|Directed by:||Alfonso Cuaron|
|Written by:||Alfonso Cuaron, David Arata, Timothy Sexton|
|Cast:||Clive Owen, Julianne Moore, Charlie Hunnam, Michael Caine, Chiwetel Ejiofor|
Many of us who like to label ourselves as “film buffs” advocate the concept that the history of film did not begin in the year 2000, and that there are golden treasures from decades and decades before the past handful of years that the general, broader public either aren’t aware of, dismiss as “old-fashioned”, or simply don’t like. This is true – many of the greatest movies of all time are drawn from two adjacent time periods in film history: the “Golden Age of Hollywood” and the “American New Wave” of the 70’s, where directors such as Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, Francis Ford Coppola and others originated and began fruitful careers lasting until today.
As may be already known by some, I am an advocator of what many like to call the “Second New Wave” of American cinema, which began to stutter and jump-start in the early-mid 90’s and has slowly gained more and more momentum, without having yet reached its peak. This is a wave in which directors such as Quentin Tarantino, Paul Thomas Anderson, Steven Soderbergh, Christopher Nolan, Richard Linklater, Darren Aronofsky; along with music video directors like Michel Gondry, Spike Jonze, Mark Romanek, David Fincher and others flourish and craft movies the likes of which have really never been seen before – constantly inventing and re-inventing the cinematic craft and creating fresh and unique films the likes of which nobody would have even imagined possible to conceive 4, 5 decades ago.
Sure, mainstream cinema has definitely been suffering from a downward spiral. While there are still many exceptions, it is extremely unfortunate that 30 years ago the general public would go see movies like The Godfather and E.T., while now the type of movies that tend to appeal to the general public are films like Employee of the Month. But it is the smaller films, those that sort of waver along the borderline of mainstream and independent, where true cinema gold lies. And gold it is. I honestly believe that the cinematic craft, via these very movies and directors I have mentioned above, has improved and improved as the years went by, and is now, in recent years, reaching a peak it has never reached before.
Where does Children of Men step in, you ask? It’s quite simple: Children of Men is a new peak in the cinematic craft. I honestly don’t know where to begin to describe just how staggeringly, remarkably mind-blowing this film is.
First, allow me to express my emotional response to the film. Depression. Elation. Shock. Levity. There are so many emotions I can’t even begin to think of how to express in words that I experienced during the film. I was bawling throughout a majority of the length – which makes Children of Men the latest addition to the VERY limited list of films that made me cry (Schindler’s List, Eternal Sunshine, Million Dollar Baby and United 93, for the record). But not in any of these other titles have I cried this much and with so much intensity. After the film, I sat in my car and just cried my eyes out for 20 minutes before I could even start the engine. It may sound like hyperbole, but I honestly am not exaggerating. The film just had that staggering of an effect on me. Perhaps it was because I didn’t know what to expect and was completely unprepared for such a powerful sock in the stomach. But it doesn’t matter, the point is that it is one of the most emotionally incredible films I’ve ever seen. I cried from horror, hopelessness, disgust, depression… hope, levity, exhilaration, beauty. All these emotions are experienced in their utmost extremes during the film.
While they seem so trivial considering just what an emotional impact the boarder picture has, it would still be a crime not to mention the technical wonders of the film. First, the conceptual ones. There have been many absolutely brilliant depictions of futuristic worlds, both dystopian and utopian. From all the way back to Metropolis, up through A Clockwork Orange, Blade Runner, The Matrix, Minority Report, Serenity, even this year’s A Scanner Darkly, there is a flourishing abundance of brilliantly, meticulously detailed and amazingly well thought-out depictions of the future of our own human race. But Children of Men dwarfs all the depictions of the future I mentioned above – none of them can even begin to compare to the level of detail, credibility, logic, and altogether brilliance of the dystopian future portrayed in Children of Men. While it is a popular theory that the human race will eventually be wiped out during an all-out nuclear war, Children of Men (as originally described in the book it is based on) portrays an alternate, equally logic and brilliantly ironic end to the human race – we will die out simply from natural causes. The growth in human population has just become such a burden on nature, or God, or whatever forces you wish, and through a mysterious natural phenomenon, the entire human race becomes infertile. But the movie takes this concept and pushes it to such a depressingly horrible extreme, one can’t help but admire and marvel the logic while realize the fearful truth – that we’re already well on the way to this tragic future the film portrays. In an attempt to find a scapegoat, the gates of Western countries are closed and an ambitious but terrible, horrible governmental campaign sets out to rid these countries of any external influences – foreigners and immigrants are round up, put in refugee camps and eventually deported – if they’re lucky. Naturally, subversive resistance groups form and use the only logical tool with which to fight governments – terrorism. It’s a bleak vision but one that is far from implausible. The film’s crew also meticulously creates all the little details, such as leisure activities, what the outside and the street would look like 20 years in the future, clothes, cars, trinkets, little items, newsreels, mundane routines, and just about anything else you can imagine would look like, be like and work like. It’s truly nothing short of remarkable.
