Dystopian narratives like Children of Men often use distorted views of the future to create striking ideas and prophetic messages that affect readers and viewers in the present.
With Children of Men, director Alfonso Cuaron, known more for the third Harry Potter installment than for his fearsome breakout Y Tu Mama Tambien, doesn't stray far from our present day. The result is a film that's as chilling as it is galvanized in its purpose.
Children of Men transcends the safety zone of most dystopian narratives by putting its themes and details tangibly close to our current time. Those themes resonate fully in this film, as Cuaron presents a bleak and not-so-distant future as a backdrop to his narrative.
Cuaron, working with screenwriter Timothy J. Sexton, crafts a story around a vaguely misanthropic bureaucrat named Theo Faron, as disenchanted with his job as he is with the crumbling world around him. Played by Clive Owen, Theo is abducted and recruited into an underground resistance movement fighting against the last political and social stronghold in the world, Great Britain. Surrounding this bare-bones plot is the engrossing concept that has lead to the de-evolution of the world's societies; women can no longer give birth, and now the world's population is slipping into chaos, anarchy and extinction. Britain, as the final bastion of civilization, has become a beacon of xenophobic security, clamping down on the illegal immigration population with zealous police-state determination.
Cuaron's direction follows the script tightly, not only crafting grand visuals, but also meticulously constructing the quasi-futuristic Britain. Each shot is loaded with finely chosen details, making each scene a sumptuous mosaic of character and setting.
Cuaron's frankness towards the story is perhaps his biggest asset though, both to the film and to the viewer; over-dramatization of conflicts and characters is stripped off of what could have been an over wrought survivor tale. Children of Men, thanks to Cuaron, is easily one of the boldest works to come along in years, simply because it never stops to dwell on something that isn't necessary or realistic.
Clive Owen performs remarkably well, honing his character into a man who can barely keep his grasp on his life as he's thrust into situations he
knows little or nothing about. Owen's normally simmering intensity is injected with a dose of vulnerability. The power is still there behind his stoic face, but unlike his rousing performance in Closer, regret, remorse and fear creep their way into his being as the film progresses. Children of Men would have stood alone as an achievement based solely on Cuaron's direction, but Owen brings the perfect balance of intensity and vulnerability to a tricky role. As Theo struggles through the wasteland of government-sanctioned racism and oppression, he wrestles with his own prejudices and misconceptions of the reality around him. Owen brings the perfect level of
humanism to the bleak narrative.
Almost every other performance in this film is notable as well. Julianne Moore plays Theo's ex-wife with tenderness and fearlessness, as she
straddles the line between past lover and figurehead to a state-labled terrorist organization. Michael Caine plays a jovial friend to Theo, a guru of past pop-culture, questioner of current affairs, and cultivator of
flavored marijuana. Claire-Hope Ashitey, as a girl who may hold the key to the recreation of the human population, performs with equal parts reserved contempt for her surroundings and tenderness towards those who care for her. Every performance is geared toward Cuaron's vision. His uncompromising push towards creating a film as true as modern times is mirrored by the efforts of his actors as they perform valiantly in challenging roles.
It's easy to draw comparisons between Cuaron's Britain and the Western world today. His examination of issues including immigration, treatment of prisoners in conflicts, and national blindness towards global problems, are issues being addressed in America right now. His critical view of governmental abuse
of power never rings as polemic, but simply truthful. As a taught thriller, Children of Men delivers one of the most intense journeys found in film in years. But as a meditation on where our global community is heading,
Children of Men becomes a work of art that transcends the dystopian genre, becoming a film concerned with the course of humanity and our unwillingness to change it.