I'm not trying to be a hero! I'M FIGHTING THE DRAGON!!

Children of Men

There was a time a couple years ago when it seemed like every day the headlines were just trying to out-crazy the day before. Planes falling out of the sky, anthrax in the mail, snipers on the loose, hurricanes, that lady releasing doves for each charge Michael Jackson was acquitted of… you wouldn’t have been surprised to get the morning paper and read that killer bees had swarmed Congress, rabid baboons were loose on the Space Shuttle and the Olsen twins had torched themselves outside of the “Today Show” window to protest censorship of rap music and video games. There are no baboons in CHILDREN OF MEN (there is a deer walking through a building, come to think of it) but this is a movie that perfectly captures that knot in your stomach, that feeling of madness, where the world has gone so crazy you keep bouncing between complete desensitized detachment and wanting to cry at the slightest provocation.

Technically this is a sci-fi movie, but it doesn’t feel like it. It feels so fuckin real. Most dystopia movies are stylized in some way to make them look cool. This one goes for reality. The only futuristic technology you see is for mundane things like video games and animated bus ads. It looks great (like all of director Alfonso Cuaron’s movies) but not like a beautiful painting, more like a good documentary, and mostly shot handheld. There are 4 or 5 classic sequences here that I have no idea how they could’ve possibly been done. Like, there’s a scene where Clive Owen, the hero, runs through a war zone surrounded by total fuckin mayhem. In what appears to be one continuous handheld shot he runs between buildings, up stairs, through hallways evading hundreds of gunshots, seeing tanks blow up buildings, having emotional moments with other characters. And not a moment of it looked artificial to me. The only thing in the whole movie that struck me as a special effect was, of all things, a baby. And that was a good special effect. But the rest looked like reality.

Children of MenI don’t know, maybe it’s not a mainstream crowdpleaser. I’m pretty sure I heard a lady say “This is stupid” near the end, during one of many incredibly intense moments. I can’t understand how a movie that grabs you by the collar and shakes you like this could bore normal people. I understood it with SOLARIS. But sadly that maybe happening because this is that type of sci-fi without lasers, spaceships or kung fu. And in case you’re wondering it’s not a sequel or remake of Schwarzenegger’s JUNIOR. Not sure what the title means exactly but this is the story of a world in about 20 years where all women are infertile and the youngest person in the world (18 year old “Baby Diego”) has just been stabbed to death. With no hope for the future the whole world has gone to shit, civil wars and bombings and who knows what. We see on TV propaganda that all the great cities of the world have somehow fallen, but England claims to stand strong. It’s fucked up though – Clive almost gets blown up going for his morning coffee. I guess this must be pretty common because later he goes home from work early not using the excuse “I would’ve been dead if I had stopped for napkins” but “Baby Diego’s death is affecting me more than I realized.”

Clive doesn’t really give a shit, so he needs a nudge to go on an adventure. He gets kidnapped by his ex-wife (Julianne Moore), leader of a group of militants called The Fishes. She needs his help to transport a young refugee woman who, we learn later in the movie (if we haven’t seen the previews or read this review) has somehow become pregnant. So they need to bring her to a group that may or may not exist who may or may not help, while other factions fight over the baby.

This may not be a movie for the lady who said it was stupid, but if you’re reading this you’re probaly into movies and I would say this is a must see. It’s hard to explain how much this movie impressed me except to say that there’s never been one quite like it. I mean holy shit. Even if you don’t like the story of this movie for some reason, you will see some masterfully constructed scenes, the kind of pure moviemaking that doesn’t come along every year. I mentioned that one scene, there’s another one about sneaking away from a farm at dawn. Again, there is a long sequence of complicated stunts that are done in one continuous shot, and yet somehow this is done with the sky just starting to turn light. It’s not the kind of light that stays around long enough for you to do 150 takes of a scene. But it looks like the real sky. How the fuck did they make this movie? I knew this Alfonso Cuaron was good, I knew he could make a pretty movie. Everybody knows that. But this? All the sudden he’s a master. He has taken the limitations of the medium by the neck and told them to go fuck themselves. And their mama too.

Most of the people I’ve talked to who have seen it seem to think it’s the movie of the year or the best movie in years. But I’ve seen some bad reviews. I’m sure there are legitimate criticisms, but most of what I’ve seen is of the “they never explain why such and such happens” variety. As if it is some requirement of good storytelling that every god damn thing has to be spelled out for you. As if it’s not allowed to let the audience think about things. I guess these are the same people driven crazy by MISSION:IMPOSSIBLE:3 purposely not explaining what exactly the weapon they were all fighting over does. It was lame for them to miss out on a fun movie like that for such a stupid reason, but to miss out on this one is a low down shame. This one’s gonna be around for a long time though. Maybe they’ll figure it out in a couple years.

