Monday, January 15, 2007

OT: Children of Men

Children of Men is a beautiful movie. We saw it last weekend on a day trip down to Pasadena. Originally, we were going to see The Good German but changed our minds as we made our way into the lobby. I'm so glad we did.


Children of Men follows the fine tradition of great sci-fi stories that transcend the genre by being less about the fictitious word and more about the real one. The hook is that it's 2027, and humanity has mysteriously lost the ability to procreate, and no children have been born for the last 18 years or so. The story follows Theo, a former political activist, who gets drawn into a plot that may change the world: namely, he's charged with getting the miraculously pregnant Kee to a secret rendevous with the outlaw Human Project.

The filmakers sketch just enough of this world to paint a believable picture of a future without hope. The focus is on Britain, though one gets the sense that the rest of the world might be even worse off. The government serves mostly to keep the population from a collective freak-out by gross distractions (illegal immigratation) and heavy medication (the government is handing out sedatives and euthanasia kits... "You decide when" coos the advertising). Little bits cribbed from Orwells 1984 and Nevil Shutes On the Beach give the viewer just enough information to make it all seem horrifically plausible. Leaving the theatre I thought, "This is exactly what would happen".

This isn't to say that it's a minimalist sort of world. The story is rich with complexity of motives and goals for the various characters. One would figure that the first birth in 18 years would be greeted with joyous celebration as a miracle, but it's quickly spelled out how genuinely dangerous and volatile it is. The art direction for this movie is wonderful... the world is fully realized and the backgrounds and sets are packed with information that tells the viewer about this world. No space is wasted. The dialogue skirts around the crime of most bad sci-fi movies and never over-explains, or lays out clunky exposition. Everything that the viewer needs is laid out and shown, not told.

The movie does a remarkable job of painting the larger picture of society through through a smaller, more intimate one. There are a few bravura segments of violence and chaos, but they never lose sight of the individual experience. There is a climactic sequence near the end when the world erupts in war and violence that's flat-out amazing, and even more so when I realized that it was all done without a cut: the camera never leaves Theo as he negotiates a labrynth of a refugee ghetto that's under seige from multiple players.

The story boils down to a confilct of faith versus chance, hope versus cynicism. It's an especially resonant story in this day and age. The filmakers tip their hand a bit towards current events (most notably in an instance where Abu Ghraib is visually cribbed) but leave the rest of it relatively timeless. I have to admit that I was unsure of the movie before going in, expecting more of a "message" film, but got quite a bit more. It's probably one of the best films I've ever seen.




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