Another thing that is remarkable is the mind-blowing perfection of the cinematographic craft that materializes in the film. Cuaron creates a combination of down-to-earth hyper-realistic documentary-style filmmaking, utilizing completely handheld cameras and long takes in order to simply allow all the details of the world and the setting exist without having to be emphasized; with an extremely self-aware use of colour tone (mainly pale blues and lots of greys) and absolutely gorgeous naturalistic lighting. But there are two separate, single shots in particular that I simply have to mention specifically. I don’t want to mention exactly where these shots appear and what happens in them in order to not spoil the film, but allow me to express vaguely what they are. Both shots, one near the beginning and one near the end, are extremely long “one-shot” unbroken takes, each one lasting somewhere in the 6-7 minute range. But what makes these shots so absolutely amazing are the mechanics of just what happens in them. I am not exaggerating when I say that I think it is physically possible to create these shots the way they appear. We’re talking about hundreds of extras, the camera traveling kilometers of distance and moving freely in a vehicle while entering and exiting said vehicle (first shot), and thousands of extras, make-up and special effects bits, the camera traveling through streets and into an abnormally large apartment building, all while the protagonist is traveling through the most chaotic and insanely meticulously created and unbelievably intense war zone I’ve ever seen. I found it hard to breathe throughout the length of both of these shots, and was just completely blown away that such a set-up is in any way physically possible. But what’s more amazing than the technical marvels of these shots is the acting.
These shots are so loaded with action and events; the characters frequently travel through a wide array of emotions. How the actors were actually able to perform such transitions with so much honesty and emotion, and even more so – how the director was able to direct the actors AND the action of the scene is completely beyond me. What’s for sure is both actors and director did a flawless, amazing effort. Clive Owen is intense and absolutely incredible as the protagonist. As with pretty much all of his roles, it is not a showy performances and doesn’t feature any of the theatrics many famous lead roles feature – it’s a very minimalist ad extremely naturalistic performance, but that’s not to say that it isn’t intense or emotional – it is abundant in both. With this film, Owen really seals his authority as one of the most credible actors working today. George Clooney was right when he said that Owen was one of the most important assets to have emerged in Hollywood in recent years. The other star power of the film – Julianne Moore and Michael Caine – appear in the film for far less time than one would expect (as most of the focus is on Clive Owen’s character Theo and the character of Kee), but both deliver extremely good supporting performances, along with the rest of the very talented supporting cast (Chiwetel Ejiofor, Pam Ferris, Danny Huston, and others).
Alfonso Cuaron’s directing is incomparable. It’s hard to say that he has a unique style as its hard to draw a connecting line between And Your Mother Too, Harry Potter and the Prizoner of Azkaban and this film, but what’s for sure is that his range is extremely admirable, and his directorial ability comes out in full force in this amazingly crafted film. At once it feels like a grand, epic adventure exploring far and wide and broad aspects of this dystopian future world; at the same time it feels like the smallest, most intimate film ever, consistently keeping its focus on the two protagonists and keeps their journey as personal as possible, despite of just how epic it really is.
In all, Children of Men is a spectacle to behold. As an entity that exists within the cinematic craft, it’s totally incomparable, with some of the best filmmaking I’ve seen in any movie, coupled with extremely remarkable direction and an even more remarkable depiction and portrayal of its setting. As a science fiction thriller, it delivers on an indescribable scale: Its concept and the mechanics of its futuristic setting are amazingly well thought-out, and their portrayal is bleak, depressing, shocking and one hundred percent credible and believable. When the film gets tense – and it is extremely tense throughout most of its runtime – it really keeps you right on the edge of your seat, clutching the handle tightly, and has you holding your breath. In the much broader sense, the film is a bleak mirror, or perhaps continuation of the already downward-spiraling current reality in the world today. Parallels between the dynamics of the world throughout its history and the setting of the film are dire and prominent. But all this is just the ribbon that ties the real package – an emotional core, a punch in the stomach so powerful; it is extremely difficult to remain oblivious.