Still more lazy thoughts from this one…

Future Classic Movies: Children of Men


My blogging colleague, and confirmed TCM addict, over at Paula’s Cinema Club had a most interesting idea for her blogathon, titled the Future Classic Movies. Paula posited the following:

“… I’ve often wondered what movies from the 21st century would stand the test of time, like CasablancaGone With The Wind or Out of the Past. If there is even such a thing as TV and channels in the future. What would programming look like in 30 or 40 years from now?”

The following was my contribution to this online project and surmises why I think the film adaptation by director Alfonso Cuarón and his screenwriters of P. D. James’s 1993 novel The Children of Men will endure to become a Future Classic.

A brief synopsis of the film: in the future time of 2027, the world of man has taken a decidedly bleak and chaotic turn for the worst. The world appears on the brink of a total societal breakdown. Terrorism and environmental damage are rampant, and the few places on the planet where things are seemingly under control (in the U.K. for this story) seem to have gone the fascist, military control route… big time. The reason for all of the despairing calamity comes down to one significant fact: the 18 years of human infertility. Theo Faron (marvelously played by Clive Owen) is one of the lucky ones — as defined by the fact that he is a U.K. citizen with a job, and not one of the ill-fated refugees clamoring to stay on Britain’s shores.

You can tell the military and politicians consider them the ‘barbarian horde’ by their less than humane treatment of the outsiders. The Britain that “soldiers on” has become the cold gray sanctuary (and a testament to how bad it is elsewhere). The former activist is content to live out the remaining years of shared melancholy in alcohol-induced drudgery with his handful of friends. At least, before they euthanize themselves. Just about everyone here is in a joyless state. That is, until his estranged wife (the wonderful Julianne Moore in the all-too-short role of Julian) re-enters his life with a proposition to find a way to illegally transport a fugitive (“a fugi”) across the police state lines.

[spoiler warning: some key elements of the film are revealed in this article]

It’s almost a point of pride that I came around in appreciation to some extraordinary film only after their subsequent re-screenings. Let the record show I did not hold in high regard any of the following initially: Pulp Fiction, Blue Velvet, and Blade Runner. The same was the case here. My initial viewing of Children of Men left me with the impression that this was a remarkably disheartening film done with extraordinary skill by the rising Mexican director, Alfonso Cuarón. Honestly, I hadn’t any mounting desire to see it again anytime soon because of its initial impact. I’ll simply write that off as I did not know what I was looking at (yeah… that sounds like CYA to me, too). Thankfully, my fellow blogger and duo post contributor, the Scientist Gone Wordy roused me from that early disregard and got me to take a closer look at it once more. I’m surely glad I did.

LAST ONE TO DIE
PLEASE TURN OUT THE LIGHT ~ graffiti scrawled along a wall

I now firmly believe the story makes an insightful look at humankind’s capacity for self-awareness, emotion, and ultimately… hope. Author James’ (along with the film’s screenwriters Timothy J. SextonDavid ArataMark FergusHawk Ostby, and Cuarón himself) concept of making every conscious being in her tale (those left in the resulting pandemonium, that is) painfully mindful to the fact that each of them is the last of their kind is a dauntingly stark idea to come to grips with. For both those on the screen, as well as those watching the film or reading the novel. Being sentient is a double-edged sword, it seems. You are aware of yourself and others, at least those you care about, but have come to know, all too well, your time on this earth is fleetingly finite. For most of us, the only comfort found is the fact that we constantly renew ourselves (as a species) through human reproduction, be it naturally or artificially. We take solace in living on through our children, whether they’re yours personally or not.

But, when there are no offspring, only one denuded and grim future remains. And it’s here that the filmmakers went above and beyond with their story and art direction. They present the audience with a visual terrain that looks like it is headed for its last winter, alright. This is especially so when the story reaches the Bexhill refugee camp. Think of it as a cross between the cold, dreary England shown in Mike Hodges’ terrific Get Carter film (for which supporting actor Michael Caine also appeared) and Stanley Kubrick’s horrific killing ground from the Battle of Huế in his Vietnam War motion picture, Full Metal Jacket. The children of men in this story certainly have a field day with it to be sure. Additionally, one cannot ignore how the movie’s producers conspicuously incorporated some recent and stark remnants of the decade of the 00’s as part of the film’s social and political commentary (ones that will undoubtably resound for years to come). Once the lead characters (including Claire-Hope Ashitey as the importantly pregnant Kee) reach the climatic third act, the film is packed with allusions and symbolism relating to this distinct period: 9/11, Abu Ghraib, torture, and the political scapegoating of immigrants. The relic of which remains quite powerful.

