Movies That Everyone Should See: “Children of Men”

What would the world look like without hope?

Boom.

“Children of Men” opens with a bang.

Literally.

The movie opens with Theo Faron (Clive Owen) purchasing a coffee in a coffee shop. The crowd there is fixated on the tv screen, watching the news that “Baby Diego”, now 18 years old, the youngest person on the planet, the last baby born on earth… Has been stabbed in an encounter with a fan and has died.

As Theo heads out of the shop and walks a ways down the street, a bomb explodes behind him, destroying the shop he just exited.

Welcome to the world of “Children of Men”. Infertility has plagued the planet for almost 20 years. As a result, the current population has lost hope. There’s no new generations coming up behind, there’s no future to work towards… What’s the point? The human race is literally running out of time. Going through the motions.

Religious cults are pervasive. Bulldozers plow the streets of wreckage. Refugees are kept in cages, while people pray at wailing walls. It’s a despondent existence.

On the train Theo takes, the over-the-seat tvs play a montage of riots, famous landmarks aflame, and end of the world portents. As a mob of angry people throw rocks at the passing train, the commercial discloses its message. The other nations of the world are in disarray…

“Only Britain Soldiers On.”

And that’s what life seems to have boiled down to in “Children of Men”, “Soldiering On”. There aren’t many rational ways to deal without hope. Theo’s friend Jasper (Michael Caine) spends his time breeding marijuana hybrids like “Strawberry cough”. His cousin Nigel, a Government Minister, openly admits he lives in denial.

His ex-wife (or estranged wife, at least), Julian (Julianne Moore), has taken up with a terrorist organization known as “The Fishes”. The Fishes are fighting for human rights for immigrants and refugees. Along with being detained in roadside cages, the government has set up interment camps, where refugees are starving and being shot with little provocation. It’s a violation of basic human rights, under the guise of protecting the country’s citizens and their resources.

Julian and the Fishes kidnap Theo and ask him for his help… He’s to ask his cousin for papers in order to enable the movement of a young female refugee… Kee (Claire-Hope Ashitey). In turn, he’ll be handsomely paid.

Theo complies.

His involvement with the Fishes has brought him back into contact Julian. They begin to have fun together for the first time in years… Just prior to the infertility, the couple lost a child of their own to the flu. Their rekindled spark, along with a technicality in the papers he was able to obtain (the girl needs to be accompanied) wind up drawing Theo into the Fishes’ mission to escort the girl to safety.

But along their journey, the car they’re travelling in is ambushed. A rebel band blockades the road and attacks their vehicle, resulting in a shocking death. The group is forced to a safe house to regroup. It’s there that Theo learns the reason why the girl is so important.

Kee is pregnant.

What should be a miraculous occurrence is actually a dangerous situation. The government would want the child for their own political purposes. Perhaps they would suppress news of the birth altogether. It wouldn’t take much to imagine them conducting medical experiments on the girl. The Fishes, far from wanting to protect her, want to use the baby as a rallying cry for their revolution. They feel that the fact Kee is a refugee will inspire a refugee uprising.

Thus, Kee’s pregnancy is a perilous proposition. There’s a possibility of safety… a rumored “Human Project” – a place of safety in the Azores. In order to get there, though, Kee would need to reach the shore, find a boat, and make it safely to the rendezvous point – an offshore buoy.

Theo, once he grasps Kee’s importance, becomes her shepherd and guardian. He sacrifices his own safety in order to get her to the rendezvous. It’s a mission that will bring them through the middle of a war zone, and risk the lives of everyone he loves, but he knows the importance of the situation… The baby – the only baby on earth in almost two decades – needs to get to safety.

Director Alfonso Cuarón creates an incredible world for us in this film. It’s gritty and despondent… bleak. It’s almost a post apocalyptic world, without having had the apocalypse. It’s the people that are barren, not the landscapes. The fact that they’re bereft of hope permeates every aspect of the film.

Cuarón’s direction enriches the story. The film is famous for its lengthy, continuous takes, the longest of which is reportedly some seven and a half minutes long. It’s actually a bit of an illusion, as many of the famous shots are composites, seamed together digitally in order to give the impression of a single take. Nonetheless it’s impressive, and it makes for a relentless viewing experience. You’re never given respite from the action. It’s also still an incredible technical challenge. In order to film the scene where Kee and the Fishes drive into the ambush in one take, for example, a special rig was built atop the car, the car’s windshield was designed to be removable, the front seats tilted out-of-the-way, and four people rode on the roof of the moving vehicle in order to film.

