The future that is presented in Alfonso Cuaron’s brilliant Children of Men is one of the bleakest you will find in any science fiction film. Not only has civilization gone to ruins, but 18 years have passed since the last baby was born. The film takes place in England, where hundreds of immigrants are being deported and Theo (Clive Owen) is thrown into a plot that involves what may be humanity’s last hope.
Theo, played by Clive Owen, is worth noting because he is not an action hero, even though the film has a good bit of action in it. If this film had been made in Hollywood, Theo would have been a John McClane-like tough guy. Here, Owen projects a vulnerability that we can relate to and the filmmakers do an excellent job of emphasizing his flaws. There is even one scene where Theo wears flip-flops for the entire sequence. Have we ever seen the hero of a movie like this in flip-flops? That subtle detail is just one example of the brilliance of Children of Men. The characters are flawed and some have few redeeming factors other than the fact that they are as human as we are. We cheer for them because they are like us and in their situation, we would have done the same thing.
Another aspect that the film gets right is its visual style. The movie is shot in long takes, making the events unfold in real time. In effect, the film always appears realistic, even in the incredible action sequences. Likewise, the sets of the film are not especially inventive, colorful, or eye-catching. Instead, the film strikes the viewer by capturing locations that are ordinary and recognizable.
Children of Men presents many differing attitudes towards immigration, but the film never quite tells us what its message is. Even though this movie could be discussed at length in sociological and political terms, it avoids the trap of becoming dull and inaccessible by focusing on the human element of the story. Its true purpose is not to support a certain stance on a social or political issue, but rather to depict a story of men and women clinging to hope in a grim and hopeless world.
Detailed and painstakingly crafted, Children of Men is a masterpiece in virtually every area of filmmaking. The performances are believable, the camerawork is fantastic, and Cuaron directs with the vision and wisdom of a master filmmaker. This is a great film, not only because it shows us a world that we can believe, but because it refuses to be flashy and fantastical. It is a testament to the power of quality filmmaking that the movie is entertaining and immersive regardless.