Alfonso Cuaron’s “Children of Men” (2006) imagines a bleak future that is not the result of a nuclear war, a fallen meteor, or the ever-popular zombie outbreak. This possible future planet earth is going down the drain because humanity itself is slowly ebbing away after eighteen years of infertility. Set in not-so-distant future in the United Kingdom, the film shows a world overrun with pollution, corruption, massive immigration, and a totalitarian police force. You know it is the future, since all of the bright colors are gone.
I first saw this movie at an art-house cinema during my first year at Sherbrooke University. The bleak future reminded me of the PC game Half-Life 2. This game, much like “Children of Men,” featured a city controlled by a totalitarian police force. Except, while the game was senseless fantasy, the movie has a much more visceral feel since it is much more grounded in reality. You just need to look at the news footage to think we are one global catastrophe away from the scenario depicted by Cuaron.
Exactly why are women infertile in the not-so-distant future? Government bureaucrat Theo Faron (Clive Owen) and his old hippie friend (Michael Caine) discuss this in his country house, but for Theo the answer is irrelevant. He has accepted the end of humanity and sees no hope for the future. That is until his estranged wife Julian (Julianne Moore) comes seeking his help.
Julian is the leader of an immigrants rights group called The Fishes. She needs Theo’s contacts as a government employee to secure transit documents for a black female refugee named Kee (Clare-Hope Ashitey). Why take such risks for one refugee? Because, that refugee is the first pregnant woman the world has seen in 18 years. The plan is to take her to the coast and then to a boat that will take her to The Human Project, a scientific group dedicated to curing infertility.
Whether that group truly exists is unknown. No contact with anyone outside of England is ever made. For all Theo knows there could be nothing waiting for Kee once they reach the coast. Yet as violence escalates between government and revolutionary forces, it becomes clear Kee and her child must flee if they wish to stay alive. One child could bring hope to all of humanity, but both the government and Julian’s group would kill to use that child as a political tool.
The movie explores very important themes, such as hope and faith, while depicting battle scenes that are distressing in their realism. There is no fast editing or CG enhancement to make this entertaining. The award-winning cinematography, by Emmanuel Lubezki, makes you feel like you are following Theo in the middle of war zone. A particularly great sequence, recorded as a single-shot, involves an attack in a country road. The attack is shot from inside a car as an armed gang ambushes the car and throws rocks at the windows. The chaos of the attack makes you feel as though you are right there with the characters.
Owen is very effective in the role of Theo, an everyman thrust in the role of an unlikely savior. When war erupts around him he is scared for both himself and the girl. A situation forces him to kill a man with a brick, but it is clear he has never done such a thing before in his life. He stumbles and hesitates as he prepares to bash the man’s head. It’s almost funny.
The final scenes show you how horrifying and devastating war can be. The world is falling apart, the city is torn to pieces, and the best thing people can think of doing is pick up guns and shoot each other. This world is humanity at its worse. It is bleak, dirty, violent, and filled with misery.
Yet, this is a hopeful film. Maybe there is no Human Project, but the idea that it might exist is enough to make Theo do the right thing. He began as a hopeless man, but hope gave him a purpose: to protect a life instead of destroying one.