These people are also bothered that the movie is obviously relevant to the world we live in, but you have to digest it and interpret it for yourself. It’s not just “war is bad” or “I am against racism” or “in a world where feelings are against the law, only one man can do kung fu using guns.” But that’s one reason why the movie is smart. It’s kind of like an impression of the fucked up times we’re living in now, a natural extension of today’s world. But there’s not some direct symbolic parallel like “oh, this represents Bush, this represents Tony Blair” or some shit like that. Instead it’s just the kind of world that we know can happen now that we’ve seen Abu Ghraib, Gitmo, Homeland Security, Iraq, terrorist watch lists, etc.

And come to think of it, there’s no “Big Brother” character. The whole world is oppressing you, you don’t need a Big Brother.

But the best thing about the movie is that it’s fucking intense. It’s more like war journalism than a 1984 type of story. Somebody told me this reminded her of THE PIANIST, which is a good comparison. It’s a similar kind of relentless brutality and series of harrowing escapes. Usually in a movie the heroes will be in these action situations and you have to suspend your disbelief that they manage to not get shot, to not get hit by the flying car or whatever. Here it just seems like pure random luck. He’s not a warrior, he’s potential collateral damage. But he happened to turn the right way to miss the bullets. The guy that was going to shoot him happened to get shot at and turn to fire back.

It’s not what most people would call an action movie. But in a weird way the movie I kept thinking of was MAD MAX. Because this has some of the most intense chase scenes I’ve ever seen. To be honest, I was not 100% into the movie in the early part, but suddenly there is a scene where the protagonists are driving along a wooded road and they see a flaming car rolling across the intersection in front of them. For a second you think it’s the type of random disaster that happens in a world like this. They have to slam on their brakes and back up to avoid the fire. But then you see people running through the trees screaming, throwing rocks and molotov cocktails at the car. It’s a fucking ambush. And it gets worse from there.

I don’t know why this movie isn’t getting all that much attention, but believe me, it will. People will study this movie. Movies will copy this movie. The world, hopefully, will not turn into this movie. But it’s definitely one for the books.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
This entry was posted on Sunday, December 31st, 2006 at 2:58 am and is filed under Reviews, Science Fiction and Space Shit, Thriller. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

15 Responses to “Children of Men”

  1. I was one of those people – when the movie was over, I was disappointed that no one ever explained the central mystery of the premise – Why can people no longer have babies? After some time I realized that was a red herring, but I (and most viewers, I think) have been trained by sci fi tradition to expect an answer to such a mystery. Now that I know it’s not coming, I can enjoy the movie, it’s definitely a masterpiece. But I wish I had known ahead of time that it wasn’t going to be about the question of why people can’t have children (perhaps a different title). Just thought you were a bit hard on us for expecting something that’s natural to expect from watching other movies, or even just watching commercials.

  2. Hey, sorry about that Lamb. I guess I was doing that rapper thing of debating some faceless hypothetical sucker MC. No insult intended. But it looks like some of my predictions did come true – for example you came around to it in a couple years, and movies have copied it (I’m specifically thinking of TERMINATOR SALVATION and possibly BABYLON AD although that might’ve been in production before CHILDREN OF MEN came out, I can’t remember).

  3. To me this is the movie of the decade.

  4. I just watched this tonight after meaning to see it for years (I literally could kick myself for not seeing it in theaters)

    holy fucking shit, this movie is breathtaking

    I mean my jaw was on the floor during some scenes

    this is definitely a movie I’m gonna re watch a bunch of times and I would say one of the best of the 2000’s

  5. I love this movie.

    I took a punt on it in the cinema when it came out and was blown away, and I’ve watched it a number of times since (again last night).

    I was so immersed in it the first couple of times I didn’t even clock the many scenes that were done in a single long take – from the early scene where Theo walks out of the coffee shop and stops to stir his coffee, all the traffic is going passed, there is loads of stuff happening in the background, and the bomb goes off, to the masterpiece Vern mentions of running through the warzone. Getting the timings just right to do these perfectly in a single take is phenomenal.

    I know people who dislike this film and describe it is ‘depressing’ – but surely that is kind of the point? The fact it is depressing shows its sufficiently high quality to evoke a response.

    I would very much like to see more of the works of this Alfonso Cuaron.

  6. Hands down, my favorite movie of the 2000’s. Not easy to say in light of films like TRAFFIC, NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, MUNICH and ZODIAC but this bests them all, and I don’t have to think twice about it. The crazy thing is, I saw the trailer before MIAMI VICE and was not convinced by it. As soon as I’d finished it I was never so glad to be so wrong in my life.

    I was never really bugged by the lack of explanation for why nobody was getting pregnant. I just had kind of assumed that it was fallout from some major ecological catastrophe. Or maybe a pharmaceutical one, not unlike what caused most everyone to die off in I AM LEGEND. I’m sure it was intended to be something that just acts as a red herring and lets the audience project their own idea as to why.

  7. So needless to say, I’m looking forward to GRAVITY.

    http://variety.com/2013/film/news/alfonso-cuaron-returns-to-the-bigscreen-after-seven-years-with-gravity-1200596518/

    Great article on why it’s taken so damn long, among other things.

