Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Alfonso Cuaron's Children of Men

Warning: Spoilers Abound
Normally, I dislike giving spoilers because I think the point of a review is to inform the potential readers/ watchers what they're getting themselves into. However, the only part of Children of Men that I have issues with is the end.
The premise of the movie is a future where there are no children. It opens with Clive Owen's character Theo Faron ordering coffee at a cafe. On the TV screens above him, a newscaster is announcing that Baby Diego, the youngest person in the world was just killed at the age of 18. Over the next hour or so, Theo gets embroiled in a terrorist plot to transport a young pregnant woman, Kee, out of a totalitarian Britain and into the hands of another organization reportedly made up of scientists called The Human Project.
I really enjoyed the movie. It had the perfect dystopian atmosphere, strange yet painfully familiar. It struck a nice balance between portraying two separate components: a world and the people who live in it. There's a pretty sweet interplay between characters being used as vehicles for the plot and setting and vice versa. One great example of this is the portrayal of Michael Caine's character Jasper, a former political cartoonist turned hippie who has retreated to the woods to care for catatonic wife Janice and to grow weed. Carefully placed newspaper articles reveal that Janice had been journalist that the government had denied torturing. It's both a character study and an example of influential people who err.
Overall, despite the setting and the atmosphere, this is a hopeful story. Amidst all the ugliness of a world dominated by a violent totalitarian government and just as violent underground groups, there are still brief moments of tenderness and humor. It's not a happy story, but it proposes the potential for happiness. It's a story of human endurance. Theo Faron goes from being a character that cares more about his coffee than the death of Baby Diego, a man who's accepted that the world has gone to shit, to running through a glass littered street in flip flops, dodging bullets, to rescue Kee and her baby. I'm emphasizing this because I believe that Children of Men at its core is about people and the complexities of people rather than ideals. I'm citing the word "men" in the title as evidence. It's a movie grounded in reality rather than concept and I feel like the ending was much too conceptual which is a sad departure from the grittiness of the movie.
SPOILER: The movie ends with Kee, the baby, and a severely wounded Theo in a rowboat with a ship coming out of the mist. A close up gives up the name of the ship Tomorrow (which is the that was arranged by the Human Project to pick Kee) but has a disconcerting lack of people. There are shadowy figures on the deck, but no faces. After 90 minutes of Alfonso Cuaron painstakingly injecting humanity into of most minor of characters, I’ve expected that salvation will also have a human face.
The friend that I watched this with accused me of wanting sunshine and rainbows. However, I wasn't dissatisfied with the ending because it wasn’t happy—the end credits have the sound of laughing children--, but because it was too simple. The ending lends itself too easily to symbolism, to science, to the future, to some broad ideal disconnected from people and also the mistakes that people make. It’s folly to takes humans out of The Human Project.


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