Children of Men (Cuaron, 2006)


Alfonso Cuaron’s Children of Men is a direct attempt to address the consequences of our post 9/11 domestic policy in the West, functioning on a grander scale as a genre film, or for that matter, a mosaic of genres working together to realize new hopes in cinematic storytelling. At times a war film, a western, an action picture, and with some brief moments of comedy, the film is both uncomfortable to watch and impossible to forget. The story, adapted (by five screenwriter’s?) from a P.D. James novel, tells of a near future where Britain remains the only super power, and women are unable to give birth for no apparent reason. The youngest person on Earth has just been killed, and chaos reigns supreme. Theo (Clive Owen), a downtrodden government official with nothing more to live for, is approached by his ex-wife Julian (Julianne Moore) who’s now a leader of an underground terrorist group attempting smuggle out a woman who has miraculously become pregnant. The film remains closely tied to this quest, injecting different genre motivators as the tone of the journey changes. The result is horrifying, strikingly pertinent, and from a filmmaking standpoint, accomplished like no other film I’ve seen this year. Cuaron has crafted a masterpiece out of a jumble of genres, a notion he has worked with before, but never with such devotion to material or mise-en-scene. Many film critics have called into question a supposed lack of depth in the characters of Children of Men. Also, some have seen his adherence to combining genre and in turn blurring narrative structure as problematic, devolving the pure sci-fi roots of the opening sequences into a conflicted and sometimes mindless conclusion. I see these complaints as a misunderstanding of what Cuaron is trying to do. Children of Men is above all a journey, more so than other standard Hollywood fare, namely because it’s possibly the last journey the world will ever see. Cuaron realizes this through the vast possibilities genre can offer in critiquing art, politics, and globalization, namely through iconography, and as a fascinating deconstruction of what genre can visually represent. Cuaron attempts to establish his characters motivations and actions outside the realm of what most critics would call the school of method acting, instead daring to contemplate how people might actually act and react in a world constrained by and entrenched in panic. Throughout this riveting and dynamic work, each major actor, from Clive Owen’s Theo, to Julianne Moore, Michael Caine, and every bystander caught in the crossfire, fully realize the world is crumbling around them. Cuaron wants to look at how each and every character is affected, but more crucially, how they react to their situation when faced with a new hope, new possibilities. Cuaron and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki use a cluttered, dystopic mise-en-scene to address this panic and the now infamous one shot long takes as a visual cue for the hope, determination, and dexterity of Theo and his forced upon, but equally valid, vision of reality. Theo can’t give up, he can’t take into consideration other personal motives, because without this baby, their isn’t a future. Cuaron doesn’t base this hope in a religous or ideological sense, but out of a human instinct to assist. It’s no coincidence throughout Theo’s trek, he never picks up a gun. The violence engulfs his environment, but almost never his own actions. So simple, yet so harrowing a notion. Cuaron doesn’t blink an eye at honoring these thematics with grandiose, fluid visuals and a consistent, purposeful acting scheme grounded within the destructive but hopeful world being addressed.

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