Sunday, May 18, 2008

Terrorist Grunge: The Delights of Children of Men

According to Children of Men, the future (2027) will look much like the present, only grungier and much more violent. Set in England, the film opens with burned out commuters looking up at a TV screen as the newscaster announces that the youngest human on earth just died at age 18. For those 18 years, mankind has been infertile, so everyone ages ungracefully as immigrants get rounded up in cages, the government encourages suicide, terrorist acts occur daily in London, and Theodore Faron (Clive Owen) just barely misses getting blown up in a coffee shop.

Children of Men takes many contemporary events--Muslim extremism, the torture in Abu Ghraib, and especially the insurgent attacks of the Iraq war--and makes them commonplace. Television screens are everywhere so everyone can watch the propagandistic media, and older women weep over the footage of the last child who is now dead. Theodore gets abducted by terrorists in a van, just to learn that a former flame of his, Julian Taylor (Julian Moore), wants him to get deportation papers for a young African American woman named Kee (Claire-Hope Ashitey) who is oddly and massively pregnant. Kee represents the one hope of mankind to have any future, but she needs someone to help her get to a “Tomorrow” boat on the ocean, and increasingly it looks like Theodore is the only one who can help her.

The rest of the film is basically one long brilliantly executed chase scene. As Julian, Theodore, and Kee get driven out to the countryside, a burning car blocks the road in front of them, and they find themselves attacked on all sides. As their driver tries to back up, we see a motorcyclist drive up and shoot one of the characters in the neck. Theodore then manages to knock the motorcycle over with a car door, and they barely escape. For the rest of the film, Theodore and Kee only get occasional moments of refuge before some ideologically-driven organization attacks them.

Working from a novel by P. D. James, the promising young Mexican writer and director Alfonso Cuaron often doesn’t prepare the viewer for what is about to happen. Things occur almost haphazardly, but always with deadly consequences, and Cuaron makes it hard to tell who the villains are. The lush brown and blue cinematography of Emmanuel Lubezki loads the screen with grungy streets, graffiti, dogs, razor wire, piles of dead cows, and blood. British rock and roll makes prominent appearances either with Rolling Stones songs on the soundtrack or with a reference to Pink Floyd’s album Animals hanging over the London cityscape in the form of a giant inflated pig over a factory. At one point, Theodore and Kee hang out in a secret compound where a hippie political cartoonist played by Michael Caine lives with his catatonic wife. Caine’s goofy, dope-smoking character supplies the film with its few moments of playfulness and sanity, but even the safety of his home proves illusory, sending Theodore and Kee fleeing further across the polluted British countryside. As they go deeper into the movie, the cinematography darkens as they visit prisons, refugee camps, and increasingly violent situations, even as Kee has the first signs of labor.

Ostensibly science fiction, Children of Men depicts the political extremes of the present, and shows us a world that is frighteningly plausible. The film demonstrates how the trouble we start in other countries, such as Iraq, may easily one day come to roost in our own. I instantly wanted to see the film again, to review the many intriguing unexplained details and its elaborate plot shifts. The movie doesn’t seem plotted at all, just visionary, and one of the best films of 2006.

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