December 22, 2006


'Children of Men': The intense "Children of Men" is set in a near future to give us pause today. (Kenneth Turan, December 22, 2006, LA Times)

The best science fiction talks about the future to talk about the now, and "Children of Men" very much belongs in that class. Made with palpable energy, intensity and excitement, it compellingly creates a world gone mad that is uncomfortably close to the one we live in. It is a "Blade Runner" for the 21st century, a worthy successor to that epic of dystopian decay.

Like that earlier film, "Children of Men" is based on a novel (P.D. James this time, not Philip K. Dick) and deals with the question of the future of human life. It brings so much urgency to the possibility of the world ending that we feel the kind of terror we would if the scenario were taking place tomorrow instead of 20 years in the future.

Also, in Alfonso Cuarón, "Children of Men" has a strong director with a powerhouse visual sense who is at home with both action sequences and philosophical concerns. Cuarón, with such widely diverse films as "A Little Princess" and "Y Tu Mamá También" behind him, demonstrates once again that no genre is beyond his mastery.

The plot hook of "Children of Men" is simple but devastating: the infertility of the entire human race. The date is 2027, and it's been 18 years since the Earth's last human child was born. James, whose novel has been altered considerably by the film's five credited screenwriters, says she wrote it to answer the question, "If there were no future, how would we behave?" The answer, in a word, is horribly.

The Last Child on Earth Becomes the First (MEGHAN KEANE, December 22, 2006, NY Sun)
Here Mr. Owen plays Theo, a disillusioned activist who has given up hope for the future and submitted to the impending demise of society. He is joined by a coyly rebellious Julianne Moore, who plays his former lover and mother of his lost child, Julian. When Julian kidnaps Theo to ask for help transporting a refugee across state lines, the drunk bureaucrat is unwillingly charged with the task of saving mankind.

Plot plausibility might be an issue in the hands of another man, but Mr. Owen's Theo is endowed with a resounding strength of character and restless intellect that pounces into action when necessary. Mr. Cuarón wisely keeps his coiled hero off kilter with various obstacles — even putting him in flip-flops for a large part of the action. But when Theo learns that his charge, Kee (played with a defiant fragility by Claire-Hope Ashitey), is pregnant with the first child to be conceived in 19 years, his long dormant compassion comes to the fore. As it becomes clear that fighting factions are more concerned with their own interests than the safety of Kee's baby, Theo becomes the lone hope for the girl and the future of mankind.

There is a curious joy in watching cinematic projections of future societies, and Mr. Cuarón does not disappoint. Rather than the slick futurism of most sci-fi films, his setting is gritty and mildly decrepit. Future Britain's ingrained disdain for the environment seems matched only by its fascination with flat screen (and no screen) technology. The omnipresence of streets bursting with barely contained brutality is countered nicely with enclaves of well-defended independence. Theo's good friend Jasper (played with jovial eccentricity by Michael Caine) keeps a hidden estate in the woods, and a visit to Theo's diplomat cousin Nigel (Danny Huston at his egocentric best) treats the audience to a glimpse of the world's masterworks preserved as opulent living room décor.

But Mr. Cuarón is mostly concerned here with the power of hope in a world nearly devoid of it. Overwhelming violence continually threatens to squelch the glimmer of prosperity that a newborn child will offer, but Theo's persevering ingenuity keeps the promise alive. And though it becomes tedious to watch an endless string of men lose the use of their intellect the moment they pick up firearms (Theo himself never seems to need them), Mr. Cuarón makes some interesting points. Most moving is the somewhat implausible but still striking silence that a baby's presence causes in the middle of a warzone.

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 22, 2006 1:21 PM

Of course, the awful thing about the death spiral is that you could reverse the order of the title of the post and be just as accurate...

Posted by: b at December 22, 2006 2:05 PM