Children of Men

I should have driven to Chicago. I should have at least called in sick to work yesterday so I could have watched this film that much sooner. Stupid day job. But now I've seen it, and I think I can safely say that this may be the best movie I'm going to see in all of 2007.

Clive Owen plays Theo Faron (and plays him beautifully, I might add), an average guy living and working in 2027 London. But there's nothing average about the rest of the world. It's been eighteen years since the last baby was born, and no one can work out why women no longer seem able to get pregnant. Great Britain is apparently one of the last bastions of civilization -- such as it is. The island is full of "refugee camps", since any immigration to England is apparently now forbidden, and these are just as bad as you might imagine, summoning up images of Nazi concentration camps. The entire city of Bexhill, real-world population 40,000, is now nothing but a giant, filthy camp full of desperate people. The buses may all run on time, but garbage pickup apparently stopped eighteen years ago as well.

Theo is an observer, moving through the world quietly, trying to forget that there's anything wrong. Enter Julian, (Julianne Moore), his ex and current leader of one of England's many rebel groups. Her group, The Fishes, has found what they think may be the world's salvation: a young West African refugee named Kee (Claire-Hope Ashitey). Kee just happens to be eight months pregnant.

Julian wants to get Kee to a place called The Human Project, a semi-mythical island outpost where scientists work to reverse the pattern of infertility, and she needs Theo, or more accurately Theo's cousin, to get the necessary travel papers. Life has become much like living in the pages of Orwell's 1984; you need your identity card constantly, and it seems as though every other tree has a camera in it somewhere, watching you.

Though he resists, Theo is soon pulled in too deeply to back out. After a slightly rocky start, he develops a sweet, protective friendship with Kee as they fight their way through the chaos, clinging to the faint hope she represents. The mood of the film never quite reaches optimism, but even the cynical, numb Theo realizes what the existence of Kee's baby might mean. It's amazing to see the reactions of those who suddenly discover there's a pregnant woman in front of them -- some think "government reward", or "rallying point", but most show only sheer astonishment, joy, and sometimes something very like religious rapture.

The film defies categorization. It's a bleak, terrifying view of the future, but to label it simply a dystopian movie is much too pat. There are several shining moments of genuine humor and hope. It's an action movie, but far transcends that genre as well. Theo is almost an anti-hero -- he's very much a regular guy, struggling with his self-appointed guardian role, and continually outgunned. He never touches a gun, in fact, and is only able to physically fight back a few times. He almost seems more at home on the edges of a scene rather than the center. (Many important things are shown on the edges of the screen, actually, something which strangely made me feel even more involved in the film.) Theo listens and watches, and quietly does what he can.

I wish I could tell you more, because nearly every scene is well worth discussing. Sir Michael Caine gives a wonderful performance as Theo's friend Jasper Palmer, an ex-political cartoonist who now lives in a hidden forest cabin, almost a refugee himself. Julian's compatriots are the epitome of fanatical belief, frighteningly inspiring in their determination. Every extra is exactly right, and every background detail is striking. (Posters everywhere announce with chilling matter-of-factness that skipping fertility testing is a crime, and you know they mean a serious crime. A grafitti artist has scrawled "The last one to die please turn out the light.") Emmanuel Lubezki's cinematography and Alfonso Cuarón's directing were both amazing. In short, it was all stunning.

I usually sit in my seat with my little notebook, pausing now and then to scribble a few words as a reminder. This time, I wrote almost nothing -- I was so quickly wrapped up in the film that I neglected the notebook and nearly dropped my pencil because I forgot it was in my hand. And I'm not one to lose myself in a film like that.

This could only get the full five out of five idols. Trust me, go watch it now. I'm just going to go check on pre-ordering the DVD.

Note: I'm not entirely sure why I bothered to mention the directing, let alone the cinematography. For the longest time, I wasn't absolutely sure what cinematography even was, never mind how to tell if it's good or bad. But it's still a great movie, and I do now own the DVD and have watched it several times since writing this review; so that wasn't just dramatic hyperbole at the end.

Image: 
Theo helps a frightened Kee through the Bexhill Refugee Camp.

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