children of men (2006)
I can recall seeing the trailer for Alfonso Cuaron's new film Children of Men some months back and literally cringing at the "here we go again" vibe I was getting from it. Here was another great premise for a dystopian sci-fi film that Hollywood was going to royally screw up. In fact, there was little doubt in my mind at all, as I scoffed at the no-way-out plotline of the thing, that this movie would be a great big noisy nothing. You know the kind of stories I mean, those plots that hint at big things for two hours straight, that run solely on the fact that we're waiting to see what happens next, and then when the big conclusion finally does arrive we throw our overpriced box of milk duds to the floor and curse ourselves for getting roped in so easily. But oh no, I was much too smart this time around, there was no way you were getting me in the theater for this one. Months passed, however, and good word on the film started to trickle in, and here I stand before you today, very much corrected and utterly speechless that I almost let such an intense film experience pass me by. Shame on me. Children of Men is one of 2006's best films, for the experience alone. Yes, there are some pretty big holes in its script, but I forgave them almost as soon as I noticed them as I marveled at Curaon's fantastic direction of the picture. This is one experience you won't want to miss.
Actually, it's the second time this year I ended up giving a film a free pass in the overall logic department simply because the experience of watching it was too intense for words. That film was The Descent, and honestly, I'd have to see each of these films a second time to truly tell you which one will fry your nerves more. There is literally a straight twenty minutes of Children of Men where my heart was pounding out of my chest so badly that I swear my hands were shaking. This film drew me in, it led me off to a world full of despair and devoid of hope, and then took me on a journey I won't soon forget. Cuaron brings it all so close that you could swear you were there, you're almost positive that a stray bullet or piece of schrapnel could at any moment fly out of the screen and be the end of you, and above all, you care deeply about the survival of the protagonists onscreen. I'm not quite sure how this was achieved, none of the characters were particularly more endearing than your average movie character and none of them were fleshed out to a great extent, but I cared about them as though they were living, breathing people. Cuaron creates a world that is so raw and real, it transcends normal movie logic and becomes as volatile and unpredictable as life itself. After sitting through the paint-by-numbers bore of Dreamgirls just two days ago, it was fantastic to see a film that rejected normal Hollywood story conventions for just a moment (even if it did obey quite a few as well) to tell us a story where I truly couldn't predict the outcome. It came dangerously close in its scripting to honoring the Hollywood habit for seeding later movie developments with arbitrary, forced mentions of something early in the script. Here's what I mean: Early on in the film, Theo (Clive Owen) and Jasper (Michael Caine) are having a conversation when suddenly Theo blurts out something like "hey Jasper, you're so crazy, you even believe in UFO's!!". The conversation suddenly shifts to UFO's for the next five minutes and it's one of the worst, most forced and ridiculous scenes ever. I momentarily lost all faith in the film as I was sure this conversation, which had no point or relevance to the rest of the film, would be foreshadowing some later idiotic occurrence involving UFO's. As you can see by my praise for the film, I was wrong, and I'm thankful the film was merely throwing my Hollywood-trained brain for a loop. The plot of this film revolves around the state of the world in the year 2027. It is a world that has been turned upside down due to the fact that human beings find themselves without the ability procreate (the film states that women are infertile, though it could just as easily be men and we wouldn't know the difference). The how and the why are never discussed, and rightfully so, this is more the story of an apocalypse and subsequent re-birth for humanity, not a lesson in fabricated future-history. One young woman becomes pregnant and it falls on a few brave souls to protect her and her unborn child. The catch is that the world has gone more or less insane, as people no longer believe we have a reason for existence. The government of Britain tries to maintain order by means of terror and force, and small rebel factions each try to push their own agendas in the fight for control of the dying planet. Small elements of the film can at times echo the idiocy of this year's earlier dystopian failure, V for Vendetta. However, this film easily outdoes it ten times over.
The idea behind the film gives us enough to chew on, while we're being wowed by Cuaron, to make the aforementioned holes in the plot very very easy to swallow. I won't go into them now so as not to spoil anything, but all in all, if you're willing to accept the world that the film presents (as I was) you'll have few problems. The conclusion that the film thematically comes to is one that more or less illustrates the point and the paradox of its premise, and I'm sure it was quite intentional. What is it about the lack of procreation that makes the world seem so hopeless? Human beings can often be selfish creatures, we are shown this many times throughout the film, and when it comes to their own lives, what difference does it make if the species continues on for 50 or 50,000 years? We are all going to live and die, we're already here so we can't begin our lives at any other point, and no matter how long people continue to populate the planet, the world is going to end for us (as individuals) at exactly the same point regardless. The juxtaposition of being an isolated individual and having something else to care for is played upon wonderfully throughout the film and adds greatly to the film's overall theme. To get into it deeper, I'd have to discuss the ending, which I'm trying to avoid doing. Anyhow, the cinematography is absolutely exquisite and deserves just as much a mention as the themes. There is a single shot in the film which lasts for nearly ten full minutes, covers an incredibly large amount of indoor and outdoor distance and involves an insane amount of practical on-set effects. In short, this ten minute tracking shot has got to be one of the most complex things ever attempted in movie-making and its effect on the realism and overall power of the film is innumerable. The scene itself is beautiful and the camera-work is flawless, if this doesn't win best cinematography, for this sequence alone, I will be shocked. For the rest of the film, Cuaron's camera is exactly where it needs to be, the tension he can create is astounding. The scenes in the film are so full of suspense that there were times I wished that he had scaled it back. Not during the final no-holds-barred scenes of course, but during the film's mid-section where he seemed to be trying WAY to hard to inject as much suspense into every single scene. That's honestly my only complaint about his direction, it's just fantastic. The script, as I said earlier, has a few holes, but the dialogue is well-written and it takes many twists and turns that will keep you in a state of shocking guesses for much of its run-time. My biggest complaint is that it never really featured anything that made the absence of children seem that shocking, except for a small scene in an abandoned school. Another scene or two like this that really drove home the fact that the world was missing kids and just what that meant to the people in the film, would've been appreciated, but eh, minor complaint I suppose. I thought the acting, especially from our two leads, Clive Owen and Claire-Hope Ashitey, was phenomenal. Michael Caine and Julianne Moore also do great jobs in their respective roles as well.
So definitely see this just for the pure and unadulterated experience. It's an emotional ride that doesn't let up and it really has to be seen to be believed. It's part of a double-feature, along with The Fountain, that's doing great things for the Sci-Fi genre this year.