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December 12, 2006

Children of Men

Future Shock

Alfonso Cuarón Puts Today’s Political Climate In a Crystal Ball
By Cole Smithey

Children of Men Cinema history has been made in 2006 by a trinity of Spanish directors whose films consort to press at the boundaries of social satire with a freewheeling sense of authenticity. Alfonso Cuarón with "Children of Men," Alejandro Gonzalez with "Babel," and Guillermo del Toro with "Pan’s Labyrinth," have each created highly original films that stand as an antithesis to the government-approved-message-pap of directors like Paul Greengrass ("United 93") or Oliver Stone ("World Trade Center"). With "Children of Men" Alfonso Cuarón ("Y tu mamá también") launches a vehement social diatribe that is part thriller and part social satire based on a novel by British mystery author P.D. James. The hyper-reality he creates tears at the edges of British and American military hegemony with a defiantly cold stare that mocks those governments’ crimes against humanity.

In 2027 England is a militzia-run fascist state obsessed with putting immigrants in outdoor cages and defending against terrorism after the rest of the world "collapsed." Global infertility has whittled away at the population since 2009 when the last human child was born. England has become a fenced-off Orwellian monstrosity filled with surveillance cameras and a constant barrage of unrestricted media brainwashing. The streets of England resemble Kashgar, China with rickshaws vying for traffic lanes with decrepit busses. Theo Faron (Clive Owen) is a former radical turned disaffected bureaucrat who seizes an opportunity to take a day off work when the murder of the world's youngest person, an 18-year-old boy, sends the public into a frenzy of mourning similar to the prevalent response to Princess Diana’s death. Theo doesn’t bother to mention to his boss the terrorist bomb explosion that he narrowly escaped on his way to work. Cuarón colors the harsh futuristic reality with a dry gallows humor found in Luis Bunuel’s films. He shares Bunuel’s sense of social anarchy.

After escaping the menacing city on a subway train shielded from rabid refugees, Theo meets his best friend Jasper Palmer (Michael Caine), a retired political cartoonist living a hidden existence with his catatonic wife in a forest where he grows several strains of mind-bending pot. Jasper’s cozy New Age-styled home with its many windows, books and rough-hewn wood environment contributes stark contrast to the film’s other locations that pulse with sterility and violence. With his long flowing white hair and equally pale beard, Michael Caine’s benevolent patriarch anchors the intelligent humanitarian theme of the story. The venerable actor takes distinct joy in playing such an irreverent and affectionate part.

Theo returns to London where he kidnapped by the "Fish," a resistance group fighting for immigrant rights. The movie starts to detonate cinematic conventions. The Fish leader Julian Taylor (Julianne Moore) is Theo’s ex-lover from his revolutionary student days. She imposes on him to help acquire transit papers for a Fijian girl named Kee (well played by Claire-Hope Ashitey) to escape from Britain. After obtaining joint papers that commit Theo to shepherd Kee to safety, Theo discovers that Kee is eight months pregnant. She holds inside her belly a singular hope for humanity. A drastic turn of events reveals the duplicity of Fish members who would prevent Kee from escaping to the protective services of the Human Project, an organization committed to the solving problem of global infertility. Theo steps into a role of unarmed rescuer as he escorts Kee through a maze of chase sequences that necessarily penetrate a "Homeland Security" refugee camp patterned after Abu Ghraib.

Cuarón commits a bold act of parody by recreating exactly the photographs of torture and detention that have damned the American government and its military for trashing its commitment to the Geneva Convention.

Cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, and production designers Geoffrey Kirkland and Jim Clay, create a frigid social landscape that is a logical extension of the fear- obsessed society that the Bush administration installed in America and in the UK. "Children of Men" is an anecdotal vision of the way the future seems to be headed from a 2006 vantagepoint. There is only a tiny glimmer of hope. It does not extend to the masses.

Rated R. 114 mins. (B+) (Four Stars)



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