Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Flick of The Day: Children of Men

I've often thought it funny or at least remarkable that the cinematic vision of the future encountered in so many science fiction films is a dystopian one. Think of the vast cityscape of Blade Runner or the dark streets of Tokyo in Akira or the decaying hedonism of Rian Johnson's recent film Looper, all visions of the future that are a touch nightmarish. It is a rare enough thing to see a film set in the future where everything is better than it is now, perhaps indicative of the natural cynicism of film-makers or indeed of the world we currently live in and the direction of the human race. Suffice as to say today's flick of the day is just as dystopian but in the hands of Alfonso Cuaron becomes so much more than that.
It is the year 2027 and there have been no new human births for 18 years. The human race's hegemony over planet earth is in its final days and the world has descended into chaos. Great Britain remains as a last stalwart against the tide but has become a hellish police state where all immigrants are herded into camps. Clive Owen is Theo, a cynical civil servant and cog in the wheels of the state. Once upon a time he was an activist but has become embittered since the death of his son. He spends his days drinking too much and gambling as a means of passing the time. He visits his ageing hippy friend Jasper, played by an excellent Michael Caine, as a means of getting away from things. He is approached by his former wife Julian, played by Julianne Moore, who has become a member of terrorist group called the Fishes that seek to liberate immigrants with an offer. In return for cash, he agrees to help them transport a young girl to the coast so that she can be picked up by the Human Project, a near mythical scientific group based in the Azores. Of course, all is not as it seems and the young girl holds a secret with the potential to bring redemption to the whole human race. A secret that men will kill for and which Theo will have to risk his life to protect.
There are few bleaker visions of the earth's future than Cuaron's dark stylised take on PD James 1992 book. London is a city filled with despair for the masses but with tiny enclaves of great wealth. In one particularly well executed scene, Theo views the squalor of the city from the safe confines of a Rolls Royce before arriving at the walled splendour of St James Park all set to the tune of King Crimson. This is a London where terrorist bombings are a part of daily life and life itself has become a grim march to the death reminiscent of Orwell's 1984.
The visuals are often stunning and yet unlike so many films set in the future, it doesn't attempt to overreach in terms of the available technology. The cars and computers are slightly better but combined with the grime and dust which covers everything it leaves you with the feeling that man has given up on technology as he enters his final days.
This dark vision could become too much to bear for an audience and the film could become something of trek but yet such is the epic scale of Cuaron's vision that it is never too much. There is enough heart and hope for the redemption of man to carry the film to its thrilling end. It makes for at times affecting viewing and combined with a superb soundtrack that moves seamlessly across genres and decades to pulls at the heartstrings. It is never less than compelling viewing and there are some fine performances even apart from the leads. The great Peter Mullan steals every scene he is in as the deranged immigration officer Syd and Chiwetel Ejiofor excels as the dark hearted ideologue of the Fishes. 
A thought provoking and absorbing tale with a wafer thin premise at the heart of it that remains just believable enough to carry the film. It is an epic journey and perhaps one of the best films of the naughties, if you haven't seen it yet than I urge you to do so.


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