Where’s my flying car?
From The Jetsons to Back to the Future, virtually every futuristic movie or TV series from my childhood featured flying cars of some sort. The design and technology of the vehicles may have varied from story to story, but the general consensus was clear: flying cars will arrive in our lifetime, and they will be awesome.
Alas, here we are six years into the 21st century, and still no freakin’ flying cars. Needless to say, as I contemplate my long commute home, I am not happy about this.
This, in essence, sums up the problem I have with Children of Men and other films from the “Harrowing Vision of the Future” genre (recent examples include V for Vendetta, The Island, and any movie from Phillip K. Dick): they require the audience to accept a whole host of assumptions about what could happen – given recent societal trends – and come to certain conclusions based on those assumptions, no matter how far-fetched they may seem. The ultimate goal, typically, is to make a grand, incisive statement about our current milieu. Unfortunately, that goal is rarely achieved. (There are, of course, exceptions – Blade Runner and The Road Warrior are two of my favorite films.)
Not surprisingly, the future envisaged by Children of Men is a bleak one. It’s the year 2027 and London is a picture of urban dystopia, a veritable police state where Islam is banned and illegal immigrants are hunted down and herded into camps. The city’s wealthy residents, safely walled off from the teeming masses, pop tranquilizers to insulate themselves from the chaos and desperation that surrounds them.
If that weren’t enough, the entire world’s population has gone infertile and no one knows why. Is it the environment? Nutrition? Genetic engineering? Whatever the cause may be, it’s been 18 years since the last human child was born and people are starting to freak out.
Enter Theo Faron (Clive Owen), a bitter corporate drone seemingly resigned to watching the world end. When a politically active ex-girlfriend (Julianne Moore) convinces him to do her a favor, he stumbles upon something that could potentially change the world: a real, live pregnant woman named Kee (Claire-Hope Ashitey). Soon Theo is forced into the role of the reluctant hero and is tasked with shepherding Kee to a mysterious place called “The Human Project,” where she’ll find safe haven.
It’s not an easy job, as the mother and her baby face a number of threats, the most lethal of which comes from the Fishes, a revolutionary organization that eyes Kee’s unborn baby as a potent tool to rally citizens to their cause. In order to reach the Human Project, Theo and Kee must navigate their way through and increasingly dangerous urban landscape as society literally collapses around them.
Though flawed, Children of Men is an interesting film built on a genuinely intriguing premise. Director Alfonso Cuaron (Y tu mama tambien, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban) coaxes fine performances out of his highly skilled cast. Owen quite capably plays the cynical anti-hero and Michael Caine shines as an aging hippie who comes to his aid.
The place where Children of Men truly excels, however, is in its action sequences. A set piece of the film is a mesmerizing 20-minute scene in which a blood-splattered camera follows Owen as he tumbles through a chaotic war zone. Filled with invisible cuts, it’s made to look like a single, uninterrupted take. I’ve never seen a more riveting depiction of house-to-house urban warfare on film.
In another fantastic scene, a motorcycle carrying a would-be carjacker inadvertently collides with a minivan, sending the cyclist careening. It’s a very quick sequence, but it feels so realistic and unstaged, one almost wonders if it might have been a botched stunt captured by the camera during an errant take.
If only the rest of the movie could have been this gripping.