Earlier today, I thought about re-watching Federico Fellini’s 8 ½, which I watched last night. Then I thought of another film that I have been meaning to watch for a second time.While I still plan on giving Fellini’s film a second viewing soon and then reviewing it, I shall first write about the gem of a film known as Children of Men.
About two years ago, I watched Children of Men at school with a group of friends. I had rented it out of curiosity for Cuarón’s filmography, as he was riding high at that time (it was the year he’d win the oscar for Best Director for Gravity) and I had yet to see any of his films. So when my friends suggested a movie night, I brought it with me and we all sat down, voted on it, and ended up watching it.
Now while everybody present, including myself, was very impressed with the film I still felt like I had to eventually give it a second viewing in order to fully appreciate it. This is a consistent problem I have. Certain films require that I sit down and watch them twice to fully grasp the genius of it. Also, the fact that I was watching it with a group of friends was an issue in forming a pure, personal opinion as it can really influence how one experiences a film
The one thing that really stood out and impressed me the most when I first saw the film was Cuarón’s direction. Upon re-watch I found my appreciation for the direction to be even greater than it was originally. I am convinced that both the ambush scene and the uprising scene remain two of the greatest examples of filmmaking in modern cinema. What surprises me about it is not only that it was filmed all in one take, but that it was filmed so well in one take. The lighting was beautiful, the scenes filled with chair-gripping tension, and even the acting was impressive. These scenes have just as much complexity, if not more than, similar scenes shot in other films where quick cuts are so common. It draws you into the bleak chaos of the world that the characters inhabit and refuses to let you go. Now then…here is my updated review.
The film takes place in a world where women have mysteriously lost the ability to give birth. London resident Theo (Clive Owen) lives his life like normal, or as close to normal as possible given the chaotic state of the world around him. There is a huge influx of illegal immigrants into Britain, which is suggested to be caused by the chaotic state of Earth (not that Britain is much better), while an opposing force of politicians round them up. Theo’s life is shaken up when he is abducted by a terrorist group led by his ex-wife Julian (Julianne Moore), who asks for his help with a mysterious foreigner. Reluctantly he agrees to help. Things go south, however, when the group is ambushed (probably the most famous scene in the film), Moore’s character is killed, and it is revealed that the reason the rebels have interest in this foreigner is that she is pregnant – humanity’s first pregnancy in years. Things grow even more complicated when Theo realizes that Julian was killed by a member of her own terror group. Frightened not only for his fate (he overhears that he will be killed the next morning) but for the pregnant girls, he escapes with her and another woman. The remainder of the film follows this group as they try to not only evade death at the hands of the terrorists, but also to deliver the pregnant woman to safety with the “Human Project.”
I definitely enjoyed this film more viewing it a second time, and not only because the story is very original and multi-layered, but because there was clearly so much effort put into making the visuals match up well with the story. Too often it seems critics will put most of their focus on the written elements of a film rather than the visual. Though having a good story is definitely vital to having a great film, critics should never forget to take the visual elements into consideration. Children of Men accomplishes the exceptionally rare feat of nailing both, and as such it becomes a near-perfect film.
Breaking the film down into parts may be a bit of an injustice for a film like this that successfully masters its elements into creating a brilliant whole. Nevertheless it is worth discussing them.
The first thing that deserves praise is the cinematography. Good Lord the cinematography…WOW. It takes a really special DP to make a film this gorgeous while mixing in so many slower scenes with few cuts. Well, good thing Cuarón got the master of this style for Children of Men, none other than two-time Oscar winner Emmanuel Lubezki (won for Cuarón’s Gravity in 2014, and Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Birdman). Lubezki demonstrates his mastery of the ‘long take’ that has defined his career. In Children he manages to mix this long-take style with the lighting style that he used in The Tree of Life. The result, as one might expect, is staggeringly breathtaking.
Praise must also be granted to Cuarón, for while he is well-known for his ability to direct scenes of great complexity and beauty without relying on cutting, he demonstrates restraint. Clearly, he understands that it is best not to spoil us with too much of a good thing. A good example of a film using this style with no restraint is Birdman, last year’s Best Picture winner which (as said above) Lubezki also worked on and won an Oscar for. In my opinion, the long-takes in Birdman felt like overindulgence. It was trying too hard to impress the audience with almost zero cuts throughout the film, while Children of Men had a more organic feel. Birdman which used it so much that its world felt way too small and bland, whereas Children and Men did not feel restricted or limited in its scope. There is great fluidity in the camerawork, and there were many scenes that I did not realize were long-takes until I re-watched the film. They blended in almost seamlessly, which not only serves the benefit the film overall but also makes those few scenes that stand out (the ambush scene and the battle scene) all the more visually impressive.
For these reasons I have to extend my accolades not only to Lubezki, but especially to Mr. Cuarón.
The production design is also impressive. It is not “big” or excessively “grand” (you want a good example of this watch Cleopatra or How the West Was Won) but it successfully gives us a view of the dystopia in which the characters reside. Much of this is due to the blend of contemporary and future, which gave the film a far more realistic vibe.
Plus, it just makes sense given context of the film and its suggestion of a ‘fall from grace’ for humanity. After all, a world in chaos would be hard-pressed to develop flying cars and other eccentric inventions of the utopian vision of the future as shown on the Jetsons. There is also a great scene that takes place at Theo’s cousin’s penthouse. The place is filled with priceless art and just gaudy as possible, to which Theo questions – paraphrasing – “What will it matter. Nobody will remember.” Also it was interesting to see the portrayal of the cousin’s son – an inattentive drone whose eyes remain glued to a holograph screen projecting a rubik’s cube even when his father speaks to him. I got a chuckle out of this. Seeing as this film was released in 2006, before smartphones were a big thing, this aspect just might be the most prophetic part of this entire film. Makes you think what else it may be predicting for our future.
Makes you worry.
A single blog post cannot possibly do this film sufficient justice, but hopefully I have at least made my opinion on this film clear. If you haven’t checked it out, please do yourself a favor and do so. It is an especially essential film for aspiring cinematographers, as well as those writers and directors who are looking for a strong example of a dystopian science fiction film.