Children of Men

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Finding Humanity in Children of Men

Jan 6, 2007 (Updated Jun 20, 2007)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Clive Owen, Alfonso Cuaron's direction and Emmanuel Lubezki's cinematography

Cons:There could have possibly been more character development

The Bottom Line: Children of Men is one of the best of 2006. It may be underrated and undermarketed, it may not be liked by everyone, but it really is worth seeing.


Plot Details: This opinion reveals minor details about the movie's plot.

She would never say where she came from

Where does our humanity come from? When does the face in crowd become more than just a face? What does it take to get us to connect with someone on an emotional, personal level?

In the terms of a film, where is the line between caricature and character drawn? When does the person on screen become more than just an actor playing a role? Where does empathy begin? When does humanness start?

Yesterday don’t matter if it’s gone

There is a moment in Alfonso Cuaron’s Children of Men where our hero Theo (Clive Owen) asks his cousin why he still bothers to save important pieces of art from destruction. Why bother when in a hundred years no one will be alive to see it? His cousin’s answer: he’s just stopped thinking about it. It has no meaning; it is just an exercise to keep himself busy. Even a task that would seem to be noble, seem to be culturally significant, becomes meaningless when there is no future, no one to appreciate it.

Lose your dreams and you will lose your mind

Children of Men is a bleak film. Set in the 2027, it’s a vision of the future that brings to life our darkest fears. The human race is dying. The end is not a product of war; it is not a result of global warming or some other environmental catastrophe. The human race is dying because of a flaw within: women can no longer have babies. It has been 18 years since the last child was born and the world has collapsed into hopelessness and chaos. Britain alone can make claims of order and maintained social structure. However, order is a relative term. Bombs explode in coffee shops and illegal immigrants, people called “fugees”, are hunted down and rounded up like vermin.

On the grey streets of London, Theo is just another man in the crowd. He’s an alcoholic dragging through the horror that has become everyday life. That is until his love from a life long past grabs him off of the street and asks for his help. Julian (Julianne Moore) needs him secure travel papers for two women, the fugee Kee and the midwife Miriam (Pam Ferris). For motives never made completely clear, Theo agrees to aid them. In doing so, he discovers that there may be something in the world worth fighting for after all.

While the Sun is Bright

If you’ve read my review of A Little Princess then you may already know that I’m a huge fan of director Alfonso Cuaron and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki. They worked together previously on both A Little Princess and the highly regarded Y Tu Mama Tambien. Additionally, Cuaron is well known for Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban while Lubezki’s other credits include Terrance Malik’s The New World, Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow, and, one of my personal favorites, the beautiful Like Water for Chocolate.

However, Children of Men is different from their previous films. Where many of their past works have hinted at the darker side of life, they all remain bright and hopeful. There is color and there is life. In Children of Men, the opposite is true. While there may fleeting glimpses of a sun lit park or a bright sunrise, the landscape here is desolate and grey. Even if hope is rediscovered in the end, color never is. A world without color is a sad one indeed.

In the darkest night

A world shrouded in sorrow has its own beauty. A man may rediscover his humanity and hope may be born again. The people of Children of Men always seem to maintain a distance from the audience, from each other, from themselves but this distance in ways serves to make them not characters but humans. How can we ever truly know what another person’s motives are? We may never discover exactly why Theo decided to help Julian and Kee, but in the end the why doesn’t matter. His why doesn’t matter, nor does Jasper’s, Marichka’s, or Miriam’s. What it comes down to is that in a world gone mad, humanity still exists. Heroes can be real.

This vision of chaos cannot escape from the parallels to our current society. The story is an allegory made all the more relevant by the acts of terror, the acts of war, the acts of genocide, and the intolerance that have plagued us in the recent past. While PD James’s novel may have been moving when it was released in 1992, Cuaron’s film is like a look in the mirror. It’s impossible to watch without seeing the unpleasant truths we turn away from in everyday life.

What is Truth? Sometimes it’s easier to discover through works of fiction than through statements of fact.

Don’t question why she needs to be so free

Of course in troubled times there is never a lack of films exploring our anxieties and fears. What sets Children of Men apart from the other distopian films of recent years (i.e. V for Vendetta) is how it handles the material. While V may paint a dark picture of the future, it is still a slick high budget affair concerned more with showcasing flashy explosions and Natalie Portman’s pretty face than anything else. V was made to entertain. Children of Men was made to tell a story.

Lubezki embraces a pseudo documentary approach using natural sources of light and allowing the camera to film whatever image its attention is drawn to. In one scene, Theo walks through the woods and for a moment the camera is distracted. Rather than follow Theo, it glances up and gives us a dizzying view of the heights of the trees. In another scene, there is a moment when two officers are shot after a violent car chase. The camera jumps out of the car with Theo but when Theo leaves, the camera lingers on the officers allowing us to absorb the shock of this sudden violence.

The way the filmmakers photograph the violence in the film is one of their greatest achievements. They manage a rare thing: there is no glorification. My biggest complaint against films like Saving Private Ryan is that their claims of an anti-war stance is a lie. They use violence to sell tickets and make war seem something to be desired. For me, most war films dishonor those on the front lines by turning war into a commodity, a source of entertainment.

Children of Men may be violent, it may have deliberate parallels to current atrocities, but it never lusts after these things. The story is one that fully embraces humanity and the images that linger in my mind are not the moments of blood and gore but the images Theo’s pain filled eyes and Kee’s hopeful face. Children of Men is a story not about violence, it’s about the people that are living through it.

While I certainly wouldn’t say the film is flawless, I do think that is one of the best of the last year. There’s a beauty in its starkness and an honesty and poignancy in its story telling. It touched my heart and moved my mind. Lubezki’s cinematography is some of the best I’ve seen and Cuaron once again succeeds in making a work of art into a vision of humanity.

Goodbye Ruby Tuesday
Who could hang a name on you
When you change with every new day
Still I'm gonna miss you.


Recommend this product? Yes


Suitability For Children: Not suitable for Children of any age

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