Children of Men
2006, R, 109 min. Directed by Alfonso Cuarón. Starring Clive Owen, Julianne Moore, Michael Caine, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Claire-Hope Ashitey, Pam Ferris, Danny Huston, Peter Mullan.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Jan. 5, 2007
Brimming with cinematic gusto, Children of Men is a captivating spectacle. Set in the near future of 2027, the film depicts an anarchic world in which women, for reasons left unexplained, have become infertile. Violence among warring sects erupts in the streets, and immigrants are rounded up and placed in concentration camps. Although the story's action occurs in England, we are given to believe that this wretched-seeming island is one of the last bastions of civilization in the world. Director Cuarón (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Y Tu Mamá También) and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki (The New World) do a stunning job of creating this gray-bombed-out universe devoid of joy and hope while providing visceral thrills as the film adopts a chase structure as we observe the characters trying to escape. (One visually amazing car chase in particular will burn a permanent hole in your cortex.) However, one wishes Cuarón, who is listed along with four others as the film's screenwriter, had spent as much time tidying up some of the film's many unanswered questions as he did on figuring out his visual strategies. Ultimately, Children of Men becomes a mere cautionary nativity story – a variation on the immaculate conception and the birth of the savior of humanity. Freely adapted from a novel by P.D. James, the final film supposedly bears only a vague resemblance to the book. Although the film's various themes of fertility, xenophobia, assisted suicide, and sectarian violence have resonant implications for the present day, these themes are not so much explored as introduced. Were Children of Men not so exhilarating to watch, I would dwell with even greater frustration on such questions as what had caused women to become infertile and whether that was the case for the men, too; why nobody had developed methods of human cloning; what the title of the movie exactly means; and so on. The questions are numerous and all unanswered. Fortunately, the movie is also very well-cast, another aspect that helps distract attention from the many unanswerables. Owen is terrific as the disillusioned, accidental hero who is pressed into service by his politically involved ex-wife (Moore, also quite effective). Caine steals every scene he's in as the old hippie living in secrecy in a cabin in the woods, smoking his weed and cranking Radiohead to full blast. As all his films have shown, Cuarón is clearly one of the most original filmmakers working today, and Children of Men should solidify his place at the top of those ranks. With a great script, there should be no stopping him.