Thursday, April 19, 2007

Children of Men (2006)

Children of Men (Alfonso Cuarón, 2006)

The thing that strikes me the most about Alfonso Cuarón's Children of Men is how familiar everything feels. It's clearly a dystopian future yet this one isn't one that is outside our lifetimes. 2027, and everything looks the same --- no flying cars, laser guns, or robots. Far more disturbing is how the problems of that dystopian near-future isn't nearly different from ours, only amplified; it feels like the problems of our present age were forced into a pressure cooker and everything else went awry.

England, according to propaganda, is the only nation that "soldiers on." Great cities have fallen to riots and plagues and London has become that last bastion of what life used to be. Swarms of immigrants from around the world would reside in England, hiding from the watchful eyes of England's immigration police. Those who get caught are placed in cages; there seems to be no tinge of embarrassment as to how these immigrants are treated. Their misfortune in life has deprived them of humanity thus no semblance of human rights are afforded to them --- violence and deprivation of freedom are exposed to the public without a care. The rest of the world feels more affected by the death of the youngest human being (accordingly described by Jasper (Michael Caine) as the world's youngest wanker) rather than the injustice that is right in front of their eyes. By a mere two decades and the accepted fact that humanity will cease to exist, the world has adopted a skewed ideology.

Unknown to the world is that there is one woman who is pregnant, Kee (Claire-Hope Ashitey). She jokingly describes herself as a virgin, and her child, as a bastard. Theo (Clive Owen), once an activist along with ex-wife Julian (Julianne Moore) but has lost all hope when their son died from a disease, becomes the unwilling "Joseph" to Kee's "Virgin Mary." Whisked away from his day-a-day life (only colored by frequent visits to friend Jasper, political cartoonist-turned-marijuana merchant; there seems to be no more room for cartoons or humor in Cuarón's dystopian future), Theo gets drawn into a mission to bring Kee to a ship called "Tomorrow," where the mythical group of scientists who are trying to remedy humanity's infertility reside.

Much has been said about how technically wondrous the film is, and it really is. There's so much details, so much information in every frame of the film. The streets of London are not merely littered with trash, garbage, and other junk, it's also filled with telling details --- of oriental tricycles (due to the sudden influx of immigrants), of graffiti, and other eye-catching eccentricities. Emmanuel Lubezki's cinematography is fittingly drab and color-less. There's no pretense of realism here; what we see is what Lubezki's camera captures --- including blood splattering into the camera's lens. There's also no pretense for beauty yet the result is hauntingly gorgeous. Cuarón and Lubezki's methodology during the entire feature, editing as little as they can with mostly long-takes which are perfectly executed, keeps you glued, keeps you flowing with the feature's own enunciations and depresses. They actually bring you from Theo's unsatisfying safety to a personal mission that will bring him close to danger with generous and compelling ease.

The film itself is something to behold. It grabs your attention by putting you in a scenario of hopelessness; and not only that, it is hopelessness that will soon erupt into violence and rebellion. It further grabs you by giving you this little spark of hope (of pregnant Kee, we see her in her glorious pregnancy among cows, who are commodified for their byproducts of their fertility, their milk); that hope we are forced to entrust to Theo. Is it a story of faith, or does it imply the futility of faith? That Kee, with that revelation, has turned into a commodity, and Theo's mission is a futile one, to entrust that unique commodity to a mere plan, a mere myth which is in itself a commodity of hope.

With Cuarón's visual metaphors (and there are a lot of them), the film feels utterly religious more than it is political. But of course, in our world wherein political has been equated with religion, a film like Children of Men feels quite justified with its mixing of those two facets of human society. Fantastically, the film's most moving moments are when the soldiers, the immigrants, bow down to Theo and Kee (with the sound of the crying baby in the background) with utter reverence; it tells something of humanity --- that its existence, its survival, still implies religion --- of bowing down to a power superior to them (Kee who has something the rest of humanity doesn't have, fertility). It's quite a multi-faceted film and requires further viewings for fuller appreciation. My writings, unorganized and highly unedited, cannot give justice to Cuarón's complex masterpiece; and I'd love to take in some more from the film.


pacheco said...

Yes. It's so refreshing to see a positive review from a blogger. It seems that it became extremely trendy to dislike Children of Men, or at least the third act or something.

I enjoyed watching it, and you're right, it's a beauty, but it's after the film, when I started to think about how they came to their decisions (what problems would be the biggest twenty years from now, how to portray the future, etc) that I really started liking this film a lot.

I really want to see it again.

jayclops said...

Me too. That long shot when Theo and Kee were going down the stairs up to capturing the atrocities outside the building is amazing. It's like solemnity wanting to sink in in the midst of chaos.

That scene inside the car where the camera rotates around the characters also displayed Lubezski's brilliance.

The last moments are also striking. It's the one that stuck with me after watching it. I think it's what drives home the subject of hope and faith or the futility of it.

Oggs Cruz said...

Thanks pacheco and jayclops,

I thought Children of Men got great reviews from bloggers I take note of. Anyway, the problem with Children of Men is that there's so much to nitpick about (use of long takes, symbolisms, etc.), but that's really all you can do --- nitpick. Because, everything else is brilliant.

jayclops said...

I was suppose to share the link to a video clip with Cuaron and the gang explaining and demonstrating the long takes but I can't seem to put the link. Anyway, it's on YouTube.