  8. Easily my favorite movie I’ve seen in a long time. This movie should be talked about a lot more.

  9. Casey, I totally agree! THE DEPARTED fucking stole CHILDREN OF MEN’S best picture Oscar

  10. Started to rewatch CHILDREN OF MEN, couldn’t do it.
    The set design is as impressive as it is hideous,
    the humanity too downtrodden,
    the futuristical sci-fi-ness not interesting enough,
    the Julianne Moore & Michael Caine characters too blah & stupid & not allowed to express themselves,
    the commentary on art & destruction too simplistic.
    Any philosophical points it raises get wiped out upon the cut to the following scene or within the terse conversation in which they are broached.
    Any salient political points are smothered by the momentum of the thriller narrative’s thriller-ness.
    Most of the thriller momentum is smothered by the faux-ugly-verisimilitude of the costumes/dirt/design/sets and the overall bleakness.
    I mean, that’s all fine if you’re in the mood for it, if that’s your bag, but somehow during CHILDREN OF MEN I feel like I’m watching KES + RATCATCHER + ‘splosions&nihilism, and that’s no fun.

    I’m just not a Cuaron guy, which is weird since I love any & all single-shot long takes.
    Apart from that, Cuaron & I share no wavelengths, based on the 4 features & one shitty PARIS JE T’AIME segment I’ve seen from him.
    I vaguely recall respecting or possibly liking A LITTLE PRINCESS, the only film of his I’d rate above a 5/10, but it’s been years.

  11. Believe pilot episode was pretty dope, though. Opening scene is an example of Cuaron borrowing from himself, but that’s okay when it’s an impressive extended single-take automobile collision that becomes a double-murder via a neckbreaking assassin.

    Good suspense in the hospital,
    good fight scenes,
    a cast that follows the 21st century tv affirmative-diversity-action checklist (supporting characters are a black guy, an Asian lady, a vaguely Hispanic-Mediterranean dude… and the 2 leads are of course white) (but that’s okay because look it’s Delroy Lindo and Jamie Chung [smiley face wink])
    . . .
    and yet I can already tell there’s going to very soon be a run of mediocre episodes that make me regret following the show.

  12. Mouth – I was going to say, BELIEVE looks like the new REVOLUTION.

    Yeah remember that? Another high conceptual J.J. Abrams program with a great pre-air marketing campaign which sold the shit out of it and there was alot of buzz. Then it faded away quickly. And now, REVOLUTION is in season 2 and might not even get renewed.

    Or you know this is another HEROES. Sorry, had to say it!

    Not seen BELIEVE. I hope its good, I hope as a good program its successful.

  13. Never heard of Revolution. My only exposure to Heroes was one time I walked by an Army tentmate watching his laptop and it was Ali Larter about to do webcam porn and I was like, ‘What?’ but then he explained it was a network tv show and I was like, ‘Ah shit’ but then later a cheerleader put her hand in a garbage disposal and I was like ‘Man let me borrow your dvds’ but it never happened, cool story yo.

  14. Actually the one thing that makes me already lose faith in BELIEVE (bad pun intended) without having seen one single episode, are the behind-the-scenes stories. Apparently it’s a VERY troubled production, that is already in its 3rd showrunner!

    On the plus side: Maybe that means it’s one of those shows that are at first VERY frustrating to watch, but then late into season 1 hit their stride and become totally fucking awesome.

  15. Well, the saga of Mouth vs. Cuaron continues, and he might have finally won another post-A LITTLE PRINCESS round
    (to go along with his victory in that excellent but fruitless Believe pilot and his other life victories over most of us in terms of his millions of dollars and various awards and worldwide acclaim as a Great Artist, etc.),
    as I rewatched CoM with a bit of a crowd at a special screening and it was a bit good in my opinion. I dipped out 2 or 3 brief times during the feature to grab a fresh Beefeater-n-tonic from the bar (Yes, this was an alcohol-enhanced experience), but I know I didn’t miss much and I’m glad the 15 other people in our audience saw it [again] projected on a big screen with a rad audio set-up.

    I still contend that most of his filmatism is ugly when it should be pretty, chaotic when it should be composed, and disastrously limitingly contrived when it should be gloriously daring, but anyway I’ve always respected at least 2-3 CoM scenes (scenes which are single shots here, in fact), so that’s several minutes of uberimpressive directationalism that few others can claim to match. Maybe Cuaron just has a particular, innate sense of pacing which happens to appeal to lots of other cinephiles & plebes but happens to grate & clash against my personal sense of buildup-expectation-payoff — his ingredients, though hearty & good, simply don’t cook properly in my brain’s oven to make a satisfying recipe for my cinematic tastes. (Awesome filmcrit-foodcrit metaphor mashup alert!)

    Wish I could get on the wavelength of those who fall for CoM to the extent that it achieves Best Of Decade status in your perspectives, but oh well. Looking forward to a GRAVITY rewatch that involves the Mute button, some headphones, and a bevy of fast-forward moments whenever there’s a close-up of Sandra’s face. Could have another begrudging 3-star-rating reassessment on my hands.

Leave a Reply





XHTML: You can use: <a href="" title=""> <img src=""> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <b> <i> <strike> <em> <strong>