Children of Men: The Future Is Just Around the Corner

I’ve recently been battling my way through the emotional bruising that is Sony’s 2013 game-changing game “The Last of Us,” and I thought it was therefore somehow fitting that the film I should review today would be Alfonso Cuaron’s 2006 game-changing dystopian film, Children of Men. Few films (in fact, no other film I can think of) capture the sense of hopelessness and gritty realism that Children of Men does, and as I played through the opening segments of “The Last Of Us” all I could think was that Children of Men may have inspired far more lasting effects – to the benefit of those of us eager for quality storytelling – than even the film’s visionary director may have known. I will talk more on length about “The Last Of Us” in a later review. For now, I will stay in Cuaron’s interpretation of our (equally dark) future. Suffice it to say – enter at your own risk.

Set in 2027, Children of Men operates on a simple premise – we, humanity, the apes with guns, can’t make babies anymore. No one knows why – different characters weigh in on the question troughout the film. Some say it’s genetic experiments, pollution, others say it’s the wrath of God for all those multitudes of sins we’ve been racking up at the credit counter. Theo Faron, however – played masterfully by Clive Owen – honestly doesn’t care. Theo is your run of the mill alcoholic, chain smoking once-was-almost-a-hero-in-the-name-of-poon character. We like him, even though we shouldn’t. We like him because he doesn’t care about the circumstances he finds himself in simply because he is already so foregone in the wake of his depression. We like him because he’s given up. His humor, however, is somehow intact.

The cast of this film is remarkably assembled. Clive Owen, Julianne Moore, Michael Caine and the nigh unknown yet here-unforgettable Charlie Hunman (Patric, the blonde, who consistently runs into things outside cars and yet remains somehow terrifying) and Clare Hope-Ashitey (Kee, the Girl) comprise the bulk of the heavy-lifting. The acting in the film is such that the story doesn’t hinge on names, but instead on character. Take, for instance, Kee’s quest to find a name for her baby, entertaining Froley and Bazouka as possible candidates. Kee does decide on a name, much like the film does land on a morsel of redemption, but you will have to watch it to see what those revelations entail.

You can’t discuss this film without addressing its main quality – the cinematography. Brilliant camerawork is often understated, but once it’s been seen it simply can’t be unseen. There are only a few films I can think of that seem to subscribe to the same school of thought as Cuaron did here – he seems to know that the camera is the Storyteller in a way even the characters play second to. The camera is unblinking, roving, desperate, sometimes nauseating or nauseated, and in a word – brilliant. The most famous (to me, anyway) of these scenes is a battle sequence towards the end of the film that carries on in one continuous, ten minute shot.

I thought about that for a while after I realized what was happening. Ten minutes is a long time to chase actors around with a hulking camera, especially when you see what they’re doing while they’re running. Artillery fires, sets explode, firefights break out, dozens of extras pack corridors and inhabit rooms. You believe, without doubting for an instant, that life carries on in the building before the camera moves into it. People are alive – or fighting to stay alive – on every floor. The camera merely stumbles across them. At one point, a stray bullet strikes the wrong target, and blood freckles the lens. My head jerks back, or down, or away. I realize I’m in the fight, hugging close to Theo’s back, as afraid of the bullets and shrapnel as he is. It’s because the camera is our big, obtrusive eye. Cuaron seems to know this, and uses it to incredible effect.

I don’t want to comment on the storyline of this film, in part because there are a couple of twists, and also in part because I like leaving the story to the film to relay in its own manner. Suffice it to say, however, that the story is one of resiliency and hope. The people in the film are almost universally unlikeable (with the exception of Michael Caine’s character, Jasper, who is utterly lovable) and yet we believe in them. It’s a world populated by chipped people, people so sharp that they cut us if they try and hug us, but we follow them around regardless. We want what’s best for them, we want the to find a happily ever after, because it’s our happily ever after as well.

This is a heavy, heavy film. Do not approach lightly, but please, by all means, approach. It’s a film that you will leave and be better for it, a film that improves its audience by holding their feet to the fire and reminding them just how much they really have going for them. Any film that can make us appreciate our families, our children, our capacity to have children, and the promise of tomorrow is a movie I would recommend to anyone. I may not recommend it for a sunny afternoon, but then, I guess I’d wonder why you’d spend a sunny afternoon in a movie anyway. Children are for the day. Films are for the night.

