CAPSULE: How would universal infertility affect the human race? How would people react to a death sentence in sixty years or so? How exactly is society different without children? These and many other fascinating ideas are foregone in CHILDREN OF MEN in order to give us a very prosaic action film. The film is diverting, but empty. Rating: 0 (-4 to +4) or 4/10
[A spoiler section with some questions about the plot follows the main body of the review.]
This film has been very well received and, as with several other films this year that have been popular with the critics, I am just not sure what the fuss is about. CHIKDREN OF MEN seems to possess an intriguing idea from the trailer, but what you see in the trailer is really about as far as the film ever gets as science fiction. There are no ideas or interesting images in the film that go beyond what you get from the trailer. You see some people running around and shooting at each other and betraying each other, but nothing more is done with the ideas. How are people different in a world without children? Well, they are a lot meaner and they get into a lot more violent fights. We could have seen a little about how young couples react to the inability to have children. Does marriage seem pointless, for example? Are pets suddenly more popular? We never know and that is not what this film is about. The film is about fighting and betrayal in a society grinding to a halt.
You do get extended violent gun battles and scenes of a devastated England--supposedly the last country still standing. You get a picture of grunge London dropping back into barbarity. But it is a barbarity that is nearly indistinguishable from one that resulted from dozens of other science-fictional causes. How is a universal infertility fin du monde different from the one in NO BLADE OF GRASS or one from a terrorist attack on the government? The answer to Alfonso Cuarón (of Y TU MAMÁ TAMBIÉN) is that it is not much different at all.
In the year 2027 the youngest person on Earth dies. He was eighteen years old. When he was born, birth rates were dropping off disastrously. He was the last child ever born. Apparently England is the only country in the world where the government is still in control, and there it is a fascist state that is most concerned with rounding up illegal aliens and deporting them. Clive Owen plays Theo Faron, a former radical who now has a boring government job. He takes time off to visit an old friend, Jasper Palmer (Michael Caine), who is himself the crumbling remains of a formidable political activist. On returning to London, Theo is kidnapped by so-called "terrorists" only to find that one is his former lover, Julian (Julianne Moore). With Julian he had a child, but sadly the child died and the relationship soured. Now Julian wants Theo to be a bodyguard to take a woman to the Azores and to The Human Project. That project, if it is more than a myth, is working on correcting the infertility problem. The woman is to be taken is Kee (Claire- Hope Ashitey), who miraculously appears to be pregnant.
The film clearly is intended to make some political statement with its emphasis on calling a not very terrifying group of people terrorists. Also the film shows a sort of fascist treatment of illegal aliens. I have not read the book by mystery writer P. D. James, but this may be something that Mexican director Alfonso Cuarón chose to highlight. Of course, it could have come in with one of the five people credited with working on the script: Alfonso Cuarón, Timothy J. Sexton, David Arata, Mark Fergus, and Hawk Ostby. Having five writers credited for a film is generally not a good sign. Muting the colors to give the film a downbeat feel, as CHILDREN OF MEN does, is becoming a fairly common practice, going back as least as far as the film 1984 (1984) and has been seen as recently as THE GOOD SHEPHERD. Much of the film takes place in an England reduced to near-rubble, further adding to the dismal tone.
This is a film that had a great deal potential, but got too involved in its action scenes. I rate it a 0 on the -4 to +4 scale or 4/10.
SPOILER QUESTIONS: At one point Theo follows the sound of a crying baby. Nobody else seems to notice the sound or be curious about it. Have they all forgotten the sound so quickly? Later in the sequence people do reverentially stop fighting to let Kee with the baby pass. After they pass nobody follows the woman and nobody ever asks Kee about the baby. Everybody goes right back to fighting without anyone realizing that the existence of a baby might change everything. Does that make any sense?
Mark R. Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Copyright 2007 Mark R. Leeper