There are several kinds of dystopian stories, and many of them deal with a world where Britain is one of the sole superpowers. You can take them as a gradual build up of making a bad situation worse, as in V for Vendetta, or the situation has already reached the zenith of terribleness and the characters have to struggle to survive with a definite sense of immediacy.
Children of Men is an example of the immediate school of dystopia: quick, bleak, grey and terrible.
In 2027, it has been more than 18 years since the birth of the last human. Nobody quite knows why this is, but the world has plunged into war and terror – or perceived terror – and England is the only nation safe from total annihilation.
Theo (Clive Owen) is charged by his ex-wife Julian (Julianne Moore) to deliver a pregnant girl, Kee (Claire-Hope Ashitey), to the Human Project in the hopes that the world may begin again.
Theo is a man who does not understand precisely how he has entered his situation, but he does understand that he needs to take full advantage of all of his resources to survive. It’s the kind of story where almost everyone you meet will come to a horrible end simply as collateral damage in the protection of something that is more important than anyone person: human life.
Of course, one might argue
if human life is so scarce, why is everyone so intent on killing everyone else?
No one ever said that humanity makes any sense! It seems that the world of Children of Men is inhabited by people who have given up on everything and have thus resorted to pointlessly worshipping at the altar of youth or blowing each other up. Religious sects reign and the media has total control of the message; justice is just as likely to be administered by vigilantes expecting recompense as it is by a representative of the law.
The immediacy of these situations – these alternating scenes of very brief respite and extended instances of fleeing for dear life – creates a tense film indeed. Any moment of peace is almost certainly going to be broken by the inevitable march of human despair. Many instances are entirely unexpected and this is another film where I had no idea what was going to come next. Every time Theo and Kee escape a situation is a relief that doesn’t last long as one has to wonder what the next peril they will stumble across will be.
That doesn’t mean that the film is an obstacle course; it makes perfect logical sense. It is, however, quite tough and heavy going.
This movie was sold to me on the basis of Julianne Moore and Michael Caine, but they were in it for mercilessly brief amounts of time. Moore was not allowed the opportunity to shine, but what little there is between her and Owen is carried out with the greatest finesse. Michael Caine is typically excellent as Jasper, Theo’s old hippie friend, and the scenes between Jasper and his catatonic wife are tender to an amazing degree.
Director Alfonso Cuaron presents the film in an almost documentary fashion that makes the immediate situation feel ever more immediate. The camera hides in the midst of battle, and, as explosions pop up and fire is shot, blood smears the lens. I’ve never been certain what I think of that technique, particularly in films like The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, but Cuaron makes it work here.
Children of Men asks many questions, but never gives the pretence that it will answer any of them. I prefer a dystopia that thoroughly examines the form of government that has run its society into the ground, but this is still a damned intense, strong film, with an ambiguity strong enough to let the audience decide if they are pessimistic or optimistic. A strong showing.