But it’s not just the shooting style that makes the direction so notable. Cuarón also manages to create a realistic, depressing, hopeless film world, most notably in the shelled out, urban ruin of Bexhill. He creates an insane sense of realism with the opening terrorist bombing, and later in the small theatre warfare in the Bexhill streets. Throughout, his sets, settings, and special effects consistently strengthen the bleak tone of the film, they compliment the movies themes as well as propelling the narrative.

There’s a number of thoughts to be mined from “Children of Men”. Many people will point to it as a political commentary, given the militarism, terrorism and security issues. Others may view the film as a modern nativity allegory.

But to me, it’s all about hope.

The theme of hope is central to “Children of Men”. Sometimes the most effective way to illustrate something is to portray its utter absence. The world of “Children of Men” is a hopeless one, and without hope, the bonds of society have broken. People no longer treat each other with respect, it’s every man for himself. Suicide, murder, war, theft, totalitarianism, terrorism… the predominance of such evils due to the lack of hope in “Children of Men” suggests that it’s only through the presence of hope in the world today that such conditions are kept in check to the extent they are. The future, the promise of a better tomorrow, the world we’re building for future generations, that’s the great human motivator. Not survival, or wealth, or any personal self-satisfaction.

There is a power inherent in the hope that we’re all working towards something better over time. That our lives have improved through history, and that the betterment will continue into the future. That common belief is a powerful bond that motivates so many aspects of society. Without it, the world would surely, and quickly, crumble.

And even amongst the wreckage and the war and the wickedness of “Children of Men”, the fact that there IS a child born in this film symbolizes that even in the darkest times, amidst the deepest despair, there is always the possibility of a miracle. Of rebirth, resuscitation, renewal and redemption.

Cuarón has created a masterpiece of a film here. It’s bleak and powerful and thrilling to watch. Gripping. And through it runs an unmistakable message about the power of hope and the impact that it has on human life. It’s impossible not to be engrossed by watching it, and impossible not be moved by having seen it.

It’s definitely a “Movie That Everyone Should See”.

49 thoughts on “Movies That Everyone Should See: “Children of Men”

    • DAMMIT!! LOL. :D I hate it when commenters use brilliant words that I should have found a place for in my review somewhere.

      HARROWINNNNNNG….

      Yes. LOL. Definitely Harrowing. no doubt about it. Thanks for piping in, I’m just having some fun. ;)

  1. I saw this with my sister and here’s our conversation afterward:

    HER: What did you think?
    ME: I’ve never felt so alone.
    HER: What?
    ME: I gotta go. Like now. Get me out of here.

    I still think of this movie as one of the most emotionally devastating things around. The Hurt Locker came close, but Children of Men sucker-punched me in ways I could have never expected. Yours is a different take I can respect. Perhaps I’m more a denizen of Cuarón’s world. Either way, if this movie doesn’t effect you in some way, you’re probably a cyborg.

    • LOL… that’s great.

      That reminds me of the first time I watched Apocalypse Now. A room full of college kids, all in a good “mood” LOL, and then we watched that through – first time for all of us – and afterwards it was like we should have all been put on suicide watch.

      I was probably pretty distraught the first time I saw this as well, but now, after the intial shocks (and there are some SHOCKS in this flick) and the overall depression has been laid out for me once, I know what to expect and I can get past it. Now I can see the hope in it.

      I agree though, you’ve got to be a pretty cold fish not to feel something with this one!

  2. Yeah, you’ve hit the nail on the head. Its all about hope, and I would actually take it further and say its about the value of human life. The fact that it is so dark and dreary is what makes this message so obvious. The contrast is necessary so that this value of life can shine through that much clearer.

  3. Best film of the previous decade. (2000-2009.) Easily.

    Cuaron’s a master filmmaker, so it shouldn’t be a big surprise that he nails the tone here so perfectly, but…he does. And he does it better than that, too. I’m a mark for dystopic societies in science fiction narrative (not as much as my wife, who I’m pretty sure I can comfortably say loves this movie more than I do), but Cuaron really does put an incredible amount of thought and effort into bringing that world to life; as with all science fiction, world-building, even when that world is falling apart, is critical. From the big details to the little ones, Children of Men delivers. (Great little detail: Julianne Moore’s character has a nose piercing. Want to bet that she was an idealistic liberal political activist back in her younger days?)

    There’s a pervading sense of desperation and desolation and malaise that rings throughout the entire movie. Put simply, it’s a film that’s meant to inspire hopelessness. Clive Owen’s character is so nihilistic that we almost come around to his side of things and give up with him. Why bother doing anything but keep your head down, put pencil to paper, and toil your life away until the human race expends itself? And yet that deep sense of despondency and despair is undercut by just a glimmer of optimism. There’s a chance that humanity doesn’t have to perish. It’s a small chance, maybe, a fool’s chance, but it’s still a chance, and if that’s not worth fighting and struggling and dying for, then nothing is.

    It’s a miraculous movie. And a great pick for a movie everyone should see. Top drawer, Dan!

    • “Best film of the previous decade. (2000-2009.) Easily.”

      Caught me off guard with that one. I’ll quickly say its one of the best, I dont think Ive given it enough thought to definitively agree… I have a feeling I’d be forgetting something. But you might be right.

      The rest of it I wholeheartedly concur with. It is all about the world that he creates, and that atmosphere. It is such a desperate place… and then, youre right, it is just the tiniest spark of hope.

      But I love how the baby silences the soldiers as it passes. That’s incredible. Even if they start fighting again right after…

      • When I started ACVF– when it was called Andrew at the Cinema– I did a “25 best movies of the last decade” list, with Children of Men at the #1 spot. For me, it’s still there. (That said, there are a TON of movies that I missed when I put that list together, an embarrassing amount in fact.)

        And I agree, the long tracking shot with the baby is amazing. And also kind of damning. It’s moments like that that threaten to take Children of Men into full-on nihilistic territory.

      • LOL! That’s ONE of the reasons I try not to do lists (You’ll note there’s no top tens here)

        The other is they’re just disagreement fodder.

        There’s nothing better to draw out a “You Suck!!” from a reader than a top ten list.

        Thats how I see it at least :)

  4. “But to me, it’s all about hope.”

    Fogs you couldnt have been more right if you tried. This is a masterpiece and having watched only a week ago I am struck by things I saw this time that I didnt catch before. The long shot you mention when when Theo tracks Kee back down amidst the mayhem is some of the most accurate you are there dense action ever put to film and I rank it with Saving Private Ryan in gritty nuanced film.

    But ah hope, the thing that sets this above even the Ryan war movie is what I like to refer to as the gauntlet of hope. When he walk her out there the range of human emotion is just insanely palpable as it really would be and not only that it is different for every face the pass.

    Its not only hope, but through Theo, we see its about redemption. Just like it was redemption for Jasper it is redemption for Theo when he gets her to the Buoy. Its a visceral thing to see a man bleed out and not mind so much because of what he achieved. I would rate this in my top 100 all time and would consider it one of the 10 best films since the turn of the century!

    Nice review fogs!

    • Thanks Ric, appreciate that.

      Glad this is one that you approve of too.

      I would pretty strongly say this is a better film than Pvt Ryan on the whole… I have a feeling you’re just comparing that battle sequence, but if not, whole movie to whole movie I totally prefer this one.

      There is a lot of redemption here, too. The look on Owens’ face when Kee says she’s going to name her child Dylan is priceless. Just incredible.

  5. Brilliant film. Great review man. While the film does everything right, I think what sticks with me the most is the world, atmosphere, and tone the film creates. It is one of the most engrossing worlds ever put on film.

    • Totally stricks this really think unshakable tone. Exactly like you say, you really feel like youre watching an entire world going through this. YOu never get the sense that this is just an isolated thing… its worldwide, and thats such an amazing thing for a movie to be able to pull off.

  6. You actually moved me with this write-up, Fogs. Bravo! This film represents everything I look for in a film. Hopelessness LOL! Definitely a masterpiece that is visceral exciting, thought provoking, and technically proficient in all areas. Oh, and people die! AWESOME! But, it all come down to hope. It can be there in even the darkest times, but you may have to put your soul at hazard to find it (NCFOM ftw!) lol. Really though, Great film. Can’t wait for Gravity. Keep up these great MTSS picks.

