Children of Men

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Perhaps the human race dying out wouldn't be such a bad thing...

Oct 25, 2006 (Updated Nov 10, 2006)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Interesting premise, intense images...

Cons:... silly errors, political agenda more important than film to its makers, constant profanity

The Bottom Line: If you want a movie that conveys a strong political message with the F word making up 30% of the dialogue, go ahead and watch this.


Imagine a world with no children. Sometime early in the 21st century, something – no-one knows quite what – has caused fertility to reduce to nothing. Now, in 2027, the world’s youngest citizen has died – at 18 years old. (In true John Wyndham style, no attempt is made to explain why this phenomenon occurred.) The whole planet has descended into anarchy, with as the BBC news broadcast shown near the start states “the whole world is in ruins”, adding with believable pomposity, “only Britain soldiers on!”. Things in Britain aren’t so good though, especially not for illegal immigrants – with a massive government clampdown on them, and armed police on nearly every street. There are groups fighting for equal rights – including “The Fishes”, who really shouldn’t have given themselves such a silly name if they wanted to be taken seriously, who are led by Julian Taylor, former wife (or partner? – wasn’t quite sure of that bit) of Theodore Faron who becomes embroiled in the plot when it turns out that maybe there is an exception to the blanket infertility syndrome…

Loyalties are divided everywhere you look, and xenophobia is becoming a national obsession. The extinction of the human race looks imminent, and some wonder whether it is even worth saving.

Unfortunately this quite fascinating premise that could have made a really interesting film is lost in a sea of profanity, implausible plot elements, and an in-your-face political agenda. The filmmakers have quite clearly got a strong message to put across in this film, which is fair enough but they’ve got the message across at the expense of making an entertaining film. The first scene shows definite promise, with peoples’ reaction at the death of the world’s youngest person being nauseatingly familiar to anyone who was in England when Princess Diana died. Later scenes were blatantly reminiscent of scenes from Guantanamo Bay etc and it seemed to pass the point of allusions to direct comparison and it just seemed that all pretence of this being a future world was gone, and was merely the filmmakers’ impression of today’s world without any subtlety. This aspect of the film is actually quite powerful, but I just felt that if they wanted to make that point it would have been better to do so totally directly without pretending it was about a future society. I have no idea how much of this is indicated by PD James’ original story (I didn’t realise she’d written anything like this, I just know of her as a crime fiction novelist). It felt like it was a documentary trying to make out it was fiction – without really succeeding. To me the whole obvious parallels business strained my ability to suspend my belief.

Another major problem with the film is that the scriptwriters didn’t seem to understand that it is possible to have whole sentences, perhaps (shock horror gasp) even whole conversations without multiple use of the F word. Even if you don’t find that word particularly offensive, and I know many don’t, it is used so frequently that it renders the dialogue mindlessly repetitive. Many people say that swear words are used to add impact to a statement, and this is also negated by using it practically every time someone opens their mouth. (To be fair to the scriptwriters, they didn’t rely exclusively on the f word for profanity – other swear words are liberally used.)

Suspending belief became even more difficult due to sloppy continuity and implausibility of certain scenes. Without spoilers it would be difficult to detail them, but one example is starting a car to make a getaway. Pushing a car uphill, in the mud, with two women sitting in the car, the main character manages to push it at a pretty good speed without appearing to exert much effort, while saying that the car needs to be “jump” started (which is complete rubbish, it’s a push-start not a jump-start!). When the car is further along and on the main track, two minutes later, we suddenly find ourselves out of near-darkness to nearly broad daylight!

As for the characters… well they were there for one purpose only, and I couldn’t really empathise much with any of them. Clive Owen’s character was just dull, despite a fairly interesting lost-the-will-to-live-then-found-it-again kind of storyline through the film. The main female character, Kee (Claire-Hope Ashitey) is fairly unpleasant but at least you can feel for her being scared, as the first person for many years about to give birth. Michael Caine’s character was larger than life and to an extent merited our sympathy, while former midwife Miriam (Pam Ferris) was by far the most likeable character in the film, even if she was a little crazy. Julianne Moore fans will be disappointed with the brevity of her role in the film.

Set it in the present time (even as an alternate reality it would have worked), take out the swearing and give it some actual dialogue (you know, where people talk and it actually means something…), sort out the silly errors, and this would be one powerful political message. Maybe not a good movie, but still undeniably emotive whatever your political or humanitarian leanings are. As it is though, it’s pretty depressing, not very entertaining, and leaves a bad taste in the mouth. Maybe that’s what it was intended to do… but personally I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone apart from maybe those who enjoyed A Scanner Darkly. Dystopian near-future societies with no clear-cut ending seem to be in vogue at the moment, but all of the ones I’ve seen have been very disappointing viewing. Some will like the film for exactly the reasons I’ve described that make me not like it, but that’s variety for you.

A far better sci-fi film based on a dystiopian society (and showing that an inconclusive ending really can be effective) is the little known gem Harrison Bergeron.



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