Children of Men is a well-formed, visceral experience of a depressing futuristic world. As a work of science fiction, the film is impressive, because the genre often gives filmmakers license to create storylines and characters that are far-fetched to the point of eye-rolling ridiculousness. The creators of Children of Men, however, seem to understand that to make an engrossing film about imaginary circumstances, you need not make the world outrageously different from today’s reality. Thus, the details are so familiar that the “crazy future” is frighteningly believable.
It’s 2027, women are infertile, and a child hasn’t been born in 18 years. Many of the world’s countries have succumbed to warfare and destruction. Britain is the only place that hasn’t crumbled completely, thus the country is flooded with immigrants and refugees. Trying to maintain a “pure” Britain, the rigid government requires all non-British be reported so that they can then be removed from the country. The society has come to resemble Nazi Germany, with soldiers and police officers bullying and murdering immigrants and carting them off to squalid camps.
Details such as these add an all-over believability. TV screens on buses loop with footage of countries falling to despair, followed by the proud statement, “Only Britain soldiers on.” A digital billboard delivers calm and benign variations on the statement “Regular fertility tests are mandatory by law. Avoiding fertility tests is illegal.”
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The storyline is incredibly simplistic: One African woman named Kee is miraculously pregnant, and she needs to be safely escorted to the Human Project, where, with Kee’s help, they can hopefully save the human race. As a non-British citizen, Kee cannot move around easily, and the people she originally trusts to transport her to the Human Project turn out to be the FISHES, a group of revolutionaries railing against the government. When Theo (Clive Owen) discovers this, he takes it upon himself to bring Kee safely to the Human Project’s ship, aptly named the Tomorrow.
Michael Caine gives the only stand-out performance as Jasper, Theo’s good-natured, pot-smoking older friend who lives in a hidden cabin in the woods. In this out-of-control world, he seems like someone we know, a kindly, spirited uncle, perhaps. Julianne Moore is surprisingly flat as the FISHES leader, but her presence in the film is so brief, it’s nearly insignificant. As Kee, Claire-Hope Ashitey is never too precious, which is a relief, while Clive Owen puts forth a solid performance as the protagonist. Yet, none of the performances are outstanding because it’s not really that kind of film.
The visual storytelling is as effective as the written plot lines, with the shaky camera catching the gritty world of war. Shots are filmed through glass much of the time, perhaps indicating how Theo is a part of this society but detached from it as well. There are surprising bits of humor injected into most scenes, too. Jasper offers much of it, though even in the most tense or frightening of moments a visual or verbal joke will bring great relief. In this sense, Children of Men covers all the bases of humanity: humor, pathos, violence, compassion, death, and birth. It isn't a movie I have any need to see again, but it is a deftly told story.
Now for the question: What does the title mean? In my opinion, it has something to do with this: Some people believe the world is balanced because women create while men destroy. Lacking the creation of more beings, the world falls to destruction, and we are all … children of men.
(Click on the photos below for an enlarged view.)