December 25, 2006


"Children of Men": A reluctant hero carrying the hopes of a dying race (Mark Rahner, 12/25/06, Seattle Times)

Imagine a country where the government rounds up and cages immigrants who desperately want in, terrorists bomb the joint where you get your morning coffee, and activists are as ruthless as the oppressive government they fight. Also, it's been nearly 20 years since any babies were born on Earth.

That's the ultra-bleak world of Alfonso Cuarón's "Children of Men," which looks a lot like here and now, but takes place in 2027 England. I don't know what I expected from the director of "Y tu mamá también" and the third Harry Potter kiddie flick, but this dystopian masterpiece of misery kept me wound up for hours after the credits rolled. It's got a controversial and thought-provoking premise, action scenes that equal anything in "Saving Private Ryan," and a ragged performance from Clive Owen that'll make you glad he didn't squander his talents on the James Bond series.

Given the uniformly good reviews the film is getting, it's hard to interpret the studio's rather bashful release as motivated by other than political uncomfortableness and to conclude that Hollywood just doesn't want to be shouting the message that secularism is suicide.

And how typical that the Times, though liking the movie, mistakes it for a statement about Iraq, Apocalypse Now, but in the Wasteland a Child Is Given (MANOHLA DARGIS, 12/25/06, NY Times)

The end is nigh in “Children of Men,” the superbly directed political thriller by Alfonso Cuarón about a nervously plausible future. It’s 2027, and the human race is approaching the terminus of its long goodbye. Cities across the globe are in flames, and the “siege of Seattle” has entered Day 1,000. In a permanent war zone called Britain, smoke pours into the air as illegal immigrants are swept into detainment camps. It’s apocalypse right here, right now — the end of the world as we knew and loved it, if not nearly enough.

Based in broad outline on the 1992 dystopian novel by P. D. James about a world suffering from global infertility — and written with a nod to Orwell by Mr. Cuarón and his writing partner Timothy J. Sexton along with David Arata, Mark Fergus and Hawk Ostby — “Children of Men” pictures a world that looks a lot like our own, but darker, grimmer and more frighteningly, violently precarious. It imagines a world drained of hope and defined by terror in which bombs regularly explode in cafes crowded with men and women on their way to work. It imagines the unthinkable: What if instead of containing Iraq, the world has become Iraq, a universal battleground of military control, security zones, refugee camps and warring tribal identities?

Merry Christmas! Seriously. “Children of Men” may be something of a bummer, but it’s the kind of glorious bummer that lifts you to the rafters, transporting you with the greatness of its filmmaking. Like Clint Eastwood’s “Letters From Iwo Jima,” another new film that holds up a mirror to these times, Mr. Cuarón’s speculative fiction is a gratifying sign that big studios are still occasionally in the business of making ambitious, intelligent work that speaks to adults. And much like Mr. Eastwood’s most recent war movie, much like the best genre films of Hollywood history, “Children of Men” doesn’t announce its themes from a bully pulpit, with a megaphone in hand and Oscar in mind, but through the beauty of its form.

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 25, 2006 10:45 AM

Most dystopian stories are unreadable because they are little more than omnibus collections of all the writer's prejudices and petty bigotries with no logical glue that makes sense of it to the non-believing reader. Worse, most assume a human nature never before seen in history, one especially crafted for the author's disaster scenario.

There was a whole industry of stories churned out in the early seventies on the subject of "over-population" which never seem to make it into the authors "best-of" collections for some reason, but can only be found in tattered paperbacks in second hand bookstores.

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at December 26, 2006 11:21 AM