Saturday, May 19, 2007

Alfonso Cuaron, "Children of Men" (2006)

I'm generally not fond of science fiction movies. Perhaps that's because I have a limited sense of what the genre entails. I've always associated sci-fi films with space ships, aliens, and "gee whiz" technical gadgets. In other words, my mind immediately flashes scenes from Star Trek. No thanks... really, you can keep it. But once in awhile I'll catch a flick which transcends that limited conception. Such is the case with Alfonso Cuaron's Children of Men. Not only did I enjoy this film, but I think it's one of the best from the year 2006.

Children of Men takes place in the near future- 2027. It begins with the death of the world's youngest human- an 18-year old man named Diego. That's how the viewer learns the underlying premise of the movie. Women have become infertile worldwide. The Earth is rejecting the species, and as a result society is falling apart everywhere. Clive Owen plays Theo (the lead character), who finds himself embroiled in an underground plot to help a band of rebel immigrants operate in England. The nation is besieged by the disenfranchised of the world (referred to as "Fugis"), and much effort is expended keeping them contained to refugee camps. The level of barbarity in every facet of life is striking. We can only speculate on the converging catastrophes that have caused the current level of disorder. But authorities have clearly resigned themselves to curtailing civil rights to protect what's left of the status quo.

Theo finds himself in the role of protector for a woman who has miraculously become pregnant. His job is to smuggle her out of the country, and link up with a shadowy organization called the "Human Project". Rumors suggest that this group is working to halt the extinction of the human race. Meanwhile, it appears that there is a conspiratorial plot to use the imminent birth as a rallying cry for a revolution. Theo is clearly jaded about the state of the world, and has very few people he can trust to assist him in his adopted mission. The storyline concerns itself with his struggle to do something noble and heroic.

But this is somehow not what Children of Men is really about. Instead it is an allegory about the madness and futility demonstrated by human beings. Their priorities are out of whack, and people are experiencing the consequences of the neglect of their own biosystem. This is made evident through the wealth of background imagery that Cuaron (whose debut feature was Y Tu Mama Tambien) has skillfully integrated into his film. We see scenes of savagery, destruction, and horror. But the camera never brings these elements to the foreground, but instead slowly pans across the devastation without obvious comment. This transforms what could have been a ho-hum, action-packed tale of dystopia into a multi-leveled exploration of the various impacts of human behavior. But what is particularly frightening about the film is that it is completely believable. It is a warning of things to come, and because of its poetic genius, it's much more effective than any other I have seen.

The cinematography is simply breathtaking. The acting is professionally competent across the board. And the writing is remarkably unobtrusive for a science fiction film. The interactions of the players are convincing enough to erode the inevitable distance we experience when watching this type of movie. We recognize ourselves in the characters, and can place ourselves in the setting. This is why I consider this an amazing directorial achievement. Watch it as soon as possible. And be sure to check out the extras, which include interviews with celebrity-philosopher Slavoj Zizek and Naomi Klein.

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