By Jonathan Babin
Most people who are film lovers have a firm recollection of the first film that genuinely changed their understanding of what the medium can achieve when it reaches its zenith. For me, that fond memory takes me back to high school. A friend of mine asked if I wanted to go see some movie called Children of Men. I had really no idea what the film was about, but I happily went along. This particular friend also had a fondness for good films, so I figured he knew what he was doing in this scenario.
For years since that fateful night in early 2007, the film has stuck with me in ways most other films have not. Sitting in that theater on that given evening, I was witness to something extraordinary unfolding on screen. For those not familiar, Children of Men follows Theo (played brilliantly by Clive Owen) as he is thrust into the perilous role of caregiver for a young girl who has become pregnant. Doesn’t sound like much on the surface, I know. But Children of Men takes place in a future in which women can no longer get pregnant. Thus, this pregnancy is a truly miraculous occasion that puts both Theo and the young girl, who goes by Kee, in immense danger. Challenged for control of the girl’s destiny by the Fishes, a radical group led by the always masterful Chiwetel Ejiofor (Luke) and Theo’s ex-wife Julian (Julianne Moore), Theo must sacrifice everything to help get Kee to safety.
There are many things that make Children of Men special in my mind. First, the performances are dazzling. Clive Owen has never been better as the unwitting citizen thrust into the mission of a lifetime. Supported superbly by Moore, Ejiofor, and newcomer Clare-Hope Ashitey as Kee, Owen takes the character of Theo to a place of compassion, nuance, and gives him a survivalist mentality that entrenches you in the singular goal of getting Kee and her baby out of harm’s way. Oh, and there’s Michael Caine. Sure, the tried and true thespian has had so many notable roles that it is hard to name them all, but Children of Men marks one of his five best. Yes, I said five best. He plays Theo’s stoner pal Jasper, a lovable, hilarious, tender, and thoughtful renegade who looks out for Theo and helps him along the way with a singular screen presence that few other actors in history have been able to match.
Second, the visual effects (you can see where Cuaron was able to sharpen his skills for Gravity) are something to behold. There is a harrowing and hyper-realistic chase sequence between a car and several motorcycles. Shot from inside the car on a rig that defied the conventions of modern film making, this sequence has been hailed as one of the best tracking shots ever done on celluloid. In the film’s final act, another long take of Theo running for his life to escape all-out destruction of a war torn village is another achievement of the highest order. Alfonso Cuaron and his cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki are a tandem that few other director/cinematographer combinations in Hollywood can match in terms of their technical skill and precision in crafting shots that leave audiences wondering how it is they saw what they just saw. It is a true shame and travesty that Children of Men did not win Best Cinematography or Achievement in Film Editing, two of the three awards it was nominated for at the 2007 Academy Awards. Further still, the fact that it wasn’t even nominated for Best Picture keeps me up at night to this day. Okay, not really. But in the long line of Oscar injustices, this one will always be near the top for me
All technical achievements and brilliant performances aside, Children of Men represents a film about hope. It epitomizes the idea that all people should strive for something more and that when given the opportunity to do something extraordinary for the common good of society, no one is immune from being chosen. Poignant, hilarious at times, thought-provoking, and revolutionary considering it is almost ten years old in a few years, Children of Men is a film that more people should see and deserves to be mentioned as one of the grandest achievements of the 2000s. Coming in the middle of a decade with so many memorable films, Children of Men somehow got lost in the shuffle. Perhaps it was the lack of recognition during awards season. Perhaps it was the limited release. Perhaps it was the lack of star power or a big-name director (at the time.) Alfonso Cuaron is now a power player in Hollywood from the director’s chair with the overwhelming success of Gravity, but few knew him in 2007. Whatever it was, Children of Men slipped through the cracks. Many films revered as classics have held that same fate but have thrived when re-examined in later years. In time, I hope Children of Men can reach that lofty position that I think it deserves.
Children of Men is my favorite film. I highly encourage anyone reading this blog to find a way to see it. Its ability to frustrate, dazzle, uplift, and inspire hope is not a combination many films offer.