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'Children of Men' Delivers Stark Vision of Future

Feb. 6, 2007 – Anthony Lane in the New Yorker says that "Children of Men" is "a film that you need to see, not a film that you especially want to."
Directed by Alfonso Cuarón, it is a grim story, though, depending on how you see it, not entirely without hope. Based on a P.D. James novel of the same name, the story takes place in a childless Britain in the year 2027. There is no next generation; the world is dying.
Through some biological disaster, never explained, the world is in chaos. The planet suffers from mass infertility, and the youngest person on earth is 18 years old. Lane says that Cuarón "doesn't waste time on background."
"To Cuaron, the first rule of storytelling is: Go with the given. Don't waste space on deep background … he respects his audience presuming that we are grown up enough (or ground down enough) to work out the horrors for ourselves," Lane says.
Every civilization except Britain is in total ruins — and Britain itself is teetering on the brink of anarchy. All refugees are rounded up, caged and deported to distant outposts. London is dirty, dangerous and plagued by random bombings. Government troops are at war with a rebel group known as the Fishes.
Into this mess steps Theo (Clive Owen), once an activist and now a deflated bureaucrat, who is kidnapped by old girlfriend Julian (Julianne Moore), who leads a subversive group of dissidents. They want Theo to use his contacts to get a young woman, Kee (Clare-Hope Ashitey), to refuge offshore.
When Theo first meets Kee, Lane says, "Without warning, you see on his exhausted face, a look of purest wonderment, for Kee is great with child." He adds, "So that's why Universal chose to release the film on Christmas day."
"The idea of the world redeemed by a helpless infant is a specifically Christian one," Lane says, "but here it shines out from a landscape that is bitterly stripped of faith."
Bob Longino in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution touches on the filming of that landscape. Calling it "a film you have to see to believe," Longino says, "the film's most important notable is the camera. Often visually stunning and intricately shot, Cuarón's dark drama boasts the best cinematography of the year. There's guerrilla-style filming expertly capturing terrific stunt work in one gripping car chase that will take your breath away."
Michael Phillips in the Chicago Tribune says, "The showpiece sequences — a bloody ambush on a car, or a bloody square-off between state goons and refugees — don't scream at you with their virtuosity; they're too active and unruly to beg for audience approval." Agreeing with Lane's earlier comment, he says, "The film may prove a tough sell."
Still, Phillips says, "The film features a couple of scenes of such intricately choreographed action, sustained in shots running several minutes without a cut, you cannot quite believe what you're seeing."
Lane says, "The Britain of 20 years' time, in short, will be just like the Britain of today, but worse." Treatment of the immigrants rings a bell. Lane says, the movie's "scrumbled texture, makes it feel not just plausible, but recognizable."
The film is not entirely without humor. Lane says the only ones who haven't "caved in to despair are shaggy old timers like Jasper (Michael Caine), a friend of Theo's who saw it coming." Jasper lives in a cave of sorts, smokes weed, plays loud music and finds stuff to laugh about.
Lane concludes, "Such is the moral of this tough destabilizing film: the hippies were right all along."
The movie runs an hour and a half and is rated R for strong violence, language some drug use and brief nudity.
It starts at Market Square East Thursday.
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