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January 19, 2007
Movie Review: Children Of Men

I took half a day off from work today to take the First Mate home from the hospital and then get her to her regularly scheduled dialysis treatment. When I dropped her off inside the center, she teased me about what I would do with the unexpected few hours of free time, saying that she figured I'd spend the time blogging, "as usual". I told her that I might take the opportunity to do something different, perhaps even take in a movie.

I should have stuck with the FM's suggestion.


The movie that best fit my free time was one that had flown under my radar, a grim apocalyptic movie called Children of Men by Alfonso Cuarón. The film features a fine cast, mostly British except for Julianne Moore as the leader of a terrorist group known as the Fishes, and she doesn't stick around too long. It wastes a fine performace by Chiwetel Ejiofor, who turned in a chillingly complex performance in Serenity as a government operative and true believer.

The acting is actually uniformly excellent. The cinematography and the direction are handled well, too. The problem is with the script, as it is exceedingly difficult to swallow. The premise of the movie is that the entire female population of the Earth suddenly became sterile in 2009 or thereabouts, and it is now 2027 and the human population has disintegrated. Armageddon has come and gone, and most of the nations of the world ceased existing in the intervening period, except Great Britain. (There'll always be an England!) Unfortunately, most of the people who are left have attempted to emigrate to the island nation, which has rounded the "illegal immigrants" up into concentration camps, where they fight the British Army and each other.

Most of this has to be gleaned from old scraps of newspapers that inexplicably cover a lot of the windows in this movie. The film itself operates as if the backstory is widely known, which is one hindrance to the telling of the tale. If you don't pick up some of the headlines, such as (paraphrased) "RUSSIA LAUNCHES APOCALYPSE, KAZAKHSTAN CEASES TO EXIST", you'll wonder why everyone wants to come to the perpetually gloomy and fascist Britain.

The film focuses on the political chaos that has ensued since the unexplained lack of fertility, an affliction affecting the women, according to the story. It's explained as resulting from sudden religious fervor and a fascist government takeover. All of the Left's hobbyhorses come into play in this movie, especially about fascism and the war on terror, because the people with whom we're intended to sympathize all are or were activists at one time or another. Michael Caine plays an old retired political cartoonist -- which you only know if you read the IMDB trivia section -- and adorning his walls, rather anachronistically, is a series of cartoons referencing George Bush.

Sublety is not Cuarón's forté, apparently.

The movie starts moving when Moore has her old flame Theo (played by Clive Owen) kidnapped so that she can ask him a favor: she needs transit papers for someone the Fishes want to hide. He uses a contact at the ministry to get the papers, and then joins Moore and her cohorts for a car ride in which Moore and two police officers wind up dead. It turns out that the woman who needed the papers is pregnant -- and the Fishes want to spirit her out of the country before the government can find out.

None of this makes any sense at all. The woman, Kee, meets Theo and despite his obvious lack of understanding of the situation, proclaims her trust in him above the people who have kept her safe up to that point. Theo convinces her to run away from the Fishes when he overhears that they want to kill him and probably her, too, after the baby is born, which again makes no sense -- since she's the only fertile woman in the world, and they want to use the baby to show that the human race isn't finished yet. In fact, it's really unclear what they want with the baby; it's never explained, except that somehow the child's presence will start a popular uprising that will overthrow the fascist government and free the illegal immigrants.

Theo and Kee go on the run, trying to find a way to reach a group called The Human Project which he believes will keep the baby and the mother safe. For some reason, even though Britain is an island, they figure the only way they can get to a boat is to break into a specific concentration camp. This allows Cuarón to show the depravities of British rule (which is a transparent stand-in for the Bush administration), but again makes no narrative sense at all.

Suffice it to say, the baby gets born at a bad time, Theo and Kee manage to get mixed up in a series of firefights in the camp (some of which involve radical Islamists for equal time), but the baby survives. It's predictable and it's silly. However, it is expertly staged, and there are harrowing and suspenseful sequences. The violence is very realistic, as is the birth scene, which comes as close to reality as I've seen yet in a film without using actual birth footage.

Children of Men isn't completely awful, but it's a waste of your time and money. Catch it on cable instead.

UPDATE: CQ commenter Coriolan notes that Anthony Sacramone didn't like it either, and for much the same reasons. He goes into more detail in his review.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at January 19, 2007 8:23 PM

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