CHILDREN OF MEN
Written by Alfonso Cuaron and Timothy J. Sexton
Directed by Alfonso Cuaron
Starring Clive Owen, Julianne Moore and Michael Caine
The trouble with foretelling the future in film is that you need to make it credible. The viewer must be almost instantly immersed in a world that is unlike their own, be it entirely or just slightly. If successful, the viewer has the potential to form insights regarding the world they currently live in based on where it looks to be headed. If it fails, every intention the director weaves into the film will be lost on untrusting eyes. Alfonso Cuaron’s near apocalyptic CHILDREN OF MEN opens in a coffee shop in London where the patrons stare in a state of numbed shock at the newscast that announces the death of the world’s youngest human being. Baby Diego was all of 18 years old. There is no one younger because the human race has inexplicably stopped reproducing. The film is set only 20 years from now. Unfortunately, by carefully avoiding over-explaining how humanity got to this point, CHILDREN OF MEN misses achieving that level of authenticity necessary to fully engross the viewer, albeit just narrowly. Yet as more time is spent with the characters of this future, it somehow transforms into a compelling testament to the hope that keeps humanity going no matter how dire the state of the world. Given our current sliding slope towards an increased spread of apathy and despair, Cuaron has crafted an important film that serves as both a reminder and a tool to unify the global population … or at least the film-going one.
Part of the reason CHILDREN OF MEN fails to convince from the start is because of another device designed to foretell the future, the movie preview. To draw us into the intensity of the film, the preview shows an explosion that lead character, Theo (Clive Owen), just misses being killed in. This scene takes place early in the film and, given that this particular preview has been running even longer than most as the release was delayed by three months, the knowledge that the bomb is coming detaches the viewer as they brace for the blast. Had it been a genuine surprise, the shock itself would have served to announce the severity of the times, leaving the viewer as frightened and uneasy as the Londoners of 2027. The missing desperation allows for more time to make sense of what defines this future. While Cuaron’s clues to explain humanity’s collapse are clever and creative, the viewer is still left alone to play catch-up, trying to piece everything together on their own. Of course, it becomes clear that understanding how it happened is entirely irrelevant. The only thing that matters is that’s where the road leads but the ground is not solid enough to get a good bearing, making it difficult to see past the details.
Surprisingly, the film is still surprising. And thankfully, once it does catch you off guard, it continues to do so until you understand what it means to need to survive at all costs. Theo must deliver Kee (Claire-Hope Ashitey) to The Human Project, a group of the world’s greatest minds dedicated to the rebirth of the human race. At the risk of pointing out the film’s obvious symbolism, Kee is the “key” to this project as she is the first woman to conceive a child since Diego. Her miracle, although unexplained, inspires everyone she encounters to do right by her and protect her unborn child. As those who are accustomed to varying degrees of selfishness shed their ego-serving ways, their true colors shine through. Even those are meant to stop Kee so that they can use her baby to further their own purposes in the world ahead, from underground terrorists to an army that doesn’t care who they blow up as long as something is being destroyed, are powerless in the presence of the potential savior she is carrying. It’s as though everyone has given up and decided that their actions are meaningless and Kee’s baby gives them a hope so pure it is unlike anything they ever knew before all the trouble began, as if they too are reborn along with the child.
What was impossible to imagine at the start becomes so vividly real that the viewer cannot help but be wrapped up in the urgency of Kee’s need for a successful mission. Cuaron gives no reason at any time to think CHILDREN OF MEN will have to end happily out of a necessity to appease its audience. He makes every step of Kee’s journey arduous and exhausting. After all, she is over eight months pregnant; her odyssey would be hard for anyone. Only she is not simply carrying a child. She is carrying the fate of humanity at a moment in history that could mean the difference between a chance to begin again or an otherwise likely extinction. Being only 20 years away, there could already be a “Kee” amongst us. Though hope sometimes feels difficult to muster, CHILDREN OF MEN shows us we will find it again when we least expect to and it will keep us alive when we need it most.