    • Thanks Blain, I appreciate the positive feedback! Keeps me cranking ‘em out, LOL.

      This was an easy one, from a decision stand point at least. Kind of a no brainer induction…

      There certainly are some shocking deaths, for sure! Lol! I remember the first time watching it being stunned during the ambush…

      And yes, I hope Gravity delivers. I can’t wait to start getting promotional stuff for it… Has to be soon, right? Posters, teaser trailers, etc.

  7. Definitely a great film. Heck, I think it’s better than Blade Runner.

    A MTESS though? I dunno. I know people I wouldn’t recommend it to, and it hasn’t become so culturally relevant that I think everyone should see it for that.

    Toughie.

    • I dont think its so tough. Its a great film across the board… everyone’s been pretty unanimous in that. So, why wouldnt you recommend it to people? They dont like “tough” movies?

      I think this one was an easy call. But then again, I dont think its as good as Blade Runner :D

      • I think I have a pretty narrow definition of what a “Movie Everyone Should See” actually means.

        Everyone means, well, everyone. It’s a film that either is universally good, or pervaded our culture to the point that not seeing the movie means actually not getting stuff.

        Star Wars, for example, may miss the first criteria, but has the second bit in spades. Gone With the Wind as well. Citizen Kane makes it with both.

        Children of Men doesn’t come close to that second criteria, but it may actually make the first. But do I recommend it to my grandmother? My barber? I don’t know if they’d actually like it.

        Just pickin’ nits, I know.

      • I don’t know that it’s being nit picky as much as it becomes a very high standard. I’ve seen so many movies personally, and know so many other people who are bonafide movie freaks that I have no qualms saying “Everyone” should see a movie. Most people I know watch zillions of movies anyways.

        The other thing is a column with that kind of strict criteria wouldn’t run very long. Lol. You’d run out of Wizard of Ozs and Gone With the Winds very quickly. :)

        I do get immense enjoyment out of the role reversal flip from our comics discussions days though, when I was always harping on you about your easy acceptance of so many comics. I was the hard ass back in the day, man LOL

      • Heh, I think it all comes to risk vs. reward for me.

        It takes me five minutes to walk into a comic store on the way home from work, pick up my pull list, and read them at a time and place of my choosing. Most tend to be entertaining yet forgettable, but every once in awhile you get a real gem, and the occassional dogs tend not to bother me as much.

        For a movie I have to determine which movie that happens to be out at the moment to go see and what times it shows, see if that fits my schedule, figure out what to do with the kids (assuming it’s an actual movie for grown-ups), and pay about as much for two movie tickets as I would for about the same length of comic book reading IF I don’t buy popcorn. As such, I’m much more critical about what I go see, and if it doesn’t pass muster, I tend to be more PO’d.

      • I can understand. Definitely.

        Still amusing. And if anything, I’m kind of the opposite… I power down so many movies taht I guess I’m inclined to be lenient, whereas with comics for whatever reason, I’m always conscious “Hey I just dropped $3 on this” even though movies cost way more! LOL.

        Regardless, our debates always entertain. It’s a long history of banter and debate.

  8. Totally agree. I remember leaving the cinema with my friend and walking home for about 15 minutes in total silence – we just didn’t know what to say. I wa stunned by how great this was.

    Technically, it’s outstanding, but as you mention it’s the world that is created – it’s scarily realistic and believable. Posters, background detail, the bleakness / nihilistic attitudes… it’s a total powerhouse.

    • Powerhouse is a great word for it….

      It’s really emotionally charged too. Takes no prisoners with its characters.

      It’s totally the type of movie that I can see causing the silent walk home. LOL

  9. For some reason, I imagined you listening to “I believe that children are our future…” as you were writing this.

    Seriously, though, this is an excellent review. I somehow missed this one when it was in theaters, but I have caught pieces of it on tv a few times. I always manage to find it halfway through though. I really need to just sit down and watch it in full, and preferably without those annoying commercial interruptions.

    • Wanna hear something really funny? I was so tempted to put those lyrics in italics and have them be the lead in at the top under the picture :D

      I came close! But then I was like, cmon, this is a serious movie. Dont do that…
      :D

      Yes, You should rent it or on demand it or something, and just make it through. Because it is a great flick.

