A Film by Alfonso Cuarón

Click HERE for the audio version of this review.

Our first two reviewers (listen to Audio version) have have already laid out the basic premise and plot of Children of Men, and have discussed the film's remarkable crafstmanship and strong performances. I'm down with all that, although I think we'd be remiss not to mention the wonderfuly natural and lighthearted performance by Claire-Hope Ashitey as Kee, the pregnant refugee at the center of the story, and Michael Caine's remarkable rendition of Theo's friend Jasper Palmer, a former political cartoonist who lives in the woods, grows strawberry-flavored pot, and channels John Lennon. Clive Owen's performance encompasses strength in the face of desperation and intractable sadness--the face of Britain, under the gun again. And yes, I'll add my voice to Eva's and Ramona's and all the other reviewers out there who can't say enough about the wacky chase scene from an English farmhouse, the shocking motorcycle ambush on a country road, or the protracted battle scene at the film's climax, which put me in mind of Saving Private Ryan. Children of Men is indeed a technical tour-de-force.

But for my part of this tag-team review, I wanted to focus on the way this movie feels. I kept thinking about something the historian Eugen Weber once said, speaking of the beginning of the last century, the period leading up to WWI. He called it a long nightmare in which everybody knew that something terrible was about to happen, and there was nothing anybody could do to stop it. In the end, all it took was a Serbian teenager and one slain aristocrat to plunge civilization into the abyss.

I think we all feel, sometimes, as if we're living in one of those moments now. Powder kegs lie strewn about the globe, fuses sizzling. Our world feels even more unstable than usual right now, geopolitically, financially, socially, environmentally. As my wife pointed out after the movie, after we'd manage to catch our breath, wipe our eyes, and pull ourselves out of our seats, we're just one market crash, just one flu pandemic, just one global crop failure or rogue missile away from the kind world depicted in Children of Men. The film is so frightening, and works so well, because there is virtually nothing alien or futuristic about it. To the contrary, this is our world, a world aflame with tribalism and hate, a world where once-decent socieities have responded to global insecurity by morphing into reactionary surveillance states and engaging in open brutality against minorities, a world in which shiny new technologies are deployed over a crumbling infrastructure--like a plasma-screen tv precariously balanced on a rotten wood shelf in a sagging English cottage. The global conflagration is crushing most of humanity, while at the same time a select few ride the whirlwind to new heights of power and wealth.

This is a perfect setup for a nativity story, a tale of birthing hope in a rude manger amidst violence and despair. And that's exactly what Children of Men is. Yes, when you walk out of the theatre, you're going to be a bit shook up, having taken a long look at the world that is unfolding--and unraveling--right under our noses. But Cuaron's movie is ultimately about human hope and human resilience. Of course, humans have an infinite capacity to fuck things up, to visit hell on one another, to make any bad situation even worse. But there's still tomorrow, and a new generation. So says Children of Men.

I hope that's not too optimistic.

Saving Private Ryan meets The Gospel According to St. Matthew, Chaps 1-2.

Sullydog approves.

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