The Good: The best dystopian film with an opening that will haunt your dreams.

The Bad: A slightly weighty run time.

The Ugly: The closeness of this future to our own world, and the echoes of ourselves who populate it.

The Bottom Line: See this film, but do so when you’re ready for an emotionally bruising time.

Overall Score: 9.5/10

Written By Ries

Ries is a writer, blogger, amateur explorer and full time United States Marine. He graduated from DePauw University in 2011 with a Bachelor’s Degree in English and is busy putting that degree to work writing elite movie reviews for sites like CineKatz. In his spare time he enjoys traveling, movie watching, talking to himself in the mirror and working on novels that may or may not ever be finished. Of all the things he misses about being a civilian, he misses his beard the most.

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  • Amanda

    I just watched Children of Men this week, and it quickly became one of my new favorites. Great exploration of the film without revealing too much of the plot–I almost believe the trailer even gives us too much information. I really like what you wrote about the camera as an eye, the battle scene when the blood sprays onto the lens really struck me while I was watching.
    On a separate note, I was surprised at how hard Children of Men hit me. I went into the film thinking it was masculine, but was very surprised by the female characters and how they drove the story line. I think this film did a really brilliant job of understanding how mass infertility would affect both genders. The film doesn’t limit viewers to one gender or the other.

  • Ries

    I agree that trailers can reveal way too much about a movie. Sometimes they commit the even greater sin of completely misrepresenting the film. Have you ever seen the movie “The Boat That Rocked”? It came to the States and they changed the title to Pirate Radio, and the trailer completely mis-represents the film, giving it an “the American is the hero” spin, which couldn’t be further from the truth in the film. I think you’re right – the women in this movie definitely push the storyline forward. It’s surprising to see a definitively masculine film that has such strong female characters. Thanks for reading/commenting!

  • John

    Indeed a great movie however, for me, someone that depends on good ole Hollywood to fill the blanks in my lack of imagination this movie left alot to be desired at the end. I either wanted absolute closure or a complete open end the lead to the hope of a sequel or continuation of the story. I wanted to be introduced to the idea of human kind clawing back to the top from near extinction. Nope, what i was left with seemed to me a hurried exit of a great story.

  • Ries

    Thanks for reading! (Spoilers) I like movies that leave stuff up to the imagination, but some part of me almost wishes they’d left Kee on the boat without any closure whatsoever. The appearance of the boat almost felt like a copout.

  • Marvelous review, Ries! This is one of myfavorite movies. And yes, the cinematography is just fantastic.

  • Ries

    Thanks, Fernando. 🙂

  • Nick

    If there was a review that made me want to put the movie in immediately after reading it, it’s this one. Glad you love this bad boy as much as I do. The 10 minute take continually dumbfounds me in its technical and storytelling prowess. The blood splatters on screen and somehow disappears later…. HOW!?! Cuaron, you’re a magician and I cannot wait. CANNOT WAIT. for Gravity. Easily one of the best movies made in the last 10 years,

  • Ries

    Thanks, Nick! Gravity is going to be a knockout, I think. And the first time I watched Children of Men, I didn’t notice that the blood splatters went away. It wasn’t until later that I noticed. Amazing film, and an incredible example of what a camera can do.

  • Nick

    I didn’t notice it either. It was only in a film class that we discussed it and made me appreciate it even more. Still baffles me…

  • Ferngully

    Honestly one of my favorite movies of all time. The bleakness of color that is used throughout the movie to convey the desperate dystopian future the movie is set in combine with the brutal quality of life these people live really immerse you the viewer in this nightmare version of our future. And the uncut scene at the end is bar none my favorite single scene from a movie ever. i’ve caught myself going back and watching that movie time and time again just to get to that one scene. its brutal, dark gritty, heartbreaking and absolutely beautiful. from what i’ve read on the upcoming movie, Gravity, these long shots will be a key part of the movie. so i’m a little excited about it, to say the least.

  • Ries

    I sometimes revisit the film as well, just to see the battle sequence towards the end. I watch films like Children of Men and I wish Cuaron would take off the gloves more often. Y Tu Mama Tambien was a disappointment, and I was the only person alive who was bored silly watching The Prisoner of Azkaban. Hopefully Gravity (being new material and science fiction) will give Cuaron the chance to really shine. I loved the trailer for it. Thanks for commenting, love the poster name. 😉

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