Overview: In 2027, a man and his ex-wife attempt to traffic an illegal immigrant in a world broken by global infertility. Universal Pictures; 2006; Rated R; 109 Minutes.
What the Camera Shows: By now, anyone who has seen, heard of, or discussed Children of Men is well aware of its technical mastery. It’s an easy diagnosis to make, as the first mark in favor of this reputation is established within two minutes of film time. The tragic news on the television screen is all the exposition necessary. The empty faces staring at the news report. The disinterested purchase of a cup of coffee. The departure from the street-side business. An exploding bomb. And a victim left in debris and shock carrying her own detached arm. All in one harrowing uncut stretch. The film reapplies uncut long takes many times, following casual strolls through streets littered with apocalyptic detail. A hellish eight minute stretch of high speed chase and murder. Then later a desperate downhill escape in a stolen car. And finally through a war zone that finds whizzing bullets and blood splattered on the lens. No cuts. The method here is inclusive and involving. The effect gut-wrenching and nerve wracking. While Emmanuel Lubezki has collected a deserved amount of critical praise for his ability to coherently chase the action, there should be an equal amount of credit given to Alfonso Cuarón’s production team—to the impeccable timing and arrangement that had to be established for the film to wander into and out of these scenes of disarray. Think about it: single scenes best measured in miles. Imagine that scope of scene arrangement.
What the Camera Tells: Children of Men is a uniquely pre-apocalyptic movie. This story is the dying choke and neck-scratching desperation of T. S. Eliot’s The Hollow Men that comes before the concluding whimper. It’s not the downward tumble after the cliff but the last contemplative moments when we see the inevitability of reaching the cliff. Notice that everything we see looks less like the future and more like a ruined version of now (including the politics; the film’s perspective on immigration is a recognizable editorial toward the contemporary American moment). By breaking apart our current culture, Alfonso Cuarón has allowed us to autopsy the flimsy tissue that, in reality, holds it together in the first place. What are we without the promise of perpetuation? Our highest achievements are ruined. Art is orphaned. Love is uncertain of itself. Music is bastardized. Our political structures given to anarchy. That is why the film’s sweetest moments—Theo and Julian’s single instant of happiness in the car, Jasper’s preparing his wife for euthanasia—are all informed by the memory of children, which is the memory of hope. And the film’s miraculous moments—the barnyard revelation of teen immigrant Kee’s pregnancy, the silence and stillness moving through a military parade of violence as the soldiers bear witness to the first child born in twenty years—are all informed by the possibility of children, which is the undying presence of hope.
What the Camera Leaves: In our respective inappropriate relationships as students and lovers of film, we all encounter that moment: when we see a movie for the first time and find ourselves staring and shaking past the credits, into the empty black screen or the repetitive loop of a DVD/blu-ray menu. What’s amazing about Children of Men is that it leaves me in that state after every revisit. That is why I am unabashed with my praise and assured and sincere in my hyperbolic statements about this film. I think of Children of Men as the great 21st Century movie and the best movie filmed in my lifetime.