ON DVD & BLU-RAY
Children of Men (2006) dir: Alfonso Cuarón Blu Ray (Arrow Academy)
A fresh start for humanity?
This adaptation of P. D. James’s novel is set in the year 2027, 18 years after the last baby has been born due to humankind becoming infertile. Most of the world has lost hope and the last standing nation is the United Kingdom, making it into a target for refuge from those fleeing the anarchy prevalent elsewhere. Even the UK itself, however, is a violent and oppressive place where illegal immigrants are deported en masse like so many cattle, pollution cloaks the skies, and a simple journey from A to B can be halted at any moment by a terrorist bomb or an attack by a gang of roving savages.
Clive Owen plays Theo Faron, a former activist who now works in an office job in London. One day while walking the city’s streets, he is abducted by The Fishes, a group of pro-immigrant rights militants. He is bundled into a van and brought to a secret location to meet with their leader - who turns out to be Theo’s estranged wife and erstwhile partner-in-activism, Julian (Julianne Moore). She explains that she has picked him for a special mission because she can trust him. He is to obtain transit papers for a young refugee woman named Kee (Clare-Hope Ashitey) and escort her through a route out of the country.
He manages to gain the necessary documentation by persuading his wealthy cousin Nigel (Danny Huston) to pull a few strings. The hard part, however, is the journey itself. Theo and Kee are accompanied by Julian and two other activists named Luke (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and Miriam (Pam Ferris). En route through the countryside, they are attacked by a gang who block the road with a burning car. As they frantically back out of the ambush, a two men riding a motorcycle come towards them and the pillion passenger shoots Julian with a pistol, causing her to bleed to death. The police pass them on their way to the scene but one of their vehicles turns around and orders them to stop. Luke gets them out of trouble by shooting the two officers dead - something which troubles Theo.
Later on, they hole up in a farmhouse with other members of The Fishes. Here, Theo makes two shocking discoveries. Firstly, Kee reveals to him that she is the first woman to have become pregnant in 18 years. Julian had intended her to be taken on a boat to visit the so-called Human Project - a scientific community dedicated to restarting human fertility before it is too late. Secondly, Theo discovers that a faction of the Fishes, led by Luke and his right-hand man Patric (Charlie Hunnam), deliberately instigated Julian’s assassination because they want to appropriate the pregnant Kee for their own political ends. Moreover, he overhears their plans to kill him too as they see him as a potential obstacle.
Theo, Kee and Miriam manage to beat a narrow escape and continue their fraught journey with the Fishes in relentless pursuit.
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A prescient sci-fi masterpiece…
Alfonso Cuarón’s dystopian science fiction adventure received largely positive reviews on its release and has rightfully gone on to become regarded as one of the best sci-fi movies of all time. Despite this, it was something of a box office flop on its cinema release. It took just under $70 million worldwide - not enough to cover its $76 million production budget, let alone the marketing and distribution costs on top of that. Perhaps, contemporary audiences weren’t ready for quite such a grim vision of the future. It probably didn’t help that its violence and strong language (albeit never going beyond the level required for it to make its hard-hitting points) garnered it age restriction certificates in many territories. Combine these handicaps with the fact that Universal didn’t really know how to market it effectively (it got released around the Christmas period in the United States) and the odds were inexorably stacked against it.
Seen nowadays, however, it is clear that it is essential and prescient viewing for pretty much everyone. So much of it has alarming echoes in the world of 2018: global warming spiralling out of control, glaring gaps in living standards between the haves and have-nots, even more glaring chasms in political viewpoints between people, increasingly random acts of terrorism, video ads turning city streets into living commercials, and - most of all - escalating refugee crises and the resultant reactionary knee-jerk of pulling up the drawbridge (the Brexit vote, Donald Trump’s caging of Mexican children et al) rather than tackling the root problems (be they war, climate change or poverty). In some ways, the dystopian theme of infertility appears to be a MacGuffin; in one telling moment, Theo expresses his thoughts on the Human Project to his ageing best friend Jasper (Michael Caine):
“Even if they discovered the cure for infertility, doesn't matter! Too late. World went to shit. Know what? It was too late before the infertility thing happened, for fuck's sake.”
…and a parable of hope
On the other side of the coin, fertility is cinematically applied by Cuarón as a symbol for hope in humanity. It’s the humanist aspect which very much drives this film through its - literal and metaphorical - darkest tunnels. Clive Owen makes for a fine everyman hero: by turns jaded and passionately determined by his own beliefs, both vulnerable and heroic. However, it’s the various character parts, vividly brought to life by a top-drawer supporting cast, which give us every conceivable shade of the human spectrum. The relationship between Owen’s Theo and Julianne Moore’s Julian hints touchingly and believably at a long and sad past history, making the latter’s sudden demise all the more of a kick to the gut. Michael Caine gives the most memorable performance here as a cheekily charming old cannabis-smoking hippie - as well as providing one of the film’s saddest moments. Peter Mullan is almost as eccentric (albeit rather less appealingly so) as a boorish border guard named Sid.
Even most of the film’s antagonists, however, aren’t one-note bogeymen. Chiwetel Ejiofor’s Luke and Charlie Hunnam’s Patric are seen killing people in cold blood - yet the former breaks down in tears at the sight of Kee’s baby, while the latter is partially driven by vengeance following the manslaughter of his best friend (who, at the age of 19, was one of the world’s youngest people). For a powerful, fleeting moment during the film’s violent climax, the sight of the first new life in nearly two decades even causes a battalion of soldiers to temporarily ceasefire before the mayhem sadly resumes.