As well, the symbolism of religion is used quite effectively throughout the picture by director/writer Cuarón. The Christian exemplars of the Fishes (the revolutionary group depicted) and flocks (the sheep and shepard walk-through were a tad obvious for those who’ve seen the film) were certainly present, and were used to instill a faith that there’s a light at the end of a dark tunnel. All the more, there’s the shadow of a Hamas-like uprising presented in the refugee camp, too. Even with all that, this is essentially a journey film — Theo’s journey. His path from utter pessimism (through the darkest of times and the loss of his dearest friends along the way) to ultimately one of hope at his, and the film’s, end remains at the core of the story-line. As a parent of two myself, I was moved to the point of tears at where Theo arrives by the film’s surprising and abrupt end title. The other unexpected sign I stumbled upon in later viewing was the optimistic use of animals and pets. Note all of the cats and dogs that Theo attracts throughout the film. It is a purposeful ploy in this impressive work, and meant to buoy the character (as well as the audience) across the hardship.

I’d also note another extraordinary facet of this film, besides the passage and distinct mood of the piece. That is, director Alfonso Cuarón’s decision and execution of the number of long takes and extended tracking shots used throughout Children of Men. The camera work alone (with additional kudos to Peter Hannan and Emmanuel Lubezki) in these startling segments is nothing short of astonishing when you take them all in. On repeated viewing, one in particular really hits me like no other I’ve come across. The climatic action set demonstrated the supreme skill of the camera operator, the director and ensemble actors, and the unpredictability of the story all at once. If you’ve seen the film, you know the one I’m referring to. It is Theo’s rescue of Kee at Bexhill, and their subsequent walk out of a building, all of which occurs in the midst of a violent, chaotic, bullet-ridden firefight. The scene somehow, among all of its pervasive bloodshed and decimation, managed to hold both turmoil and hopefulness in a precarious balance, and never dropped either (or the viewers’ attention) anytime along the way. That the segment is of the almost blindingly miraculously sort is the point. It remains one virtuoso moment, something that only the art of the moving image can deliver.

Simply put, Alfonso Cuarón’s Children of Men is an astounding piece of film-making, period. Apocalyptic tales are a dime a dozen these days. Still, that this film successfully incorporated an original story around a strikingly bleak setting, and yet managed to come out anywhere near a hopeful and expectant prospect makes it extraordinary, in my mind. After my initial screening of the film, I’d read it had a growing reputation among fans along the same lines of a certain startling and thought-provoking sci-fi film from 1982, Blade Runner. Admittedly, I scoffed at the idea, at first. Yet, after re-tracing Theo’s passage through a ruined human landscape, one at the outset that is simply counting down the number of his fellow-man in dreary fatalism, I’d surprisingly reached a different conclusion. Perhaps, just as Theo finishes his life knowing he helped nurture an uptick in that number, this story by the end laid claim upon that unexpected something only those films that qualify as classics ever achieve: a cinematic timelessness. Director Alfonso Cuarón clearly demonstrated he had similar budding and visionary chops of someone like a Ridley Scott with this endeavor. Theo’s journey is as remarkable as Rick Deckard’s, or maybe better relating to Roy Batty’s, in my opinion. For all that, this film in particular remains one to savor, contemplate, and return to in the years to come.

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34 Responses to “Future Classic Movies: Children of Men”

  1. fogsmoviereviews

    Very very nice piece. Well done. It’s a great movie, and you do it justice with this thorough revisting/analysis. Glad you “Came around” on this one. I think we all have movies like that where we dont quite click with them right off the bat (I swear, I had to watch Big Lebowski three times before I “Got it”), but this one is definitely a work of genius.

    Love the inclusion of that line of Graffiti!

    I love the comparisons to Blade Runner… both movies epitomize what I consider the best possibility of movies. When entertaining and enlightening meet. Theyre great to watch as pieces of entertainment, but if you wish to use them for jumping off points for deeper discussions, you definitely can.

