Sunday, June 8, 2008

Children of Men: Antidote to Hollywood Shlockfests

Every once in a while, something truly extraordinary comes out of Hollywood. The conditions are always the same: a director of such renown that the studio execs give them complete creative control; the director is also him/herself involved in writing the script, as part of his/her grand vision. The more extraordinary the director, the more extraordinary the vision.

Cue Alfonso Cuaron. Resume: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, and Y Tu Mama Tambien. Cuaron managed to secure a large budget and complete creative control of the film adaptation of P.D. James's book.

The result, my friends, is one of the most shockingly relevant movies ever made, a movie that will play your emotions like an instrument without seeming to try.

The plot, only as much as you need to appreciate my review:

In 2009, inexplicably, humans lost the ability to procreate. No more babies, no more children; at this point the world's population will only fall inexorably towards zero. In 2027, the time the movie is set, human society is sliding into collapse. Britain is the only remaining nation that clings to a semblance of order, and at the cost of an oppressive fascist government. The movie opens with the protagonist exiting a coffee shop just in time to watch it explode from an act of domestic terrorism. In London. Refugees (called, "fugees") pour into Britain, which uses its grossly-militarized police force to collect and deport them.

The story centers around Theo, played masterfully by Clive Owens, an ex-revolutionary who lost his will to live when his son died. He drifts through life, clinging to alcoholism and his only friend, Jasper (an amazing Michael Caine) to fill the void. Everything changes when his ex-wife Julian (Juliane Moore), representing a pro-immigration terrorist group, presents him a deal: use his connections to escort a fugee to the coast in exchange for a large sum of money. Theo reluctantly agrees, only to find himself as the primary protector of the worlds only pregnant women.

There are so many things I want to say about this movie that I have to split it into two posts. The rest of this post will be general praise, so as not to ruin any plot points. The next post will contain more specific musings that might be spoilers. Without further ado...

Why Children of Men Kicks Severe Amounts of Ass

1. The Strength And Depth of the Vision.

The world of Children of Men is as immersive as it is hopeless. Cuaron draws you in immediately and viscerally with the impeccable set design and camera technique. Most mainsteam movies cut between different shots frequently, and it is a double-edged sword: it makes the movie more visually stimulating but serves to disconnect the audience from any one perspective. Cuaron, by contrast, makes deft use of long, uncut shots; the effect is to ground the audience firmly in the events taking place. And it works: the first time many people see the movie, they arent even aware that a certain shot has gone on for two, five, or even ten minutes during the harrowing climax. Ebert said it best, "Every time the director cuts to another shot, he's lying to you." The most exciting scenes in Children of Men have the fewest cuts.

The impeccable attention to detail works in conjuction with camera technique to draw in the viewer. Many fantastical movies rely on the expansiveness of their world to wow and impress the audience (think 5th element), yet in their overtness leave nothing to be inferred. Cuaron takes the opposite approach -- he teases you, whets your appetite with the subtlest of details. The act of paying close attention to the movie is rewarded with a rare richness of content. For instance, the average audience member is begging for more detail: "What is happening to the rest of the world?" The answer is alluded to, mentioned briefly, but never shown. The opening lines of the movie are the drone of a TV newsman reciting, "Today is day one-thousand of the siege of Seattle." Later in the movie, it is revealed to us fleetingly that a nuclear bomb was detonated in New York. The audience is left to draw its own conclusion about what state the USA is in. The details that Cuaron choses to reveal are only that which he must in order to tell the story of Theo.

And that's another of what makes CoM so great, is that for all of its symbolism and consideration of larger themes, it is about the journey and redemption of one of the most believable heroes toever to grace the silver screen.

Oh, and did I mention that it has some of the most believable and exciting action I've ever seen?

Go watch it now, and then come back for part 2 for the discussion.

No comments: