Summary: A perfectly realized sci-fi meditation.
Review: Science fiction gives us an excuse to stretch reality just thin enough to give us a window into our souls. It seems we’re quite scared of what we’ve found, which explains the common use of science fiction as pure fantasy, to escape, rather than explore. ‘Children of Men’ shows us what we have to fear, and why we have to hope. It is an apocalypse — literally, an unveiling.
In the not-too-distant future, every woman on Earth is infertile, and every child is either matured or dead. Without children, it seems, humankind has gone insane, with every ounce of hatred boiling beneath the surface, once sublimated, now unleashed without regard. Only a few last havens exist, at least in the minds of the surviving members of what can loosely be called “society”. A British cubical denizen named Theo, the protagonist, finds an occasional refuge at the home of an aging liberal activist, where he listens to the old man philosophize and dream as Theo himself no longer can. Before the world fell apart around his ears, he was an idealist, along with his former lover, who now operates a rebellion against the fascist government in Britain. She contacts him, seeking his help in smuggling a young refugee girl out of the country, and Theo learns that the girl is pregnant, a beacon of hope for the world. Soon, it’s up to him, alone, to protect the mother and child from selfish interests on all sides, and take them to a rendezvous with the perhaps mythical Human Project.
Common wisdom says that you don’t know something’s value until it is gone. It’s difficult to overestimate procreation’s importance in the human scheme. When the system breaks down and fails to produce a new generation, the proverbial human castle comes crashing down, first in the mind and then in the matter, despite everything our hands have wrought. All of this is obvious. Maybe it’s the deepest, darkest ancestral fear in our species. ‘Children of Men’ is important because it unveils our most basic humanity, the fragility beneath the façade of culture, religion, politics, technology, what have you. It is in part a retelling of the Christian Nativity story. For the divine person, there is no greater humility or sympathetic expression than incarnation. In the Gospels, God’s embrace of our condition is literal. In ‘Children of Men’, it is subtext, but nonetheless plain. The refugee’s child isn’t God, but she is evidence of the divine hand at work, a living apocalypse that could stop all wars, if only we’d listen to her cries.
Director Alfonso Cuarón and his team chose to realize this story as concretely as possible. Steadicam tracking shots and extended takes composed of multiple overlapping elements grant the film real presence. It becomes difficult to look away. The production design is superb, highly complex, and completely believable. The filmmakers obviously strove to remove as many stylistic obstacles between the movie and the viewer as they could. The film’s action sequences outclass most others in the genre. The choreography is breathtaking, and it’ll certainly have you asking “How in God’s name did they do that?”, especially during the climatic battle which comes to us in nearly a single take.
‘Children of Men’ is awesome. What a simple, beautiful story, realized so well, without hiccups or compromise. It induced in me, on each viewing, a sense of oddly worshipful melancholy I have seldom experienced. I intend to make this movie a personal Christmas tradition.