    Bravo, Le0P, this was a good one. 🙂

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    • le0pard13

      Very kind of you to say, Fogs. I really loved your excellent piece on ‘Children of Men’, as well. This film really brings it out of people, doesn’t it? Many thanks, my friend.

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  2. Pete

    Great choice for this blogathon. It’s already a classic in my book. I put this as my favourite movie dystopis a while back. So prescient and recognisable. And the cinematography is outstanding. For me it’s that bit where they are in the car and the people come out of the woods and attack them. On of my favourite long takes in cinema though I hear it’s not actually all one take.

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    • le0pard13

      Welcome, Pete. It does indeed have the qualities you ascribed. So many great things about it, including the outstanding cinematography. Thank you very much for reading and leaving a great comment.

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  3. Dan

    Excellent post. I’m sad to admit that I’ve only see Children of Men once (in the theaters), yet it’s still stuck with me a lot more than many films that I’ve watched more recently. The extended shots are worth the price of admission, but what really drew me in was the believable world created by Cuaron (and P.D. James I would guess). Like it did for you, I expect that my appreciation would only grow on a second viewing. This is at the top of my “to buy” list for Blu-rays.

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    • le0pard13

      Thank you very kindly, Dan. I envy you seeing this on the big screen. I’ve only seen it on disc, but if/when it comes back to a revival theater in my area, I am so there. I do recommend the Blu-ray of CoM, too. The picture and audio quality are what you’d expect for a worthy hi-def treatment of an extraordinary film.

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  4. Jamie Helton

    What’s interesting is that while watching the movie, I forgot to pay attention to the extended takes. I was so wrapped up in the story that I didn’t even notice when there were no cuts. It was only afterward that I went back (on the DVD) and took a look at some of these remarkable sequences. My favorite is the one inside the car, where they had to build a mockup of the vehicle, driven by a stunt driver, where the camera came down through the ceiling to be able to roam around inside it and film shots of the four characters in one continuous motion.

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    • le0pard13

      So true, Jamie. I picked up so much more the second time, including some of what you comment on. Just another extraordinary aspect about this great film. Thanks for reading and leaving your usual deft remarks, my friend.

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  5. Castor

    Very insightful write-up Michael, as always. Such a thematically and visually rich film with so many unforgettable scenes. All the long takes were extremely impressive, most specifically the one at the end with the firefight in the streets.

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    • le0pard13

      Very generous of you to say, Castor. It means a lot. Many thanks for reading and commenting on this, my friend.

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  6. Novroz

    I honestly haven’t heard of this movie before.
    Thank you for this fine review Mike. I will see if I can find it here.

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  7. ruth

    What an excellent write-up and prime selection for this blogathon, Michael. I haven’t seen this in a while but your post makes me want to see it again and appreciate some of the things I missed from seeing it on the big screen. I was quite taken by the message and Theo’s journey, I really think this is one of Clive Owen’s best work and Cuaron’s magnum opus perhaps.

    “Apocalyptic tales are a dime a dozen these days.” Yes indeed but a GREAT one about end of days is still rare, but this one definitely is at the top of the list!

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    • le0pard13

      You’ve always very kind and magnanimous, Ruth. There’s so much great work at hand with this film. It could very well be Cuaron’s magnum opus, alright. Clive is so very good in this, and have to agree with you. Many thanks, Ruth.

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  8. Paula

    First, thanks so much Michael for all your help with the blogathon and for contributing such a great post. It’s just brilliant. True confessions time…I’ve never seen all of CHILDREN OF MEN, just the beautiful long takes. I haven’t watched it because I didn’t think I could handle it. The real world doesn’t seem very far away from the world of this movie. But I kept reading and I’m glad I did. Thanks again Michael.

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    • le0pard13

      I was very happy to be invited, contribute, and help spread the word for a great concept to base a blogathon on. Kudos to you, Paula. And I understand your hesitancy about Children of Men. As I said, after my initial screening, I doubted I’d ever re-visited it. But, in the end I’m very glad I did. Thank you very much :-).

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  9. tkguthat

    Definitely on my “To View” list. I love Clive Owen and it sounds like an original and very plausible Apocalyptic film.

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    • le0pard13

      I hope you get a chance to take it in, Tim. I can’t recommend it enough now. And I always enjoy reading what others continue to write about Children of Men. Many thanks for reading and commenting.

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  10. Matthew Gladney

    Nice choice! Love the book, and respect the film. The changes they made remained true to the theme, and perhaps improved upon it. Haunting score, as well.

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    • le0pard13

      Welcome, Matthew. Great to have you stop by. Wonderful point about its haunting score, too. Thank you very much for reading and leaving a wonderful comment.

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  11. idawson

    This film is flipping brilliant! That is all I can say. It was one of my first blog posts when I started in 2007 🙂

    It is definitely a personal all-time favorite!

    I am glad you were able to do this write up 🙂

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    • le0pard13

      I’m glad to hear we’re on the same wavelength concerning this film. Great to know this film, a personal favorite, helped spur your fine writing, my friend. It is an extraordinary tale. Many thanks for your generous words and encouragement.

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  12. The Focused Filmographer

    I must say that I still have never seen this one. It’s always been on my list, I just never got around to it. (thank you for the spoiler alert…once I saw it I went straight to your final paragraph to avoid spoilers…very much appreciated that).

    I look forward to seeing this “Future Classic Movie Nominee!”

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    • le0pard13

      I hope you get a chance to screen this one, T. I’d love to hear your thoughts about the film. Many thanks for reading and leaving a comment, my friend.

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  13. ChristopherMorris

    Great article, I have great respect for this film and the way they made it. I loved that scene in the car, yet for some reason I never appreciated it fully until seeing that ‘long takes’ video. Amazing. I have to re-watch this film now. Thank you for that! 🙂

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    • le0pard13

      Welcome, Christopher. This is a film with a number of amazing scenes. Glad to hear this blogathon will be an impetus for you to re-watch this masterwork. Thank you very much.

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  14. Rachel

    Would it be redundant to say I completely agree that this is a future classic/instant classic? 🙂 My only disagreement is that it takes multiple viewings to appreciate. (hehe) Obviously I loved it right out of the gate when I saw it in the theatre. When you so generously agreed to do a post together on it (many moons ago now) I pulled out my well-worn copy and was happy to watch it again. It’s been said already in the comments (and in the body of your post) but the long shots really do make the film. I don’t think it would have nearly as much immediacy without the long shots. Truly wonderful!

    (I’ve never been able to appreciate Blade Runner – and I’m a huge Scott fan, too; for shame – but I love its source material. Conversely, instantly loved CoM but I don’t care much at all for the book. No accounting for taste, etc…)

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    • le0pard13

      Of course not! I love it when you agree with me, again ;-). Well, it did take more than one for me. But, there are folks that love right off the bat (to use a well-known baseball idiom).

      That reminds me that I do need to finally read Philip K. Dick’s source story for ‘Blade Runner’. Thanks so much for reading (again) and leaving a comment, Rachel.

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  15. Mark Walker

    Marvellous review Michael. As Ive said already, this is one of my favourite film’s and very, very underrated. I’m with on it though, in time this will come to be appraciated the way it deserves. Man, that extended shot you speak of is probably the best I’ve seen. The are many directors like Welles, Scorsese, even P.T. Anderson who have impressed with it but never under the conditions of Cauron’s action scene. Simply stunning stuff.
    By the way, the name “Theo” actually derives from Greek meaning “God”. It adds a little something more to Owen’s characters eh?

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    • le0pard13

      Thanks for the kind words and for reading the piece, Mark. It’s a great film, and I sincerely hope more film viewers will it a chance. Oh, and thanks for the info on Theo. That only makes me appreciate Children of Men all the more.

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  16. Jack

    Never could get over how a movie supposedly about the sacredness and hope of life, of women, of sex, of birth, of pregnancy, was so blatantly incorrect about a simple concept like giving birth. For an example, there is only one reason to adopt the lithotomy position, and that is if a doctor is present and giving himself a gander into your hoo-hah. Otherwise, it is simply the most unhelpful position other than standing on your own freaking head. It’s not a small question, not a small detail, it is the central scene of the movie, and it is bass-ackwards about basic human female anatomy. And that’s just one example.

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