourbon are the outward manifestations of a man, soul-sick and world-weary, drifting rudderless through a fog, his ideals swallowed by despair. Owen projects the wounded vulnerability beneath the cynical shell he’s adopted as a defense-mechanism; sixty years ago, Humphrey Bogart would have been cast in this part.

Big Brother encourages its Terminally Depressed to unburden society by means of an attractively packaged suicide-kit labeled “Quietus”. Members of the living dead not quite ready for Quietus, let alone a bare bodkin, find artificial means to escape bleak reality: catatonia, marijuana, virtual reality, art collecting, alcoholism. Theo seems like Quietus’s target audience until his ex-wife, Julian (Julianne Moore), re-enters his life. Unlike Theo, Julian has held fast to the activist ideals of their shared past. She’s the leader of the Fishes, an underground political movement dedicated to defending the rights of Britain’s illegal immigrant population (“fugees”). As bad as things are in Britain, they’re a lot worse elsewhere, and England is in permanent lock-down, closing its borders to immigrants and deporting foreigners who’ve managed to slip in.

One of those fugees is a young African woman named Kee (Clare-Hope Ashitey). When Julian calls on Theo to get his hands on transit papers for the girl—no easy task—he begrudgingly agrees in exchange for a sum of money. It’s not long, however, before Theo comes to realize that what’s at stake is beyond price: Kee is pregnant.

Into this lifeless world, the promise of new life sparks a light in Theo.

Mr. Murphy tosses off his most interesting point in passing, entropy is something we'd have to make a decision to surrender to, else we aren't subject to it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at May 12, 2007 12:00 AM

Let me get this straight. The world has already gone to hell in a hand basket and we are asked to worry about what??? "Illegal immigration"?

Posted by: erp at May 12, 2007 11:41 AM

I had such high hopes for the film, considering the fascinating novel that James wrote.

Posted by: Qiao Yang at May 12, 2007 1:30 PM

I was disappointed in the film too, but Murphy's right about Bogart being cast in Owen's part 60 years ago.

Posted by: jgm at May 12, 2007 2:43 PM

For a more humorous look at our future (until you realize it's accurate) check out Mike Judge's "Idiocracy."

Sometimes childish and raw, it shows us exactly where we are heading.

So I'm taking it I should get the book, not the movie?

Posted by: Bruno at May 13, 2007 7:13 AM

Idiocracy is a good comedy skit stretched further than the matrerial can bear. The first 30 minutes are quite funny though.

Posted by: oj at May 13, 2007 9:53 AM