2006: Looking Back At CHILDREN OF MEN - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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2006: Looking Back At CHILDREN OF MEN

Martin Rayburn asks, who's the father?

The premise for Children of Men makes it sound like such a depressing dystopian vision for a viewer to experience. London, 2027. Everything is completely messed up. Across semi-totalitarian Britain all illegal immigrants are being hunted down and put into camps. Women are infertile, people have lost all hope for the future, made worse by the youngest person on earth dying. The world is in complete desperation.

With that knowledge it's no surprise that many people were put off the movie or just didn't bother investigating further, but those who have know that mere minutes into Children of Men you find yourself sucked in completely. The detail in the film is meticulous to the extreme, everything feels completely realistic, and despite the depressing nature of this vision of the future, the film is something of a sumptuous cinematic experience. This is thanks to both director Alfonso Cuaron and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, together they make the greyness and decay throb with colour, and paint the London of 2027 as both depressing and exhilarating simultaneously.

Children of Men could be looked at as, essentially, a road movie. The story of unlikely travelling companions on a car journey from the city to the sea, passing through a dank, drizzly Britain whose landscape is filled with fields of burning cattle, smoke-belching factories and derelict schools. They are ambushed by a burning car and chased by motorcycle gunmen, all so they can reach the foggy English Channel, with toxic waste spewing into the water. Not exactly a cosy weekend jolly to Butlins then, but their trip may just be the most important one taken in the last two decades as Kee, one of the travellers, is pregnant. She will be the first woman to carry a child to term in 20 years. Oh, and she's an immigrant.

Clive Owen plays the reluctant hero Theo Faron who thanks to his ex-wife (Julianne Moore), the leader of a resistance group known as The Fishes, is caught up in the events surrounding the rescue of the young pregnant immigrant woman. It's most definitely Owen's film, although it can't be overlooked that Julianna Moore is fantastic, Michael Caine is very memorable in his brief cameo and the rest of the support is first rate, but really it all comes down to Owen's performance, and it is an absolute tour de force. He's mesmorising and wholly believable as the cynical, grizzled character. It's the part he seems to have been born to play.

The refugee camp and battle sequence has to, surely, be among the highlights of modern day cinema. The sensation of being right there in the middle of a full scale battle zone is jawdroppingly good, a feeling I've only ever experienced once before, on my initial viewing of Saving Private Ryan. Here it is filmed in one long tracking shot. We see Theo captured by the Fishes, he then escapes and runs down a street and through a building in the middle of a raging battle.

It took fourteen days to prepare for this single shot sequence, and five hours for every time they wanted to reshoot it. And reshoot it they did because it was, as you'd expect, a real challenge to get right. Yet although a small amount of CGI was used to combine takes, there is still 4 minutes from one single tracking shot used to make up the finished scene. It was the final take on the last day when part way through a small pyrotechnic explosion on the bus went off prematurely, splattering blood onto the lens. As the camera operator exited the bus Cuaron yelled "cut", just as an explosion was set off, so nobody heard him. Lubezki convinced the director to keep going, which, unaware of the call to halt, Owen was anyway.

It was such a good call of Lubezki's as the blood on the lens just makes this whole grisly, shockingly violent scene seem that much more real.

It's not that this scene is just stupendous in execution, but it's also a powerful reminder that people are living like this right now! The sequence where the block of flats is shelled was an incredibly vivid depiction of what must be the sheer terror of being bombed in your own home, and the wailing of the baby amid the destruction serves as a heartbreaking reminder of how the most innocent suffer in war.

Several other scenes are equally powerful and memorable for a variety of other reasons, chief amongst them is the car ambush sequence, which once again was filmed using a single tracking shot.

To counteract the weighty material, Cuaron injects quite a bit of humour in Children of Men, mainly early on when we see things like the inflatable pig outside Battersea Power Station, and Theo's boss's office festooned with cricketing memorabilia which seems to suggest that England hadn't won the Ashes since 2005! Somehow even the state-provided suicide pills with the slogan 'You Decide When' are quite amusing.

But it's the second half of the film, as Theo and Kee make the hazardous journey from London to Bexhill that makes Children of Men the modern day classic that it is. It's a movie which transcends a single genre, as you can view it as sci-fi, action flick or political allegory, depending on which mood you're in. It's quite simply just a great film on every level. Beautiful to look at, first rate acting, fantastic score and a gripping narrative.

Children of Men may plunge us firmly into a pretty depressing dystopian future, but all that world building could be changed with a single breath of one child. The question this movie is posing is one worth asking ourselves today and everyday - when all hope seems to be lost, can one single person make a difference?

By day, an ordinary bloke in a dull 9 to 5. By night, a tired ordinary bloke. Martin still hasn't worked out what he wants to do when he grows up. He is currently 49.

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