Saturday, May 26, 2007

A Frightening Beauty: Children of Men

Possible spoilers ahead. You've been warned.

There is a feeling that comes with watching a great movie.

I liken it finishing a good book, or completing a challenging endeavor. There is a peace, and a sense of fulfillment that comes with the expected fatigue.

You take a moment to look around and really see the room you're in. You savor the feeling, because you don't know when it will come again.

I have just completed a great film.

This saddens me for two basic reasons.

The first is obvious. I have watched a movie that was made to near-perfection. It's flaws are negligable and don't detract from what could be the most important sci-fi movie of the decade. I won't see anything near this quality for a long time, unless "Transformers" carries with it more beauty than Michael Bay normally manages.

The second is that the title of my site is not "The Movie Review." Had that been the case, I could easily take my time digesting this film and producing a criticism of equal valor. But I have not yet made the leap to that cause.

Instead, I will take my right as blogger to give you my impressions of the film in a different color: that of film viewer, not reviewer.

First there is the simple matter of casting.

Clive Owen, a man whom I've come to respect in his craft, plays Theo. This man is down on his luck and living in a depressing state, regardless of the fact that humanity has become infertile and isn't long for this world. His wife/ex-wife is Julianne Moore, who asks him to take on a dangerous and illegal action for the simple reason that she trusts him.

Throw in Michael Kane, who's forgotten how to act in any way that won't win him an Oscar, as Jasper. This old political cartoonist lives with his catatonic wife in seclusion in the woods, smoking weed and waiting for the end.

In fact, the whole world is waiting for the end. Women no longer have children, and everyone understands the meaning of that simple fact. Streets are no longer cared for, garbage is no longer picked up, and no one washes their cars. It's a painfully realistic look at human depression.

Most people just quietly wait for death, or take government issued suicide drinks. Many have become criminals and terrorists, just because there is a sense of purpose in destruction and pain that makes them feel alive, if only briefly. A few turn to religion, but with anger, not hope. This is truly a world of sadness, as made very obvious by the somber color palette chosen by director Alfonso CuarĂ³n.

But something miraculous has happened. A young girl, Kee (Claire-Hope Ashitey in her first film) is pregnant. Rather than take her to the government, who might use the easy propaganda to continue their own rule, the terrorist group known as the Fishes (with Julianne as the leader) want to bring Kee to the Human Project, a group with the ultimate goal of saving humanity.

The side-plots notwithstanding, this is a quest movie to end-all quest movies. "Lord of the Rings" had a definitive good/bad ending, where either the ring ends up back on Sauron's finger or melted in the fires of Mount Doom.

Here it isn't nearly as simple. Even if Kee and her child make it to the Human Project, there is no guarantee that they can do much more than celebrate the birth of the last human again. It's that hope, the idea that something good can come of this miracle, that makes this movie so mezmerizing.

In terms of visual style, I was floored. This is the anti-Bladerunner, as the director puts it. The technology is slightly advanced, but dirty. Gray mud covers most cars, taking that possible "ooh that's pretty" moment away from this future. There are shiny things, but they are few and far between. For the most part, this movie is about reality, and the grim state of it.

In terms of realism (a term rarely applied to science-fiction) this movie is painfully realistic. Bullet kill you, and quickly. Like "Band of Brothers" or "Black Hawk Down", war and violence is presented as sudden and terrifying. People die with that snap that traumatizes you. When an uprising brings in the army against a group of fanatics, you feel like a bystander on the corner of a market in Baghdad.

The gritty and often bloody outcomes of these battles is shown in a documentary style, with long shots and very few cuts. Clive Owen runs past bodies and grieving family members. In the background of many scenes, a man might take a round and slump against a wall. The sound design is also as gruesome.

As someone who has, unfortunately, seen the bloody and awful side of war (as of yet only in video and in a hospital, b''H) I can say that the director and effects supervisor put together a very, very realistic portrayal of carnage and death. It's so much that I almost recommend watching this under supervisement. Some people can't handle reality.

But that's not what breaks you with this movie. In the few hours of film, you grow attached to the idea of babies being gone. You think about what it would mean not to ever hear a child laugh. Your heart aches with the idea of it, and then--poof. Well, a more liquid sound would be appropriate. The child is born, and it's as though hope floods the scene. No one is safe yet, and in fact most are in more danger, but that child is so perfect and fits the hole that life bleeds from.

Chiwetel Ejiofor (The Operative from "Serenity") plays the newly elected terrorist leader who wants Kee's child for his own purpose of starting an uprising. This man is one of the best actors I've seen in a long time. In his final scene, as he fires from a window at soldiers, he looks at Clive Owen, lost.

"I was taking her up the stairs and I just started crying. I forgot how beautiful they are." When people see the child, they just break down. They hear its cry and weep, so greatful to be near it. I honestly felt moved by the scenes where everyone stopped, just stopped dead in their tracks, and watched this miracle go past.

This was a great film, and visually stunning. I can't recommend it enough. I hope you've already seen it, otherwise I've revealed quite a bit, but that's what the warning up top is for.

Don't worry about being careful with this one.

Just watch.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

you misspelled "grateful", and Michael Cain's last name. He's no Citizen, dear.

Best of all though, was "supervisement."

This is why we need proof readers.