Thursday, June 24, 2010

Children of Men Film/Disc Review

In conjunction with the Scientist Gone Wordy (my good blogging friend Rachel), this is our second parallel posting where the pair of us review and discuss a particular and noteworthy film, and its source novel. In my case, I'll be taking a look at the 2006 dystopian science fiction film, Children of Men. I originally viewed this film in the Spring of 2007 on standard DVD as I did not catch it during its initial (and relatively short-lived) mainstream U.S. release the previous year. For this review, I re-watched the film, after obtaining, the Blu-ray Disc edition of Children of Men that came out in May 2009. SGW's keen eye will examine the 1993 book of the same name by British novelist, P.D. James. Rachel's appraisal of that novel, and her look at the differences between it and the film (one she has a special affinity for), can be found using the link below:

The Children of Men by P. D. James

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. 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.

This review has been updated and moved to my current blog, which can be found here.


  1. This is great film and one of the best dystopic science fiction films to come down the pipe in a long, long time. It's a shame that Cuaron doesn't have a more prolific output as I've thoroughly enjoyed everything I've seen of his so far (he still made the best HARRY POTTER film, IMO). I am eagerly anticipating his new SF film that is supposedly starring Robert Downey Jr.!

    And good call on the FULL METAL JACKET comparsion. During those scenes I thought of Kubrick's film as well.

  2. Thanks, J.D. I'm with you about Cuarón's work (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban remains my favorite in that series).

  3. Maya M. (Apprentice Writer)June 24, 2010 at 11:41 AM

    I haven't seen any of those other movies (except Harry Potter) so I'll take your word for the similarities, but I'm not sure I"d be able to get the hopeful message like you did on second viewing.  I felt bleak for days after seeing this, which makes me recommend it more rather than less because the scenarios were all so frighteningly easy to imagine happening with only minor adjustments to what already exists. 

    This movie made me think of Clive Owen as similar to Brad Pitt and Johnny Depp - if you decided to see the movie for the pretty face, you'll be stunned at the level of smarts and character delivered alongside.

    Here's the part I ddn't get (perhaps because I didn't read the book?) - at the end, as our hero and new mother navigate intensely hostile territory in frightened silence and everyone lets them go because they can't believe a newborn is in their midst -
    why didn't anyone recognize the global importance of that new mother?  And, the guy whom they had to assume was the baby's father?  Why did they let them wander away, rather than snatching them and treating them like the new Emporor and Empress of the World?

  4. Welcome back, Maya. I had a similar reaction as yours upon my initial screening of Children of Men. Theo goes through a lot (including his friend's and wife's death) to deliver a stranger (and new child) to an uncertain future, only to die by the tale's end. I was hesitant to see if I'd find something else there. But, I closer I looked, the more I found that gave me hope. Not an answer, nor a happy solution, but a spark of something to be optimistic about.

    You bring a good point at the incredulous reaction of those (on both sides of the antagonism) to the pair. The Mary and Joseph symbolism is strong here; does this make what they're carrying the savior child? Hmm... Does each side somehow recognize the non-combatant nature of the pair? The child? It seems like a time-out, but hostilities resume fairly quickly when they're out of the way (or just out of sight). I'm beginning to believe it's meant to show an instinctual reaction rather than a one of reason. I wish I could give you a better answer. It's a great question.

    "<span>This movie made me think of Clive Owen as similar to Brad Pitt and Johnny Depp - if you decided to see the movie for the pretty face, you'll be stunned at the level of smarts and character delivered alongside.</span>"

    So very true, Maya. Thank you very much for adding a great comment, here.

  5. Fantastic review, as always! I see that you (and many others too) really got the atmosphere of the film. I think the script is absolutely wonderful (breath of fresh air for the part of filmmaking that is so often ignored these days)  but the perferctly executed atmosphere is really what sends this movie over the top for me. Every detail is so perfectly tended to that it's overwhelming and subtle at the same time. For me, the movie started to evoke feelings before I recognized what was going on. (hope that makes sense) The directing is seriously out of this world! And those long shots! Just amazing.

    I'd like to say that the questions left outstanding are answered in the book but they really aren't. I'm sure after reading my review everyone will see that I much prefer the movie. But, for instance, the book characters are even more dismissive of the oh-so-preciously fertile individual that has been found. I should probably say incredibly dismissive. Like, holy shite, that can not just have happened as it makes no sense dismissive. I found the book to be much less hopeful than the movie but that aspect is something I really like about both versions. It's such a dark story with so much hopelessness but still, people can't let go of hope. That is an awfully powerful message and a deep-rooted part of what it mean to be human, I think.

    Great catch on the animals! I never recognized that in any type of intellectual way. It was just another one of those details that created an emotional response for me. Now though I can see where that response came from.

    Interesting notes on how  BR made the viewing even better. I saw this originally in the theatre so my first impression is of the big screen feeling. I found the end to be rather abrupt myself and it made me sit for a while wondering what I thought of that. In the end it made me want to re-watch immediately. With several viewings I've really come to think of this as a movie that says, here I am; here's what's happening; join me for a bit; now draw your own conclusions. More succintly I would call that a "slice of life" story and I usually don't go in for those but it's so well done in this case.

    One aspect that translated perfectly from book to film was the theme of people still having and pursuing their own agendas, even if these agendas were harmful and/or unreasonable. I love that thought exercise. Is this realistic? Would people really do this? And why? Is this a way of ignoring the end? Is it an example of how we absolutely cannot escape human nature? Such a fascinating story!

    Thanks for all the fun! Can't wait for our next one.

  6. I also interpreted the response as instinctual rather than intellectual.

  7. I'm happy to have contributed to another of our parallel posts, Rachel.

    "It's such a dark story with so much hopelessness but still, people can't let go of hope. That is an awfully powerful message and a deep-rooted part of what it mean to be human, I think."

    Very well put! I also envy the fact that you saw this in a theater. That must have been somethin'! Excellent point about the abrupt ending. Now that you say, it also helps to explain the equally abrupt onset of the film.

    I really appreciate your points about our natures, Rachel. It is very much a fascinating concept and story. Yes, we need to continue this. Thanks very much.

  8. <span>¿En qué estás pensando...?</span>
    I love this film. I try to follow the work of the Three Amigos, and I must say that -while I'm not a fan of lots of Cuaron's work- this is one of his greatest pieces.

    Not only do I like the cinematography and the landscaping allows the message of the story to be told, but also how most of the amazing cast understood their work to perfection: Juliane Moore is superb, as well as Michael Caine; I think Chiwetel Ejiofor gave one of his best performances, and I think Ashitey embodied perfectly the burden of being responsible for something bigger than oneself through something seemingly as simple as being with child -she looked terrifyingly inocent-.

    However, this is one of those films that work so well because of the small things. Cuaron and his crew were very attentive to details, and they blended together in the form of metaphors and mullets. And this made the experience better.

    I actually didn't see it on the theater as well, even though it lasted a little longer here in Mexico (mainly because of some sort of nationalistic pride). Yet, when the DVD stopped I was mesmerized by the amount of -opposing- emotions the movie managed to transmit. Children of Men -as you said- not only manages to send messages of conscience, but to deliver a little hope. I did found it depressing, yet at the same time a little fulfilling. And, in my book, THAT's why it worked.

  9. Well put, Poncho! You make some great points about the details in the film and the work of a fantastic cast who understood perfectly their roles. I finally understood, through the second viewing, that Children of Men worked because of the opposing emotions in the piece. Thanks very much for your wonderful comment, cousin.

  10. It was definitely a great theatre experience. Abrupt is an excellent way to describe much of the initial experience. Also, like Poncho commented above, the ability to evoke opposing emotions/responses is impressive and powerful in storytelling.

  11. Uh oh, I might be the voice of dissension here. I saw this at a screening in a theater and thought "WTH?" when it ended. Cuaron and Owen (love him for his acting but must be shallow for a moment and mention he's super sexy in person) came out afterwards to discuss making the movie. They answered our questions but I still thought a film shouldn't need that much explanation to be deemed good. Once I understood more fully what they were trying to do, I thought they were smart but my feelings toward the movie remained cold.

  12. You get to go to all of the good stuff, Elyse! I can understand your feeling toward it. As I said, my initial viewing did not call for a repeat viewing due to my feeling of depression coming out of it (changing my feeling toward it only after going back to it, though). I very much appreciate your thoughts and I'm always glad to have your comments. Thanks, Elyse.

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