BY NEIL FAUERSO
Science fiction usually boils down to either escapism or contemporary allegory. Consequently, it is usually dismissed (unfairly) in literature as “genre” work. But in film, where its thematic concerns are more conducive to the medium, sci-fi has borne some of the most interesting and creative films of the past 40 years: 2001, Brazil, Blade Runner, even the unfairly maligned Zardoz, which now seems genuinely trippy and visionary, a fearless examination of gender and power.
Now comes Children of Men, the most stunning and compelling sci-fi film since 12 Monkeys. Director Alfonso Cuaron has become a mad genius of sorts. His intuition and ideas are consistently breathtaking, challenging, and, most importantly, believable. Cuaron and star Clive Owen have commented that the film is not sci-fi, but rather a critique on contemporary culture—immigration, Iraq and the environment. This is all completely true. Children of Men is a bold, political film, but it’s also absolutely imaginative—filled with clever visuals and flourishes that flesh out the grim future it envisions. This is why Children of Men is the best film of 2006—its elegant and vibrant intersection of politics and the fantastic, art and pop is pulse-thickening.
It’s 2027, the world is not doing well, with war and catastrophe commonplace. Britain’s well-being is maintained by a brutal immigration policy and a fascistic Department of Homeland Security. In addition, a baby has not been born since 2009, and the youngest person in the world has just been murdered. Theo Faron (Clive Owen), once a political activist, now a drunk bureaucrat, spends his days hung over and kvetching with his pot-growing, country-dwelling hippie pal Jasper (Michael Caine). Through a remarkable series of events, Theo finds himself caring for the first pregnant woman in 18 years—an African refugee named Key (Claire-Hope Ashitey), and vows to get her to the coast and into the hands of the mysterious, utopian Human Project.
With its effective quest/chase dynamic, Children of Men is a feat of pacing and structure, and there’s nary a minute of wasted exposition on fluff. The heightened suspense throughout the film sometimes obscures all the sly details: a suicide drug called Quietus, self-flagellating cults repenting for the loss of pregnancy, and abandoned schools and playgrounds. The production design is spot on, subtle and realistic.
With the exception of a wooden Julianne Moore, the acting is warm and convincing. Ever-likable Clive Owen is a wonderful anti-hero, newcomer Claire-Hope Ashitey does admirably with a very difficult role, and Michael Caine nearly steals the whole show with a ribald, winking performance. Special mention also must be made of the excellent and eclectic soundtrack (King Crimson’s "In the Court of The Crimson King" and a gorgeous cover of "Ruby Tuesday" by Franco Battiato).
Cuaron’s and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki’s cinematography is nothing short of revolutionary. Featuring long one-take scenes in which the camera is both immersed and placid, the film is always dazzling, never distracting. These long shots and the overall look of the film feel genuinely new and completely accessible. Such is the greatness of Children of Men, an exciting film that can appeal to everyone but contains multitudes. A