Starring Clive Owen as Theo Faron, “Children of Men” takes place in the year 2027 when the human race has lost its ability to procreate and the world, with the exception of England, has fallen into ruinous anarchy.
This dismal, infertile future is characterized by extreme brutality and a tyrannical British government that has resorted to despotic measures such as mass deportation (and, it is hinted, murders) of refugees from the rest of the globe.
The plot centers around Faron’s forced involvement with the Fish, a rebel group that undermines the government. The group employs tactics that we would normally label as terrorist tactics in our own political environment. But then, much of the cultural landscape of “Children of Men” is exaggerated aspects of present day issues such as terrorism, poverty and xenophobia.
The film wastes no time setting a chilling standard for the imagistic intensity it delivers. In an opening scene, Faron witnesses the bombing of a coffee shop and mutilated victims stumbling, clutching severed limbs.
Violence is a central theme in “Children of Men,” but the conflicts lack conclusive distinctions between right and wrong. The agency of violence is never apparent and the motives of opposing sides (principally the Fish and the British government) are never totally clear.
The movie has great supporting roles delivered by actors such as Julianne Moore, Micheal Caine, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Peter Mullan. Caine’s character, the gregarious and funny Jasper Palmer, is especially well played. Also benefitting the film is Luke, the terrorist leader associated with the Fish, who is played by Ejiofor. His acting elicits a pathos that most of us would be reluctant to feel for a terrorist, a killer of civilians.
Directed by Alfonso Cuarn, the film’s style draws the viewer into the action, making “Children of Men” a viscerally engaging film. One scene in particular is reminiscent of another of Cuarn’s films, “Y Tu Mama Tambien.” In this scene, he deftly uses a single camera shot inside a car to effect a long period of calm ultimately punctuated by a moment of sheer terror and panic.
This film is relentlessly bleak, showing a hopeless future in which society has broken down. It is that environment that allows for the simpler kind of heroism that Faron embodies. Faron is a disillusioned man, and the events of the film test his dwindling hope.
In a kind of Han Solo moment, Faron is offered money to help preserve the life a young girl who is miraculously pregnant, and over the course of the story his motivation changes from a selfish one to one which is selfless. He becomes a man who struggles against staggering odds to do little more than what is decent to help preserve the life of an infant.
With compelling acting, engaging film making and a thrilling story, “Children of Men” is definitely a movie to see. In the end, the most frightening aspect of this movie is that the doomsday world it suggests is one that seems not so far away from the world we inhabit today.
Kieburtz is a member of the class of 2009.