Directed by: Alfonso Cuarón
Written by: Alfonso Cuarón, Timothy J. Sexton, David Arata, Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby
Starring: Clive Owen, Julianne Moore, Michael Caine, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Charlie Hunnam
When asked to decide my favorite film genre, I always had trouble choosing just one but it’s films like Children of Men that make the choice incredibly clear. The powerful and visionary stories told through science-fiction allows us to look in the mirror and also foresee our future based on the decisions we make today. Through its breathtaking visuals, production design, and direction, this film stands out as a tremendous work of art attempting to show us the troubled future we may have ahead of us.
In the year 2027, humanity faces extinction as procreation has ceased for nearly 20 years. After the passing of the world’s youngest person, the world grieves and the cynical Theo (Clive Owen) goes about his day until he’s roped into helping his ex-wife, Julian (Julianne Moore). She leads a group of revolutionaries fighting against the fascist government takeover and needs the help of Theo to smuggle out the first pregnant woman in decades.
Even with the darkest dystopias science-fiction has to offer, at least they give us a few decades to avoid whatever future it prognosticates. Children of Men, however, takes place seven years from the date of this review and only about 20 years after the release of the film. Other dystopian stories present circumstances that could never exist, but this film feels incredibly prophetic in what the world may look like in the foreseeable future. Taking place in England, it shows a future where racism, xenophobia, and fascism rises to the top and hunts down refugees to put them in camps. Looking at the current political landscape, the parallels prove to be obvious, but it’s scary to see our proximity to this future. It only takes one bad election or one bad piece of legislation and I could see our world descending into the chaos displayed in this feature film. Rewatching it gave me chills.
With this setting, the film provides hope in the form of a pregnant woman, who could potentially introduce a new human to this world. The power of the casting of this role knows no bounds because it’s a Black refugee woman. Just as Christians have attempted to whitewash their savior, Jesus Christ, saving the world always gets bleached with whiteness. It thus shows the power of the potential answer to solving the infertility problem the world has accrued could come from someone not deemed acceptable in this world. A standout and inspirational figure in a world trying to hide and punish anyone that looks like her could save all of humanity.
In addition, the film examines the political movement in play and the way they utilize figures and people as pawns for a larger game. Every side has its intentions within their movements to have the power in this battle. It explains why the person holding this miraculously pregnant woman can dictate the future of human civilization. They control the hope in the world and can manipulate it to fit their needs in whatever way they deem necessary. No movement has a completely pure coalition of members, and the power to hold this hope could corrupt anyone.
Crafting this world displays exceptional production design in just showing the sheer dump the world has become. Trash everywhere and a gross amount of wealth inequality, everything has such a dreary and untenable look to fully display the state of the world. We remain in this morose environment for the entirety of the film except for a small venture into the affluent side of England, where the border separating it might as well be there to separate two sovereign states. This horrifying background fully displays the horrific environment, where we find our reluctant hero and protagonist Theo.
A former activist, Theo used to be as radical as they come but decided to take a more cynical approach to life where money matters more than fighting against an oppressive system. Part of me cannot blame him for this approach seeing as the battle the resistance must undergo involves a life of existing on the fringes and looking behind your back at every breathing moment to ensure authorities have not found you. A connection to his past gets him involved and then he gets roped into trying to help this young woman with the birth of this miracle baby. Clive Owen’s performance eloquently captures the moment, as he entered into a world he could not comprehend. One day he’s getting coffee and going to work only for the next day to involuntarily involve himself in a battle for the hope of humanity. His genuine shock mirrors the revelations we see as an audience as this world continues to unravel right in front of us. His character arc flows from a harsh cynic to someone who’s witnessing a miracle right before his eyes.
The supporting cast boasts immense talent who have their moments, but the best of the lot undoubtedly proves to be Michael Caine. Seeing him as a hippy, who enjoys himself a good amount of marijuana came as quite a shock to me. His career in the 2000s and beyond has mostly been well-dressed and overly proper with his demeanor except for this wacky role. He presents the familiar fatherly vibes he does with every performance but combining that attribute with this rebellious character makes him equally as hilarious and respectful.
The filmmaking on display by Alfonso Cuarón reaches such a phenomenal level in the way he puts us right in the middle of the action. He has proven to love doing long one-take sequences where we follow characters through tumultuous circumstances. The scenes where he employs these sequences maintain a level of palpable tension, where it might leave your hands sweaty. We follow Theo through moments where he could die in an instant and he attempts to simply survive to protect Kee (Clare-Hope Ashitey) and her baby. Cuarón continually proves to be such a visceral filmmaker and he perfectly matches what proves to be necessary to tell such a gruesome story with the flicker of hope remaining in it. A truly tremendous effort and one of Cuarón’s greatest within a filmography packed with spectacular work.
Children of Men feels prophetic, timely, and vital to our current culture even with it being released over a decade ago. Its themes unfortunately become more parallel with our reality than the year it saw its release date and the hard-hitting nature of the filmmaking does not let you forget it. Everyone gets in a fight for their lives to garner control, as this baby could change the game for a civilization running on fumes and continually living through endless strife. A spectacular masterpiece by one of my favorite directors presenting a reality we hopefully veer away from.