by Andrew Foster
Alfonso Cuarón’s film adaptation of P.D. James Children of Men is one of the most elegantly filmed, well constructed movies I’ve seen in some time. Set in a dystopian Great Britain in the year 2027, we’re thrown into a world bereft of children, an inexplicable infertility plaguing the human race.
Clive Owen stars, in one of the best performances of his career, as Theo Faron, a cubicle (or the near-future equivalent) worker in an unnamed company who’s practically made of cynical resignation. While a dark humor is present in his asides, “You’re smoking again?… Yeah, it’s not working,” it’s simply an attempt to mask his depression and desperation with sarcastic nonchalance. He’s a character who we’re told was once engaged in political activism, but recent events have dulled his enthusiasm and robbed him of his will to fight. It’s not until he meets Kee – you can thank P.D. James for the cliché names – that we see him revert to his former self. He spends the rest of the film putting his life on the line repeatedly for the girl, for a cause he can once more put his all into.
The remaining characters, except perhaps Kee, are relatively two-dimensional in comparison with Clive Owen’s, but loveable and hateable enough to make the story work regardless. For example, Michael Caine, or Sir Michael Caine I should say, plays the gregarious Jasper, a former political cartoonist who’s retired with his wife to a quiet life in a forest cabin. Caine’s character, who he says is based off of John Lennon, is instantly loveable, but you don’t learn much about his past or his intentions. It seems he’s content to just live, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. There’s a very zen aspect to his persona, in that he accepts everything which comes his way with a grin and a joke.
When the dialogue and character building gives way to action and development of the plot in the second half of the film, Cuarón steps up with truly incredible cinematography. The climax of the movie in particular is nearly devoid of all but three or four lines of conversation. Cuarón knows words are not always necessary for story-telling, and these shots are by far the most moving in the entire film. From the four minute continuous shot – remarkable in itself – to the blood-splattered camera lens and the ringing in our protagonist’s ears caused by nearby explosions, we’re treated to an immersive sensory experience that could only improve if we could smell the dirt, filth, and blood in the air. It’s almost as though Theo’s moment of clarity and focus is paralleled by Cuarón’s cinematography.
The rest of the film is shot with calm, steady takes. The use of handheld cameras throughout and the relatively long shots give the film a very personal feel, almost like you’re sitting there with the characters. The only ill point I can think of are the cliché blue-gray, and green filters over man-made and natural locations, respectively. While I think it’s supposed to be a subtle way of emphasizing the denigration of civilization as contrasted to the beauty of the natural world, it just comes off as contrived and obvious.
In spite of the tremendous loss we experience in this film as viewers, the overarching theme of hope and the willingness of humanity to fight for a true miracle shines through. Many characters make the ultimate sacrifice fighting for what they believe in, to make a contribution of themselves for their chosen cause, whether philanthropic or self-absorbed. It explores how an amazingly positive event can bring out both the good and the evil in the world. From its explosive beginning to its tragic ending, Children of Men is a fantastic example of a filmmaker turning a mediocre book into a truly incredible film.
Grade: nine stray dogs, and five-eighths of a stray cat.