Stylistically-speaking, much has been made of the film’s many homages and references, including 2019: After the Fall of New York, A Clockwork Orange, the films of Alfred Hitchcock and Terry Gilliam, and even 1960s-70s progressive rock (the use of the song In the Court of the Crimson King by King Crimson, a Battersea Power Station backdrop made to look like the cover of Pink Floyd’s Animals album). However, they are deployed in a way that, rather than feeling self-conscious or self-indulgent, add texture and meaning to the overall narrative. The result is a cohesive melding of artistic mentalities into an overall depiction of a world which is far on the road of going to hell in a hand-basket. There’s a superb control over small details here, be it the constant presence of various animals (perhaps as some attempt to compensate for the absence of children), the government propaganda and information posters about illegal immigrants which pop up everywhere, the frightening resemblance of the Bexhill immigration centre to a WWII ghetto and the sickly green-yellow pallor which is cast over just about everything throughout.
The other notable stylistic trait here is the extensive use of long, continuous takes - especially during the road ambush sequence and the climactic battle of Bexhill. Admittedly, these aren’t quite as stunning as they once seemed, mainly because there has been a recent trend for top-notch action films such as John Wick and Mission Impossible: Fallout to up the ante in terms of similar setpieces. However, they still maintain a visceral excitement and raw immediacy about them which keeps the viewer genuinely immersed.
Children of Men is a truly affecting and provocative masterpiece, while still possessing its own grimly surreal entertainment value as an action-adventure. Watch it, pause for thought at the state of the world and ask yourself: what can I do to contribute towards stopping things from deteriorating any further?
Runtime: 109 mins
Dir: Alfonso Cuarón
Script: Alfonso Cuarón, Timothy J. Sexton, David Arata, Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby, based on a novel by P. D. James
Starring: Clive Owen, Julianne Moore, Michael Caine, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Charlie Hunnam, Clare-Hope Ashitey, Pam Ferris, Peter Mullan, Oana Pellea
Blu Ray Audio-Visual
This HD presentation looks wonderfully pin-sharp and vivid - which is just perfect for taking in the mind-boggling level of detail in the production design. However, the dialogue is somewhat too faint in the otherwise immersive audio mix, making it hard to discern what characters are actually saying at times without turning the volume right up.
Audio Commentary by Bryan Reesman
Music and pop culture journalist Reesman looks in detail at how Children of Men comments on the modern world. He also reveals the occasional bit of technical trivia. The film adopts a muted colour scheme partially because cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki decided to shoot everything in natural light. The one-take Bexhill battle sequence took 12 days out of the schedule - 10 for rehearsals and 2 for shooting. The sight of spots of blood on the lens when Theo runs through the bus during this scene wasn’t the original intention; a squib misfired and, while director Alfonso Cuarón yelled “cut”, the various explosions going off in the background meant that he wasn’t heard and thus filming continued. However, the end result worked so well that he decided to leave it in.
There is No Future
An appreciation of Children of Men presented by film historian Philip Kemp. Again, he notes its prescience - something brought up in a slew of recent press articles - as well as discussing the stylistic traits which director Cuarón and cinematographer Lubezki adopted. He also looks at how it deviates from P. D. James’s original novel, which took a rather more genteel view of a dystopian English future and included a stronger religious bent informed by the author’s background as a High Anglican. Despite the considerable differences between page and film, however, she still gave a thumbs-up to the final results.
Fertility & Progeny
This excellent visual essay by Kat Ellinger traces Children of Men’s themes of birth and extinction back through science fiction in literature and film. She touches upon Mary Shelley, Richard Matheson’s novel I Am Legend which has been adapted for the big screen three times, Communist-era films from Czechoslovakia and Poland, cheap Italian genre films and more. An entertaining and superbly-researched featurette.
The Possibility of Hope
This documentary features interviews with Naomi Klein, Slavoj Žižek, James Lovelock and others who, as with the film Children of Men, take a bleak but ultimately (slightly) hopeful look at the plethora of complex issues facing the world today. It’s sobering stuff from some of the world’s greatest independent thinkers.
Comments by Slavoj Žižek
The Slovenian philosopher provides us with his own fascinating take on the film’s background message.
Delivering a Baby
This three-minute featurette examines the effects used to create the baby birth. The scene employs a seamless mixture of prosthetics and CGI.
Alfonso Cuarón and the the film’s production team discuss the decaying future which they created onscreen. Most interestingly, Jennifer Williams reveals that they created a fictitious timeline of events from 2006 (when the film was released) up to 2027 and then used these as a basis for the newspaper clippings seen around the walls of Fishes’ interrogation room in one scene.
Theo & Julian
As the name suggests, this featurette takes a brief look at the characters of Theo (played by Clive Owen) and Julian (played by Julianne Moore).
This one takes a behind-the-scenes look at two of the film’s signature long-take action sequences: the car ambush and the opening shot leading up to a terrorist bomb exploding. During the former, the car was kitted out with a special “rig” which allowed for a so-called “doggy cam” to be placed within the passenger compartment. This camera could be rotated through 360 degrees inside the vehicle without the need to have a crew member handling it directly (which would have made such a shot impossible to achieve).
While there are just three deleted scenes here, they do add some texture to the story. As is so often the case, they were probably cut for pacing reasons more than anything else. We get one involving Theo lighting a refugee’s cigarette before walking past a back alley dental operation, another where his landlord informs him that he is four months’ behind on his rent and a third where his cousin Nigel (played by Danny Huston) shows him his art collection.
An image gallery, reversible sleeve and collector’s booklet round out the extras.
If you haven’t already got a copy of Children of Men at home then this disc is an absolute must. It’s one of the best films of the 21st century so far.