Thursday, April 24, 2008

Children of Men

The imagery from Children of Men is still haunting me. Reminiscent of Cuaron's earlier masterpiece, Y Tu Mama Tambien, when the camera pans across a desperate widow or a grieving mother on the side of the road, the shot lingers. You realize that the real story is there in that face. The main actors play out their narrative and take you through a world, but it's the environment in which the plot unfolds that is really the point. And that environment is incredibly immersive. As with the best of cautionary science fiction, Children of Men completely pulls you into its nightmare dystopia.

While Y Tu Mama Tambien was a brilliant parable about Mexico on the brink of a major political crisis, looking to its youth for the next generation of leadership; Children of Men operates as a meditation on the sanctity of human life and how society recklessly disregards that sanctity in the name of politics or personal gain. Cauron's first challenge is to create a plausible future world where the birth of a child could be the most sacred thing imaginable. Without spoiling the nuances of the film for you, I'll say that Cauron succeeds admirably. I was drawn in so completely, that I caught myself completely blown away when that miracle actually happens.

Thus entranced, Cauron next succeeds in getting the audience to identify with Clive Owen's character: An honorable man with a tragic past, who is now comfortably insulated... A man who has lost his faith in ideals... A man that numbs himself to the horrific state of the world with a steady flow of alcohol. This is the character (symbolic of all of us) that needs to be shocked into understanding that life is pointless if you've lost your faith in everything. We need to believe, we need to hope, we need to act toward some kind of goal rooted in principle. We need (as Michael Caine's brilliantly portrayed stoner hippy character points out) praxis. This point is hammered home so forcefully, that I felt a bit staggered afterwards. I felt my own commitment to social justice issues challenged. I felt disgusted by the horrors that lurk just around the corner if our world doesn't pay heed to the warning signs. This is an incredible task for any movie to undertake, and it takes a brilliant film to pull it off. Children of Men succeeds.

Cuaron injects a healthy dose of mystical Catholic imagery into the pic. Scenes that happen in mangers for no apparent reason; a joking reference to virgin birth; sacrifice and betrayal both in biblical proportions. This irked me slightly because Cuaron makes to effort to hold the Catholic Church accountable for encouraging overpopulation, which leads to the devaluation of human life that the film so effectively rails against. That's my own prejudice though. The imagery that sticks, and rings hauntingly true, isn't the Catholic stuff... it's the scenes of refugees. They recall Nazi concentration camps, our own internment of Japanese during WWII, Abu Ghraib, Guantanimo, and how we Americans have already begun signing away our liberty to the forces of fascist fear-mongering.

The musical direction was spotty, but the film does effectively mine some English peacenik folk-rock nuggets from the 60's and 70's. And (probably because of their anti-war anthems) the film pays brief (but startlingly obvious) visual homage to the cover of Pink Floyd's Animals album. At the end of the final credits song, the vocalist yells, "stop all the killing!" While this is obviously the point of the film, a modicum of subtlety please!

Nitpicking aside, this is a full price film... Don't miss it.

No comments: