January 09, 2007

Children of Men

Watching Children of Men was like being Alice as she fell down the rabbit hole. Each time I thought I understood who could be trusted and who could not, the rug was pulled out from under me and the situation was filtered through an entirely different light. The movie doesn't reach the bottom of the rabbit hole until the very last scene. It is a movie of horrors, and shocking truths. But it is also a story of beauty and love, compassion and faith. Being all of these things, it is as human of a movie as I have ever seen. Unquestionably, Children of Men is the best film of 2006.
A weathered photograph in the sill of a bathroom window. A run-down school, the simple murals on the wall covered in overgrown and stripped down by rain and mildew. Little touches like these are all that remain of humanity's children. It is the year 2027, and the youngest human being on the planet has just has just died at 18 years, 4 months, 20 days, 16 hours, and 8 minutes of age. The survivors that are left carry on joyless lives of increasing desperation. Humanity's time is through. The stragglers that are left have little else to do but mark off the days until the end. ("Last one to die please turn out the light" reads one bit of graffiti on a crumbling concrete wall.)
One of these stragglers is Theodore Faron. Theo works a miserable desk job in a miserable city, in a miserable country, in a miserable time for the world. His only friend is Jasper, an old political cartoonist with a brain dead wife who has etched out a pleasant existence growing pot in a solar powered house in the middle of a forest. The time outside Jasper's sanctuary is spent in a grey world of charred bodies and crumbling rubble. The rest of the world is in chaos - forced to choose between security and liberty, the other countries chose liberty and crumbled for it. Now, as the BBC bulletins triumphantly proclaim, "Only Britain soldiers on."
Theo's dangerous yet monotonous existence is shaken up when he is kidnapped by a terrorist group run by Julian, the estranged mother of his long dead child. She recruits him because their history together has made him the only one she can really trust. What she's trusting him with is the greatest secret imaginable on a planet that is exponentially greying: the first pregnant woman in 18 years. Sweeping immigration reform to stop the flow of refugees from the devastated outside world has made Kee (born in Fiji) an illegal citizen. She is funny, pretty, and — eight months pregnant — positively swelling around the midsection. The relationship between Theo and her defines the movie.
Theo and Kee defy all of the horrors that threaten to engulf them, whether they be from the barrel of a gun or the treacheries of a false smile, by sharing a bond of warmth and trust. Theo, who sought hangovers to overcome the numbness of a dead child a dying world, has finally again found something he believes in enough to die for. Everything he does from the moment he learns Kee's secret is aimed at protecting her. Kee, for her part, is the most important person on the planet. It'd be understandable if she were arrogant and conceited. But she loved Julian, and Julian loved Theo, so she trusts him without question and treats him with the respect implicit in that trust. In a world with nothing to offer but final and complete death, they are beacons of life and hope.
During their journey we see people dying and dead by very gruesome ways. The horrific acts are shown unflinchingly, even casually, yet they carry more impact than the bodies that pile up in so many films. CuarĂ³n spaces each despicable sight perfectly, holding back just enough that we never become desensitized to the violence and brutality. And I could think of place in the real world, often right at this point in time, where each horror had been or was being committed. These are the sickening sights, yes, but ones we need to see more of in order for things to change.
And yet, Children of Men does not condemn humanity for our failings. It sizes us up honestly, meditates on how we are at worst and meditates on how we are at our best, and decides finally that the former outweighs the latter. It is a dark, dreary, gruesome, brutal film. But I can't think of one that is more optimistic or more hopeful. ()


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