Children of Men

Monday, January 15th, 2007 | All Things, Film

I didn’t have to be in the office today, so I finally had the chance to check out Alfonso Cuarón’s film adaptation of P.D. James‘s dystopian novel Children of Men. I’d come across so many raves of the film that by the time I made it to the theater almost a month after it was released in New York City, my expectations were revving pretty high… which unfortunately, is almost always a set-up for disappointment. But I’m getting a little ahead of myself.

The thought-provoking premise is set in near future London as the human race teeters on the brink of extinction. In a world without hope, city after city devolves into chaos; in the words of one news report, “The rest of the world has collapsed: only Britain soldiers on!” Cuarón has made a richly imagined and stunningly detailed film: from the moving ads on the sides of the double-decker buses, to the disintegrating “London 2012” Olympics logo on Clive Owen’s fleece, to the television ads for suicide drug, Quietus (“You decide when it’s time.”) The bleak mood of the times is brilliantly captured in a fleeting glimpse of crumbling graffito: “Last one to die turn out the lights.”

Without going into too much spoiler detail, the plot essentially distills into a long chase… but what an excellently paced and beautifully shot chase it was. The desaturated colors and high contrast effectively evoke the societal depression of a world gone mad. There are oblique references to contemporary abuses (Homeland Security, Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo-esque internment camps.) Also, a couple of truly astounding tracking shots: one filmed from the vantage point of a speeding car interior involved a special two-axis camera rig and a custom vehicle with a removable windshield; even more impressively, the sequence was filmed entirely without using any composite or greenscreen components. The masterpiece is one extended steadicam shot that serves as the film’s climax. In it, the camera transports the audience along on a relentless nine-minute trek, through a hyper-violent ambush in a crumbling, war-torn refugee camp. Even if you’re not one to notice such things ordinarily, the choreography of these shots is simply astounding.

Every article I’ve read remarks on Cuarón’s technical mastery. Likewise, I would recommend the film on the strength of the filmmaking alone. For all the dazzle onscreen, though, the weakest aspect of the film was the less-than-expository script. Despite the generally solid acting by Owen and Julianne Moore, the characters were too sketchy for the political metaphors. I would have liked to see some of the overarching themes (faith vs. chance; salvation and redemption) fleshed out more. I realize I’m in the distinct minority with these criticisms, but perhaps I wanted, or expected, to be blown away by Children of Men, and I just… wasn’t. The key elements were there: an intriguing backdrop, two of my favorite actors, an exciting director whose work I admire (despite on occasion confusing him with his Mexican compatriots)…. but somehow, I left the theatre feeling ever-so-slightly disappointed.

Lincoln Center Trees

Later, lying in bed, I was left with a nagging feeling of emptiness… but that may have had nothing at all to do with the movie.

There are 2 Comments ... Children of Men

January 26, 2007

You could always try psyllium husks. 🙂

January 31, 2007

I totally agree with your assessment of the movie. That tracking shot was impressive, and the ending was a bit “meh”.

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