Few modern directors approach film with a sense of vision as full as Alfonso Cuarsn (“Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban”). He seems to create the entirety of a film, beginning to end, in one organic sweep. In “Children of Men,” Cuarsn, who is also one of five screenwriters credited with this adaptation of a P.D. James novel, sweeps through an apocalyptic future with a story that’s undeniably dark and drastic while still surprisingly full of energy.
The film manages to be captivating at the same time it’s relentlessly dismal, thanks in great part to Cuarsn’s construction of a world-gone-wrong that mimics a great deal of what’s going on in our current world.
The year is 2027, and, for reasons unknown, mankind has not been able to reproduce for nearly two decades. England is over-run with refugees and immigrants who are being caged in camps and deported. Essentially, the world has gone to hell and mankind is just waiting to die.
Like most people, onetime social activist Theodore Faron (Clive Owen) sees little hope as political sects battle one another; innocent men are treated like cattle; and despair reigns. But then his former love Julian (Julianne Moore) has him kidnapped one day so she can spring a surprise: She has somehow become the caretaker of a pregnant woman, Kee (Claire-Hope Ashitey).
How did Kee become pregnant? Well, assumedly the old-fashioned way, but why her in the face of universal infertility?
Julian’s group wants to smuggle the mother-to-be out of the country onto a ship where scientists are working to keep mankind alive, hoping she will provide some answers. And they turn to Faron to get documents that will allow Kee to cross the country legally.
All does not go well, predictably, and Faron ends up charged with keeping mankind’s only hope breathing while moving through Battlefield England. Which is none too easy since everybody is pretty much out to get everybody in one final frenzied feast of human madness.
That madness touches all too close to home as Cuarsn stages terrorist bombings, random attacks and military sieges. Perhaps the most frightening thing about the world he builds is its familiarity; as Faron and Kee inch toward the coastline, they become ensconced in constant battles, and news footage of Iraq inevitably comes to mind.
Owen brings the right mix of despair and foolish hope to his character. Faron is a man who has seen it all and given up, until he sees a lot more and finds the strength to persevere.
“Children” also gets some much-needed juice out of Michael Caine, playing Faron’s oldest friend, a political cartoonist turned pot-smoking hermit, seeking a solitude and safety that no longer exists.
But then no one exists outside of everyone else in this film; mankind is tied together in tragedy, meanness and a primal struggle to survive. Cuarsn strings it all together even as it is all falling apart.
In the end, though, things get a bit fuzzy. Despite its undeniable power and clear execution, “Children of Men” leaves you hanging in a few too many places. But then so does life.
Darkly poetic throughout, the film starts with an explosion and ends drifting in fog with no clear resolution in sight. How brave and oddly satisfying.