Thursday, March 29, 2007

Children of Men: Grade A


Children of Men (2006)

Clive Owen, Julianne Moore, Michael Caine, Claire-Hope Ashity. Director Alfonso Cuarón.

I expected a throwaway action-adventure, and was totally surprised. There is action, adventure, and plentiful explosions and gun fights, but thematically, this oddly named movie is about a future when all women have inexplicably become infertile. There hasn’t been a baby born in 20 years and humanity moves inexorably toward extinction. It’s a thought-provoking premise. Schools are derelict, playground noise a memory. I would have liked to explore the consequences of the idea, such as, what would be the meaning of the family? How would economics be structured if there were no next generation? What would gender relations be like? Would there still be motivation to create art and literature? Would the environmental movement continue?

What would we do, as a species, as we face our end on this planet? The movie’s answer is that we would persist in trying to kill each other. It is a dark, apocalyptic portrait of state terror and rebel resistance, set in London. As in all such dystopic visions, cities are in ruins, society has broken down, and tyrannical government rules. The urban landscape is seen through blue filters with mandatory bonfires in the street, but at least not in old oil barrels. Why people in the future always want fires on sidewalks is a mystery understood only by movie directors.

The main social strife is between rebels and the government. The rebels are refugees from other countries that have disintegrated, for reasons unknown. No explanation is given for the breakdown of law and order, and if it is the infertility problem, that connection is not made. The chaos is not justified by the film, which also shows automobiles running on roads in good repair implying healthy petrochemical and manufacturing industries; thriving radio, television and advertising, well-fed and clothed people, functioning public transport, and even a wealthy Tate museum. The refugees are shown herded into camps and pens reminiscent of Nazi concentration camps. The violence between the government and the rebels recalls the IRA rebellion, the Bosnia-Serbian war, Israel vs Hamas, and Iraq. The unifying theme is violent state suppression of ideological opposition with indifference to human rights and dignity. What has that got to do with infertility? I don’t know. Perhaps the infertility theme should be taken metaphorically – maybe it represents the sterility of efforts to accommodate people other than ourselves, the impotence of creative solutions to social problems, or a highlighting by contrast of women’s contribution to civilization. A term paper would have to be written.

The McGuffin is that one of the refugee women (Ashitey) becomes pregnant. Her gang, led by Julianne Moore, plans to smuggle her to a mysterious research ship. There is no explanation why she cannot just go to a hospital. Maybe there are no OB-Gyn specialists left. Moore recruits Owen to assist. He hides the girl for a spell at the country home of an unreconstructed hippie (Caine) who plays his role with obvious relish, to the obvious delight of Owen. But bad guys are in hot pursuit and the meta-refugees must move on. Each scene is directed masterfully, with enormous tension that had me squirming in my seat. The battles especially seem realistic, not cartoony like most. Finally everybody dies except the girl and the baby, who somehow make it to the boat (for what purpose we don’t know).

The DVD extras include a completely fascinating essay on modern society featuring, for no obvious reason, Thomas Lovejoy, founder of the Gaia environmental theory, expounding the dangers of global warming. Other segments are on the societal effects of fear, terrorism, globalization, capitalism, war, and other forces. While completely disjointed, and only tangentially relevant to the movie, it is a thought-provoking extra that alone justifies a DVD rental.

Based on a book by P.D. James, the narrative of this movie doesn’t really add up to a coherent story, but the ideas and images paint an impressionistic vision that stimulates thought.

1 comment:

  1. I'm definitely with you on this one ... The images created by Cuaron and his cinematographer are still burned on my my brain .. I'd rank this one as a tie for the best movie of 2006, along with del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth