If Alfonso Cuaron's new film CHILDREN OF MEN is any indication of what kind of year 2007 will be in film, we are in for a fantastic voyage indeed.
Ok, so technically released in 2006 (to attempt to latch onto Oscar votes and years end "best of" lists) it has only recently seen a wider release in Ohio area theaters. Do yourself a humongous favor and make it a point to see what it truly a remarkable film on the big screen with a decent sound system, both of which will only enhance the film's many strong points.
A dark look at the near future (the year 2027) where the world's youngest living human has just died, and women have been mysteriously stricken infertile for the past 30 years. A strikingly different 'end of the world' scenario than has previously played out in works like Stephen King's novel THE STAND, Boris Sagal's cartoonish film THE OMEGA MAN, or any number of 'post apocalyptic' films like Jean-Pierre Jeunet's DELICATESSEN.
The setting is England where an obvious police state has been enacted and all foreigners have been (and are being) evacuated. England has thrown up the fences, border patrols, and military to keep the country intact and the world at bay. But bombs are going off, underground rebel groups supporting immigrants rights are attacking from within, and civilization seems to be hanging by a thread.
I say "seems to be" for a good reason. Cuaron has structured his film is such a way that we are literally with the protagonist, Theodore Faron played by Clive Owen, from the opening frames of the film to the end. There is very little that happens on screen that is not directly in Theodore's immediate realm of senses. We SEE the backgrounds of the crumbling England, the lines of refugees, the cages, the police, and the occasional bomb....but always in a passive manner. Theodore's been here, seen all this, and observes it with a kind of apathetic detachment. Images like a abandoned elementary school or a spay painted sign reading "Last One Alive In England Turn Out The Lights" may grip us with morbid fascination, but they pass by as quickly as they came.
The central story of CHILDREN OF MEN, which I won't go into too much detail about for fears of spoiling it's many surprises and plot twists, actually brings to mind Michael Cutiz's CASABLANCA. At it's core is the story is of Theodore, the uninterested businessman drone (with echoes of Terry Gilliam's BRAZIL here), drug into Bogart's world of passports, papers, visas, checkpoints, and espionage. It's what Cuaron does with that simple story that sets CHILDREN OF MEN apart from the rest of the cineplex crowd.
By making the decision to tell the entire story through Theodore's eyes Cuaron creates the entire world that his film is set in so utterly believable and immediate that it resonates like no other look at our 'future' we've seen before or since. We hear tidbits of television and radio chatter that give us bits and pieces to go on as far as what state the world is in. There are asides and pieces of conversations that we/Theodore hear about a possible 'flu pandemic' or 'nuclear strikes' in the world, but none that go as far as explaining exactly how mankind has arrived at this point in time.
It's this vague 'just out of reach' look at the world Cuaron has dropped us in that give the film such an amazing feel. From there we follow Theodore on trains, buses, buildings, farms, checkpoints, and hideouts on his given quest of what could be the key to mankind's future.
Sounds heavy, and it is, but Cuaron infuses the action sequences with an immediacy that was unlike anything I'd seen recently at the cinema. Prolonged "one take" camera setups literally thrust the viewer into Theodore's immediate place and time.
Supporting roles of note include yet another interesting character brought to life by Michael Caine. He's an aging 'buck the system' hippie that has dropped out to his house in the woods to watch the world go down while listening to music and partaking in what hippies partake in. Julianne Moore is solid as Theodore's ex who sets the mechanics of the plot in motion with her 'special request' of Theodore.
CHILDREN OF MEN builds to an ending that is more than a little heavy handedly promises the possibility of brighter tomorrows. But it's the trip there, and the frighteningly timely images and reminders along the way that warn us of the possibilities ahead.