What would you do if there simply was no hope whatsoever? Many would probably answer that it’s better to fight for a better tomorrow and that things and circumstances can always change for the better. But what would you do if there simply was no hope for a tomorrow, or more precisely, no tomorrow for humanity? This is the central question that director Alfonso Cuarón asks in his masterful science fiction thriller Children of Men from 2006.
The film takes place in the year 2027, 18 years after all the women in the world suddenly became infertile and no new babies have been born since then. In that time, the world has descended into anarchy, chaos and revolution. The only country that is seemingly stable is the United Kingdom, although they’re also dealing issues such as illegal immigration and terrorism. In the middle of all of this we find our protagonist, Theo Faron (Clive Owen), a former freedom fighter who’s become disillusioned about the world following his son’s death. He’s contacted by his ex-wife Julian (Julianne Moore) who asks him to transport a young woman (Cara-Hope Ashitey) out of the country. He soon finds out that this girl is mysteriously pregnant and must protect her from all the forces that want her for their own political purposes.
All the performances in the film are very good, but in my opinion the clear standout is Clive Owen. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Owen in anything else (besides his cameo in The Pink Panther remake from the same year) but he is very convincing as a cynical and disillusioned average joe who is suddenly burdened with the future of all of mankind in his hands. The rest of the cast is very effective, from the more famous actors like Moore and Michael Caine to the perhaps lesser known actors such as Chiwetel Ejiofor and Ashitey who deliver standout performances in their respective roles. The only sore thumb in the cast would have to be Charlie Hunnam, who still somewhat sounds like an American trying to do a convincing American accent, even though he himself is British (incidentally I do think Hunnam in general is a good actor, but it always depends on the roles he gets cast in). But Hunnam’s so-so performance doesn’t distract from the films overall quality.
Cuarón utilizes many different cinematic techniques to depict this dystopian vision of the future. Cuarón and his cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki decided to shoot Children of Men like a documentary, very much like their earlier film Y Tu Mamá Tambien. The majority of the film is therefore shot using handheld cameras which help give the film a more realistic and grounded feeling one usually doesn’t get to see in most science fiction films. The other, and more famous, technique that Cuarón and Lubezki use is the long take, which has become a trademark of their work. The two most effective (and for the lack of a better word “showy”) long takes in the film are when our main characters get attacked in the car and the camera stays inside the car, giving us a sense of claustrophobia and hopelessness, and the other most effective long take is towards the end when Theo finds himself in the middle of a big battle which almost brings one Saving Private Ryan flashbacks (there’s even blood that spurts on the lens).
Another one of Cuaróns brilliant decisions was the choice to shoot on as many real locations as possible to further build a realistic and believable future. Many of the locations that one sees in the film are real locations in London that were redressed with both set decoration and occasional green screen to great effect, and they further give the viewer a sense of the hopelessness the characters must be feeling. Aesthetically the film is more in line with the dystopian future of Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange than with Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner for example (incidentally, Cuarón cited Clockwork Orange as a major influence in this regard, so I’m not completely talking out of my ass).
To conclude this review, I want to go back to my original point of the importance of hope and how hope is reflected in this film. Children of Men presents a future that at first glance truly isn’t worth fighting or dying for, but through our shared experiences and humanity, it becomes something more important than ourselves and our petty lives, it becomes something significant, something worth fighting for, and perhaps even something worth dying for.