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Alfonso Cuarón has been a must-see director for me since his Spanish-language Y tu mamá también. Following that gem with the best Harry Potter film yet, I couldn’t wait until he delved into adult material again. I got my wish this year with the dystopic drama Children of Men. Although I have been waiting months to see the film based on its trailer, I couldn’t help but be disappointed by how much that tease gave away. I remember that no matter how engrossing the visuals and music were in that two-minute clip, I could not shake the feeling I had just seen the entire film condensed. Thankfully, after finally seeing it (hopefully it will make it to Buffalo soon so I can catch the amazing cinematography on the big screen), I can say that the trailer really just shows the tip of the iceberg for what will happen. Not only does it deceive in a good way, it hides the real emotional journey that the movie takes.

In twenty years our world will be on a steady road to manmade Armageddon. For the last eighteen years, women have been unable to conceive a child and this horror has allowed countries to go on a rampage to try and preserve their own ideals, as every day is a day closer to extinction. Wars are raging everywhere and it seems only Britain has been able to fortify itself to try and sustain what life is left for the small hope of survival. Refugees from all around the globe have tried to seek asylum in England, but are turned away or housed in detention camps until they can be disposed of. A group of insurgents, the Fishes, are trying to combat with the government’s harsh policies of immigration, however, their war just begins a more rapid extermination of humanity as bombs and bullets fly throughout the streets. Maybe the bombs are acts of terrorism by the rebels, maybe they are set by the government to instill fear against the insurgents; either way the world has been shattered behind recognition.

Clive Owen plays a former activist named Theo who has lost faith in the causes he used to live to defend. He works a menial job and longs for the visits to the countryside with an old friend Jasper, (played wonderfully out-of-character by Michael Caine), to hold onto a small sliver of what life used to be. When kidnapped by the Fishes, led by his ex-wife (the stalwart Julianne Moore) whose own faith in the cause has multiplied since the same event which dissolved Owen’s, he becomes a part of what could be the miracle that will save the world. His involvement in this mission doesn’t as much reinvigorate his belief in doing what he thinks is right as instead shake him from the meaningless life he’s lived these past years, awakening him from his debilitating self-loathing. He is able to see first-hand the atrocities being committed and decides to put his life at risk for this young woman who’s miraculous pregnancy could save the world. Theo doesn’t do it for mankind; he keeps his goals closer to home. In saving this woman’s life, so her baby can live, he might be able to forgive himself for the life chance has created.

Owen is superb and he needs to be. Theo is in practically every scene as Cuarón has decided on using a cinema verite style staying close by in a fly-on-the-wall capacity. As an audience, we are thrust into the action as it happens all around our hero and ourselves. The singular vision Cuarón has successfully attempted here is unfathomable. There are multiple instances where we are treated to long takes lasting from five to ten minutes at a time. (I read an article that these shots are in fact digital composites bridged together to appear seamless; even so, the accomplishment is astonishing) One sequence towards the middle of the film has us inside a car with four characters. We spin 360 degrees around the interior in order to stay up on the conversation throughout and once the car comes under attack by savages, the view still doesn’t break until after the car finally stops and the camera gets out to view the roadside. Whether you end up liking the movie or not, you must appreciate the technical achievement that went into it.

Along with the fantastic visual flair and top-notch performances is the simple yet profound story structure. Like Cuarón did with Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, (having almost everything from the novel somewhere in the background), he gives the audience the benefit of the doubt. He understands that the medium of film is not the same as a book. With film we can see the descriptions and events occurring as though we are a part of the action; there is nothing more I hate then a character explaining something to someone that already knows for the sake of us, the viewers, being totally aware in case we missed extrapolating it for ourselves in the scene before. Does it matter where the troops are coming from? Does it matter what scientists are doing to find a cure? Why are babies no longer able to be born? None of these questions need to be systematically answered as the true story is of a man finding a reason to live again and his quest to save his young friend and her child. Less is definitely more and Cuarón truly understands how to mold cinema into giving us the answers we need without spoon-feeding. The brilliant performances by Chiwetel Ejiofor, Peter Mullan and especially Claire-Hope Ashitey are enhanced by the fact we know little of their past. We know just as much as Theo and therefore can relate to his actions rather than second-guessing everyone’s motives because we know more than the protagonist. We experience it all along with the characters on screen. Cuarón is not telling a story that has happened, but instead allowing us to be a part of what’s happening right now.

Children of Men 10/10

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photography:
[1] Disillusioned. Clive Owen in Alfonso Cuarón drama adventure Children of Men.
[2] Clive Owen as Theodore Faron and Julianne Moore as Julian in Children of Men – 2006

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