Perhaps because of its bleak outlook, its lushly dark tones, or its often blunt criticism of the current world state, Alfonso Cuaron
's fourth major film will have to fight just as hard as his two Spanish films to find an audience. The bearer of one the worst marketing and public relations campaigns in years, Children of Men could have been the wriggling stepson that Universal has made it out to be, but it turns out to be anything but.
It's 2027, and the youngest person in Britain (and the world), Baby Diego, has just been killed by a rabid fan; he was 18. Somewhere between 2006 and 2016, women started becoming infertile, causing mass miscarriages and major panics. Theo (Clive Owen
) doesn't seem that concerned when we meet him, narrowly averting an explosion near a local café. He spends his time with his friend Jasper (a wily Michael Caine
) who makes cannabis mixed with strawberry and tries to forget the family he once had. Julian (Julianne Moore
), his ex-wife, has taken up with a pack of refugees that fight against the military state that has been active since London began understanding its grave future. When Julian stumbles upon a girl who miraculously is with child, she immediately kidnaps Theo and puts him in charge of getting the girl, Kee (Claire-Hope Ashitey
), to a specialized group of the world's smartest people known as the Human Project. Article continues below
Stunningly shot by the great Emmanuel Lubezki (The New World, Y Tu Mama Tambien), Children of Men assumes the best of life is over. Even if Kee's baby survives, it's assumed that the world as we know it will end and that society will start again in a different way on some remote island. A television screen on one of the bus lines still active announces that every other country in the world has succumbed to the epidemic and that Britain is the last bastion; a dumping ground for all the unwanted people of the world. Cuarón's vision, filled with dark greens and a rare sense of urgency, limits many byways to convention. The early death of a major character reserves the story to Kee and Theo's journey to the safe zone.
Filled with abandoned schoolhouses and prison camps made of dilapidated hospitals and industry warehouses, the world Cuarón creates is used to stage stunning works of action and camera work. His artful compositions are best displayed when moments of visceral action segue into moments of pure hope and spirituality, as they do in a climactic rescue scene in a hospital that is nearly made of rubble. Owen's performance has a loose charm to it, but he never loses sight of Theo's gentle growth from a hopeless day-to-day worker to a believer in a real cause (saving the human race). Like with Gilliam (pre-Brothers Grimm), the future that is envisioned isn't about the possibilities of humankind but rather of the current problems that will return right when we think we're rid of them. The beauty of Children of Men is that it understands the problems we're undoubtedly going to have to face but it also sees the hope that these challenges will no doubt bring out in some individuals. The reason for its general snubbing can be easily diagnosed as its dark and often bleak outlook on humankind's future (especially with Santa Claus flying overhead), but that also ignores Cuarón's great humanity and belief in survival. Try selling that, PR man.