Not too long ago, the movie V for Vendetta took us to a dystopian England of the not-too-distant future. In the movie Children of Men, London is again not looking too great in a few years’ time. Based on P.D. James’s novel of the same name, Children of Men depicts a world where most of the human race has destroyed itself and the only remaining country with some semblance of society is England. The reason for all the chaos is that in 2009, women stopped being able to have children, resulting in global despair and a world-wide death wish. England is able to maintain some kind of order only by holding onto it with an iron fist. As refugees from every country try to pour in, the government hurriedly corrals them into cages and ghettos to keep them out. Enter Theo: a relatively ordinary British citizen (played by a scruffy Clive Owen) who might have been slightly radical once, but now just keeps his head down (even as the shop where he gets his morning coffee is destroyed in an explosion seconds after he exits). An unlikely hero, Theo is thrust by circumstances (and by his ex, Julian, played by Julianne Moore) into the role of champion and protector to a young woman named Kee. Julian needs his help to get Kee out of the city to meet with a boat taking her to The Human Project. No pressure, Theo, but she’s carrying humanity’s last hope in her belly. What follows is an amazing blend of political comment, human drama, and fast-paced action as Theo and Kee make their journey. The story is somewhat high-minded in its allegorical warning to 2006-2007 society, but it is also the kind of brainy, heart-felt, action films that are a wonderful movie-going experience.
When I went to see Children of Men, I didn’t realize that I was unwittingly completing the 2006 Mexican-director trifecta. I had watched Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s movie Babel over the holidays, then Guillermo del Toro’s movie Pan’s Labyrinth last week. Both, along with Alfonso Cuaron’s Children of Men, were highly acclaimed and not only were those three directors already critical darlings, some said that each movie was their best work to date. Anyway, of the three I think my favourite was Cuaron because I enjoyed his visit to Hogwart’s as director of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. However, his subject matter for Children of Men seemed to be a real downer. No more babies for humankind. How can a person make an enjoyable movie about that? The answer is: it’s not about the doom, it’s about the hope. Clive Owen, with his lanky frame and gaunt, hollowed-out features really has the right look for someone who has lost hope. Theo had lost his son and it seems that he had also lost any motivation to keep going (his only joy being the occasional joint-smoking session with dear friend and ex-hippy Michael Caine). When he meets Kee (a charming young refugee woman who’d never even seen a pregnant woman until she became one), Theo is reluctantly inspired, by the hope that she represents, to keep fighting and struggling against all the groups and obstacles that try to stop them from taking this hope to the right people. An amazingly moving moment came when crowds of refugees and soldiers noticed Kee and worship her when they realize what she represents for their world. (I know it sounds hokey when I describe it, but it was awesome on screen.)
Another amazing thing about this movie is the amount of detail given to the environment around the characters and the plot. There was so much information behind every scene from billboards, lightboards, news headlines to products and technology and even some of the social values. Everything seemed well-thought-out to represent the near future. When Theo is taken to meet Julian (who happens to be the leader of a rebel group called the Fishes), they keep him in a little booth that has been totally covered with newspaper so that no one can see in or out. All I wanted to do at that point was pause the movie so that I could carefully read the headlines on those pasted up old newspapers. More than just random words for the purpose of set-dressing, they all seemed to tell the recent history of this society. In V for Vendetta, there was far less attention paid to making the world around the story seem plausible. As a result, I think Children of Men is far more “this might really happen” believable. I found myself so drawn in by the realism that I grew a bit concerned for our world in two years’ time.
So “How is this an action movie?” you might ask. It’s obviously not as much of an action movie as Star Wars or The Matrix, but it takes a lot for Theo and Kee to get where they’re going. The world is chaotic, and the people who know about Kee have their own ideas of what to do. Add to that the fact that they are pretty much in a war zone on almost every side–the action is built-in. In addition, credit belongs to director Cuaron for blending drama and action seamlessly. One moment characters are talking about their own lives and feelings, the next they’re pushing a stalled car barefoot, trying to escape from gun-toting pursuers. You may have noticed my soft spot for movies that “have it all” and to me this blend of moving drama, action, sci-fi, suspense, meaningful commentary, and a touch of humour, is a perfect example of that quality. (5 out of 5)