Children of Men (2006)

26 Feb

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Smith’s Verdict: ****

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“This is how the world will end…this is how the world will end…this is how the world will end…not with a bang but with a whimper.” –T.S. Eliot

That is exactly what is happening to the world in the action film “Children of Men,” a bleak, action-packed, wicked thriller that takes place in the year 2027. The Earth has become practically uninhabitable and anarchic. Natural disasters, terrorism, and war have brought the world to hell. All borders are closed permanently, which means anyone who tries to step into new territory is declared an illegal immigrant and forced to go with others to a prison where they will eventually be executed. But it gets worse—humans have become infertile. It is exceedingly rare for a woman to be pregnant. As the movie opens, a newscast informs us that the world’s youngest person (at age 18) is dead. With this knowledge, you can sense that in a few decades, the human race will become extinct. Soon, others will die until the last man on Earth will die. No one else will go on because there are no more births. That is the subtext throughout “Children of Men” and it’s a profoundly creepy one.

The movie takes place in England, where a man named Theo (Clive Owen) gets a coffee one morning and sees the newscast about the death of the youngest person on the planet. He then steps outside to wait for a bus when suddenly, the coffee house explodes! Not only is this surprising, but watch Theo’s reactions to the destruction. At first, we see him as this ignorant tough guy we see in a lot of action movies. But when the coffee house explodes, he shows off a real sense of fear—he is startled by this occurrence, as anyone would be.

Theo has his way of showing concern about this now-damaged world, but he prefers to think about being with his pot-smoking best friend Jasper (a bewigged Michael Caine, wonderfully cast), who is even more ignorant of more or less…everything. But he is soon captured by his former wife Julian (Julianne Moore) and her associate Luke (Chiwetel Ejiofor), who are part of a rebellion against the now-corrupt government (or what’s left of a government). They need Theo to help them to smuggle a young African woman named Kee (Clare-Hope Ashitey) out of the country to a place where she might be safe from everyone else. (It is said that there is a ship called The Tomorrow, which rescues and harbors said “illegal immigrants”). This woman needs to be protected because she holds the key to the future of Earth’s society. Theo doesn’t realize why Kee is so important until after a few angry run-ins with wild townspeople and the police. It turns out Kee is pregnant—the first baby to be born in 18 years. “Now you know what’s at stake here,” Luke calmly explains to Theo.

Soon, Theo and Kee are on the journey to get past the border unseen and unharmed. But of course, this is not going to be easy. They are pursued by many people (including security troops) and partake in many action sequences. But these scenes are so convincing—so well-executed—that you realize just what they’re about. You never forget what is at stake in this story. Director Alfonso Cuaron (who also directed “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban”) has an amazing visual style and executes every action sequence well, and I love how a lot of these scenes are in a single ongoing shot. Every action scene is desperate and with purpose. Cuaron knows how to stage this kind of situation and Clive Owen captures the sense of fear and desperation. Owen is ultimately solid in this movie. He has a cool attitude, yet has a sense of vulnerability that he doesn’t show but you can tell during certain shots.

I love the way the storyline of “Children of Men” develops into something bigger than it began with. When the movie opens, we already sense the world ending because of humanity’s wasting away. Now when Kee arrives and needs to be saved, we see that the world can either remain the way it is (maybe even worse) or be preserved for a new generation. It all depends on Theo’s actions—he has his own demons with his former wife, which haunts him after her arrival.

Also, there is great cinematography. When Theo walks through a desolate London, it looks like a real place. It’s incredible, how the filmmakers were able to make this into a dark, scary place to live in (or even walk in). The settings get darker as Theo goes on this dangerous journey to the border and even through the immigrant prison. It’s all convincing.

“Children of Men” belongs in a class with “Mad Max” and “Blade Runner,” but it may be better than those two references. This is a movie that shows an even darker approach to futuristic fiction and serves as a cautionary tale. It shows a world that is indeed not ending with a bang but with a whimper.

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