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Movie Review: Children of Men...Just for You, Jenni! :)

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"About as much fun as a bag of weasels"...when I first saw this Irish adage, it made me think of the life of a writer: sometimes perilous, sometimes painful, certainly interesting. My paper journal has always been called "The Bag of Weasels." This is the Bag of Weasels' online home.

Movie Review: Children of Men...Just for You, Jenni! :)

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Jenni (digdigil) recommended that we see Children of Men, an adventure movie set in the not-too-distant future and so, at her request, I am reviewing it!

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.
  • I've seen "Children of Men" online, and now I'm eagerly awaiting the dvd. *g*

    So ... that review is a bit of brainsharing again. ;-)
    • Yay! It was really a great movie, and great movies are hard to find these days. We've lucked out for three weeks in a row now, so I know our next one is destined to be a complete dud.
  • Wow, Dawn. Great review, once again. I loved the way this film brought the viewer right into the story so that it felt as if it was real. Like the bit about Theo losing his shoes first, then one of the uncomfortable thongs that he replaced them with. I could feel his pain. And I loved that he didn't find a pair of Dolce & Gabbana shoes (or whatever the hell expensive designer shoes are called) at the end instead of grubby old runners a couple of sizes too big.

    I didn't mind Miriam's proselytizing as much as the actual childbirth which was waaayyy too easy. That part was not realistic for me, although I loved Kee's remark when Theo asked her later "How's the baby?" and she replied "Annoying." And when she was in labor on the bus in front of all those other people I almost died from the suspense. I felt her pain there too.

    I was going to ask you whether you thought that Theo made it at the end and had only fallen asleep from exhaustion. However, I do believe that would be wishful thinking.

    I feel really bad that I said I liked it a tiny bit better than PL. I loved PL! But gritty sci-fi has always been tops with me, even over fantasy which I also love. So Chronicles of Riddick and its predecessor, Pitch Black edge out Harry Potter for me. However, nothing can edge out the LoTR trilogy or Mirrormask, that divine film that you recommended to me some time ago.

    Pan's Labryinth and Children of Men were incredible surprises for me, just when great movies were truly becoming hard to find. I'm not sure if you got Notes on a Scandal there yet, because that one, more of a psychological horror story than graphic, and reminding me vaguely of things like Wicker Man and Psycho, is also well worth seeing.

    Thanks for the fabulous review as usual, Dawn.
    • I meant to mention the bit about the shoes--I thought during movie, "I must remember to mention that in my review!"--because I loved that too! Action heroes normally don't suffer from blisters or cut their feet on scrap metal, forcing them to go hobbling around in an undignified fashion. I thought that these details were fantastic.

      I've never been through childbirth, so I can't say anything about the reality of that. ;) But I did notice that at the bit where Theo watches Jasper being killed, he has a clear view of what's going on; he's standing in the open with a bright yellow car (iirc) right behind him...and no one notices? But given the way that I can usually shred an action movie for being ridiculously unrealistic (I could write a novel on Miami Vice alone!), then CoM did pretty damned good.

      And when Kee is in labor on the bus...that is a great part. Very suspenseful. And that part is great also because here is a young woman, screaming in pain, and who notices? No one. This is daily life for these people, and the British soldiers are so desensitized to the plight of the "fugees" that they can't even care.

      I love Kee; she's so unapologetic (I am tempted to call her "hardcore." :^P) Like when she admits that she doesn't know the father because she doesn't know half the names of the possible fathers. Most movies, I think, would cast her as some sort of saint, deserving of her blessing and prone to going about all doe-eyed and quavering with fear. I loved her character as they did her, rough edges and all, and most of all, that she often made the decisions about her fate rather than always cowering behind the male hero. It was easier to sympathize with the "fugee" plight because of Kee, because she was real rather than an ideal.

      I was so surprised when Julian died! Though I think it necessary: She would have stolen Kee's thunder and would have lessened the personal transformation that Theo had to make, I think.

      I don't think Theo made it. :( Though I like to think that he did.

      I feel really bad that I said I liked it a tiny bit better than PL.

      Aww, don't feel bad! :) I think it's a difference in genre preference; you like gritty, and I like whimsical. Of course, we both like the other as well, but that's just our preference.

      I'm keeping an eye out of Notes on a Scandal, but so far, it hasn't come around here. Booo. That is so often the case, and one would think that all the movies would come to the DC area. But usually, our only hopes for seeing independent movies are when they get nominated for awards and released to broader audiences. For this reason, Bobby and I are in the proverbial high cotton right now because all the Academy Award-nominated movies are coming around! In fact, that's how we got PL in the first place; we've been looking for it every week for about two months now.

      Next up for review is Letters from Iwo Jima! Another fantastic movie...even if you're not fond of war movies (as I am not), this one is superb, showing more the personal journeys of its characters rather than scene after scene of battle sequence. And now we've seen three cookie-worthy movies in three weeks...I told Bobby that the next one will almost certainly be a real clunker!
  • Gratuitous Clive Owen picture ----->

    Great review, Dawn! Coincidentally, a couple of friends and I were discussing Pan's Labyrinth and Children of Men last night at happy hour. They had just seen PL, and highly recommended it to me. I'm presently trying to cajole my daughter into seeing it, but like mr. pandemonium, she's more of a DVD watcher, so we'll see how this plays out. More likely, she's going to hole up with Donnie Darko so I may have to find another unwitting suspect to go with me, or just go by myself.

    My son, who was home on semester break recently, and I saw Children of Men at the sinny-mah, and I'd rate it as one of my top three films addressing dystopian societies. OK, that's a fairly narrow subset, but one of my favorite films of all time is Stanley Kubrick's classic, A Clockwork Orange, my benchmark for dark, disturbing and thought-provoking films. Children of Men is right up there alongside it. Blade Runner now falls behind it.

    Likewise, I was pulled into the "reality" created in Children of Men, which felt all too plausible. I'm not sure of its source, but as the saying goes, society is only three missed meals away from anarchy. Eighteen years of no children would seem to provide a similar tipping point. The movie was well crafted with its pace and characterizations, Miriam's Big Important Message notwithstanding, and I think Michael Caine's performance is worth a mention. He provided the wit to keep the film from absolutely unrelenting darkness.

    I have read other P.D. James' novels, but not Children of Men, which seems a departure for her. I may need to check that out of the library.

    My verdict on Children of Men, four raucous pant-hoots a lá my Doc Bushwell persona. :^)
    • I give cookies and you give raucous pant-hoots. Intriguing!

      I also commend Michael Caine...I was just fearful of rambling too much! :^D (I also thought that Miriam's character was well done, Big Important Message aside.) Actually, the characters really helped drive this movie for me...but then, they usually do. And this genre seems so prone to cookie-cutter characters based on ideals rather than reality. Boo.

      Now I will have to bug Teh Hubs about A Clockwork Orange. We rented it long ago, back in the day of VHS tapes, but the tape was broken, and the movie wouldn't play. I'm sure Blockbuster has it on DVD by now.

      If you get a chance, do see PL! I am a fan of horror and fantasy and so rarely get to see good movies in this genre, but PL was one of them.

      And of course.... *pets Clive Owen* He will always be my Finwe, for the record. :^P
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