In the year 2027, and after nearly two decades of global infertility, humanity is on verge of extinction. As the whole world slips into chaos and unrest, illegal immigrants seek refuge in Britain who has the last stable but oppressive government. Theo, an apathetic bureaucrat, will have to summon his long-forgotten political activist skills to ensure the safety of a miraculously pregnant girl by smuggling her out of the UK.
Presented as such, the movie places itself in the dystopian action thriller genre, which it fits smoothly. In fact, the xenophobic, brainwashed and despotically ruled country is a recurring theme in dystopian literature (take Orwell’s 1984 or Moore’s V for Vendetta to name but two). The many very well-choreographed action sequences rival in brutal honesty and real violence some landmarks of contemporary cinema. And as the story progresses, the pacing never slows down, each scene reveals something new, thus weaving a successful thriller with a strong narrative thrust.
Aesthetically, Alfonso Cuarón’s signature is visible through shaky cam and extremely long takes. Both of these techniques serve the main purpose of the movie: to completely immerse the viewer in this hyperreal world, forcing him to experience the main characters’ confusion, anguish, despair and finally relief.
Most of the story is told/seen from the perspective of the main character Theo, and it is told in a linear fashion. But only when we –the viewers are wholly identified with the hero that the camera abruptly moves away from him to show us what he doesn’t care to see: the horrors of war. Cuarón is reminding us to reflect on the horrendous atrocities portrayed onscreen, to be disgusted, outraged and ashamed.
The movie can also be read as a metaphor. With symbols and references scattered throughout it, waiting to be discovered, the experience is even more interesting. For instance, Theo first sees Kee pregnant and naked in the barn, echoing simultaneously the story of Mary and Joseph, and the Botticelli painting The Birth of Venus. Another example is the early shot where the Guernica is seen behind Theo, predicting and warning against his imminent tragic fate. The Banksy works. The Pink Floyd reference. And so on.
Do I need to say that the acting was great? Clive Owen, Julianne Moore, Michael Caine, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Clare-Hope Ashitey all do a wonderful job.
Despite its huge production cost (around $76M!), Children of Men remains an arthouse film at heart. Grandiose but intimate, immersive yet detached. An absolute joy to both eye and brain.