27 January 2008

Movielog, Children of Men

Children of Men, 2006
Written by Alfonso Cuaron and Timothy J. Sexton
based on the novel by P. D. James
Directed by Alfonso Cuaron
109 minutes

What if the world had no future? What if the entire human race became infertile, and the current population became the Last Generation? Alfonso Cuaron's utterly absorbing dystopia (based on the unread-by-me novel by P. D. James) answers that question: a growing loss of everyday values, looting, destruction, nuclear war, and increasing bigotry as people scrambled for the last dregs of what was left before the final Lights Out on humanity.

It is the year 2027, and there have been no babies since 2009. Thematically, the film sets its stage in the very first shot, in which Theo Faron (Clive Owen) enters a coffee shop, buys a cup of coffee, steps outside, and boom, the coffeeshop explodes. Owen doesn't do the action movie thing, doesn't run inside to help the victims, doesn't try to find the bombers, but turns away, screams, terrified by the blast. In a moment, we realize that this film isn't like other films, that this would-be James Bond isn't James Bond at all, but the kind of everyday person who might end up as one of the casualties in someone else's story.

Soon after the bombing Owen is abducted by members of a militant organization dedicated to equal rights for immigrants. Britain in this imagined future is using the immigrant population as scapegoats, caging them and deporting them. In the edges of the frame as Owen walks down the street, we see people trapped like sardines in cages, awaiting their eventual punishment. Later, through the windows of a bus, we will see the imprisonment camps, the sight of which will show anyone that Abu Ghraib was more than just a bunch of fratboy pranks.

The organization is led by Faron's ex-wife Julian (played by Julianne Moore), and she tasks Faron with having transit papers forged so that she can sneak someone out of the country and to "The Human Project", a (mythical) organization that seeks to find a cure for the infertility that has destroyed civilization. The someone that is being sneaked out (and I would not give this away if it was not given away by every ad campaign and description of the movie) is Kee (Claire-Hope Ashley, only 19 when the film was released, and brilliant), who is carrying the first child the world has seen in nearly two decades.

The plot, more of which I will not reveal, concerns the attempts to get Kee to safety outside of Britain. She is an immigrant, and knows that if her child is discovered by the government, they will take it, give it to a rich native woman, and she (Kee) will be killed. Along the way, we meet a variety of fascinating characters, the best of whom is Michael Caine's aging hippie, who is an old friend of Faron and Julian's. We are taken through this crumbling world, shown the effects of the encroaching totalitarian state, and are given astonishing action sequences shot with a single take, using state-of-the-art robotic cameras and brilliant direction.

The best of these is towards the end, in which Clive Owen is in a refugee camp for immigrants. It's a war zone, literally and figuratively, and in a shot that goes on and on he is shot at, nearly blown up, navigates rubble, avoids an execution, and so on and so on. It's the kind of sequence that earns top ranks as one of the single greatest action sequences ever put on film, and by itself would earn the film a hearty recommendation from me.

But this film is more than just its action sequences. It has incredible characters, amazing production design, great writing, absolutely brilliant direction, remarkable performances, et cetera, et cetera. It is not only one of the great films I've seen recently (and I've seen a number of great films recently), but one of the greatest films of the last decade, and one of the greatest science fiction films of all time. It deserves placement with Blade Runner, 2001, Strange Days, Metropolis, and lest you think I set the bar too high, just see it for yourself and tell me what you think. It places Alfonso Cuaron as one of the top ranks of filmmakers working today (as it Y Tu Mama Tambien did not!), and is a must-see for any serious movie fan, and for any fan of the genre.

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