Children of Men is a sci-fi action-drama based on mystery novelist P. D. James’s book of the same name. Clive Owen plays the reluctant hero, Theo, living in a dystopian future where all of humanity has been infertile for the last 18 years. The world has thus been plunged into war and chaos, with Britain being the last bastion of stability via hostile and oppressive policing of immigration. Theo is recruited by his ex-wife Julian (Julianne Moore) and her rebel immigration rights group, the Fishes, in order to help a young refugee named Kee (Clare-Hope Ashitey). Kee is the first pregnant woman since humanity was struck by the unexplained threat of extinction; however, her refugee status makes her vulnerable to the government who would take her baby away from her. Theo and company must journey through dangerous war zones and refugee camps to make their way to the phantom Human Project, a scientific group working on curing infertility. Owen’s fellow British actors Chiwetel Ejiofor and Michael Caine round out the rest of the cast.
Director and screenwriter Alfonzo Cuarón alters and expands the original story, adding contemporary themes and images of war to remark upon the status of immigration and refugees today. A photograph of a mother holding her dead son, itself an echo of Michelangelo’s Pieta, from the Balkan war is replicated in Children of Men. Kneeling figures with bags over their heads, surrounded by armed soldiers, recall the treatment of prisoners in Abu Ghraib. Additional pop culture references to war and totalitarian governments are layered in through images littered in the background and through the film’s score, particularly in scenes with Jasper, Theo’s hippie friend, and at the government-run “Ark of the Arts”.
Religious symbolism, which is very much present in the book version of Children of Men, is reduced just slightly in the film. Meaningful names, such as Theo (Greek for “God”) and the Fishes (a Christian emblem), are retained, and a scene with the miraculously pregnant Kee in a straw-filled barn invokes the Nativity. The threat of extinction itself is seen as a sort of divine retribution. All these allusions and references help enhance the film, making it more interesting and complex and allowing for new discoveries each time it is viewed.
Children of Men is unconventional for a couple of reasons. In terms of an action film, it does not rely on CGI explosions or over-the-top car chases, although it is more impressive than most in that genre thanks to Cuarón’s patented skills in crafting tension-filled long takes. (A phenomenal, documentary-style long-take through an urban war zone stands out in particular both for its impression of realism and skilful filmmaking.) In terms of a sci-fi, the film is minimal in showing advances in technology, befitting a world where humans have given up on the future. These distinct choices, along with its extensive use of symbolism, makes Children of Men arguably Cuarón’s best English-language film to date.
Rating: 5 out of 5 government-distributed Quietus kits