  10. Amen, Reverend Daniel(Church of Good hope)! The film never answered why there were no children or how they could be born again? The prevailing emotion is fear! You see it in everyone’s face. The moment the cafe explodes the camera zooms into Owen’s terrified kisser, this guy’s no superhero. The film’s not about the world’s hope for children, it’s about the loss of civilization and the terror of a police state. The film was never that futuristic that I couldn’t believe it, it all looked plausibly real. The film asks, is this the fearsome future? Are we living in the last good times? What can I(we) do to prevent this? The film shows what one frightened man can do, and asks, how about you?

    • Ohh man! Hope I’m not coming across “Preachy” now!! LOL :D

      I like the fact they never explained how the world went infertile. Too many movies spoon feed you everything…

      Very realistic setting. Made things extra frightening and added to that prevailing fear you mention. There is a ton of fear in people in this flick, there’s no doubt. Everyone, well maybe not Michael Caine, lol, seems scared shitless.

      I still think its about the power of hope, but certainly can’t argue that civilization and police states aren’t powerfully represented as themes…

      • I loved Michael Caine’s “Jasper”! He made it seem he was the last “free” man alive from our times. A ray of sunshine gone dark. This is great Sci-Fi, and a natural pick for MTESS. Your review was so good, you should be a writer! Oh wait, You are!

  11. Love your take on this one Dan. This is one of those movies that I absolutely loved and moved me so deeply, but I’ve been unable to watch it again since the first time because it’s so intense and so involving.

    Totally agree about this point: “It’s almost a post apocalyptic world, without having had the apocalypse. It’s the people that are barren, not the landscapes.” And with your whole discussion of hope.

    I think the most powerful point in the movie for me is when the child is brought from the building after that intense fight sequence and for a second – just a split second – there’s a pause, and there’s hope. You feel in that instant that the world can be different. That something better is possible and is happening right then and there. But then it’s not. I haven’t seen the film since shortly after its release, and that’s a moment that’s stuck with me. Pretty powerful stuff.

    • Yeah, I wound up talking with someone about that scene – where they bring the baby out and it freezes the soldiers cold in their tracks. It is an insanely powerful moment. And then, its not even fully trnasformative! LOL. As soon as the baby’s out of the building the fighting starts right back up! What a sick flick.

      I agree, this film is really potent. I wouldnt watch it every day myself, LOL. But I have seen it a few times now, and definitely enjoyed rewatching it this time.

      I’m sure you’ll wind up giving it another go eventually….

      • I’ll need to watch it again. I just have to emotionally prep myself for it haha.

        The only other movie that I’ve loved that much but have never been able to watch after the first time is The Pianist. I’m not a crier, but that movie literally made me sob with how disgusting humanity can be… and how wonderful hope is.

      • I’ve only watched the Pianist once, but not for that reason (although I can see what youre saying obviously)

        You know what movie did that to me? Hotel Rwanda. Never going back. SO TOUGH. Seriously….

  12. Great film indeed, and love the photos you used on this post. I want to see Clive do something like this again, he’s so perfect in this.

    • He was incredible here, wasnt he Ruth? Just so… exhausted at times. LOL. Easily – I think far and away – his best movie. Right? I cant think of a better one off hand.

      I’m with you. More of this please!

  13. Great review, Fogs. It has been a few years since I saw this one, and I really need to sit down and give it another viewing. I remember liking it a lot, but I was surprised when I started to see it pop up on “best of the decade” lists. I get the feeling that I will appreciate it even more this time around.

    • I can see that. A lot of times, all you need is someone to tilt the film at a different angle than you originally were looking at it at, and then you see something entirely new.

      I’d concur. I dont know if I’d call it the BEST (I think Andy did earlier) but it would definitely crack a top ten for me. Absolutely.

      Very powerful. Hope you do revisit.

  14. When this movie came out, I read the reviews and said ” Not for me”. After your compelling review, I must see it !! After loosing all hope after the death of a loved one, I fully know the importance of finding HOPE in one’s future in order to go on in life. Thanks for such a thought provoking review.

    • Well. Then you definitely should.

      Fair warning, on initial viewing, it IS very bleak. Maybe tough to get through in terms of depressing content (no reflection on its quality, its totally engrossing). I mean.. it’s definitely not exactly a feel good movie…

      But its a movie you should check out for sure!

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