Movie Review: Children of Men...Just for You, Jenni! :)
Set in England in 2027, Children of Men portrays a world frighteningly easy to imagine: a world crippled by terrorism and the "policies" designed to fight it, where illegal immigrants are rounded up in cages and sent to refugee camps that mirror our fears--and the realities--of places like Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib. In this not-so-distant future, a strange epidemic of infertility has settled on the human population. The world is dying, and in its death throes, the terror and hatred are only magnified.
The movie opens with the death of the youngest person on Earth: eighteen-year-old "Baby" Diego, killed in a bar fight when he refused an autograph to a fan. Here, we meet our reluctant hero, Theo (Clive Owen), a British bureaucrat who simply lacks the will to care and narrowly misses being blown to bits by a terrorist's bomb in the first five minutes.
There were so many places where Children of Men could have gone wrong. It could have overdone the action or made the grim world in which it is set feel unreal; luckily, it did none of these things. Theo's ex-wife Julian (Julianne Moore) recruits him to help her get some papers to secure the passage of an illegal immigrant, Kee (Claire-Hope Ashitey), and Theo finds himself wrapped up with Julian's group of revolutionaries, where he discovers the startling truth about Kee.
She is pregnant.
This begins Theo's quest to get her to the coast, where she stands a chance of being rescued by the elusive Human Project. Children of Men doesn't suffer for lack of excitement or action; it is listed on IMDb as an adventure movie, but it gets what other action/adventure movies simply don't: What really gripped me during this movie was not the blazing guns or tense car chases, it was the feeling that something was at stake. It was caring about what happened versus willing to be distracted by fancy gun-play for two hours.
And the action was well done. When reading a review on Slate Magazine, Dana Stevens mentions a car chase, and I'm sitting and thinking, What car chase? Then I recalled two scenes: one brief scene where the car flies down a straight road with a motorcycle in hot pursuit--a motorcycle that is sent flying when Theo opens his passenger door at the right moment. Then there is a second scene where Theo is pushing a car that won't start down a hill in the mud while Miriam (Pam Ferris) tries to jump-start it and a pack of revolutionaries are in hot pursuit. On foot.
In other words, the glossy action scenes that usually make me roll my eyes in movies--where traffic lights never turn red, guns never run out of bullets, and only the bad guys get shot--are blessedly absent here. And perhaps that extra touch of grit and reality adds to the tension nicely, in a way rarely taken advantage of in action movies.
Yet one cannot ignore that this is as much an action/adventure as a message movie, and this can be touchy. For me, movies are in part about escapism, and so reminding me of the news headlines that I came to escape from in the first place can be a dangerous move, and some movies--in an attempt at being profound to a theater full of morons--can quickly become preachy or too obvious in their intent. Children of Men leaves no doubt as to its message, yet it does not feel false, conjured only to have the audience walk out with a clear moral in mind. The horrifying futuristic world is presented in a subtle, insidious fashion: newspaper headlines as Theo walks down the street or a radio broadcast heard in the background. It lends a feeling that this is the world, not something simply conjured to make a point and slathered on until I want to yell, "Okay! I get it already!"
And as a fan of horror movies--and, lately, left mostly griping about how the genre tends to waste its potential on utter shite--this movie is an excellent example of how the scariest movies being made these days aren't even "horror movies." Children of Men is frightening; it goes behind doors to places that we don't want to see. It acknowledges what could easily become a reality: that our fear for our own lives will cause hatred and persecution and the taking of others' lives, even on a fraction of the scale shown in Children of Men. And in the Western world where terrorist attacks are (fortunately) still a rare occurrence, when one considers people's reactions to the few that we have had--assault on certain minorities, for example, or discrimination of the same--the dark world this movie presents isn't so hard to believe.
There was only one moment that really rubbed me wrong in this movie (and it was mentioned as well in the Slate review, so I feel less alone in my convictions). There is a scene where the midwife Miriam speaks alone with Theo. Miriam is a little rough around the edges, but here, her delivery of her message is just a bit too...perfect. All the woman needed to be any clearer that she was extolling the movie's Message was a soapbox. Still, the movie avoided this urge to proselytize for the most part, which I think is commendable.
I was also irked that the Good Guys can always run through crossfire without getting shot while the minions are toppling left and right. But then we reached the end, and well....
That didn't bug me so much anymore. ;)
I know that Jenni is going to ask (Bobby already did), so here's the million-dollar question: Which did I like better? Children of Men or Pan's Labyrinth? I thought that both movies were fantastic with combined goodness enough to almost (almost) erase the horror show that was Primeval (and combined with tonight's Letters from Iwo Jima, I find myself saying, "Primeval? What the fuck is Primeval??")
I really enjoyed both movies and find it really hard to compare. They begin with a similar premise--"let's stick the protagonist in the most awful situation we can imagine!"--and then offer completely opposite solutions. PL's Ofelia goes from too-lucid reality into escapism; CoM's Theo goes from apathy into too-brutal reality. Both characters lose their lives to "reality" in the end, only PL offers a tempting belief in the possibility of escape. CoM leaves this to the viewer's imagination, yet it is still there, as the Human Project's boat draws next to Kee, offering her and her baby--the first born on the planet in eighteen years--and so the world a new chance at hope.
Both movies were frightening and dark in the way of good horror; both presented the protagonists with insurmountable quests of grand importance that progressed in a linear fashion through events of escalating awfulness. So which did I like better? I have to admit that PL edges out CoM just slightly, keeping in mind that my tastes in speculative fiction tend toward the fantastic and surreal rather than the grittier worlds presented in futuristic stories. It all comes back to escapism again: watching fairies being eaten headfirst is awful but not quite as awful--or awful in the same way--as watching busloads of people wailing in terror for their lives in a "refugee" camp. That one's just a little nearer to the evening news. A little too near.
Of course, I acknowledge that many will understand this to mean CoM is superior to PL. I can only speak as one moviegoer, a woman much like Ofelia, eager for escaping reality for the realms of the impossible.
So how did I rate Children of Men? Four E.L. Fudge "Elves Exist" cookies out of four with just a teeny-tiny nibble out of one for Miriam's proselytizing. 3.9 Elf cookies, if that's possible. But kudos--and thanks--to this movie for giving us believable action, a sympathetic cast of characters, and a chillingly realistic future.