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November 14, 2006

Children of Men


Alfonso Cuaron - 2006
Universal Pictures 35mm Film

Last Saturday was my last night in Berlin. It was also my birthday, and as I usually do to celebrate, I went to a movie. Across the street from where I was staying, at the Berlin Sony Plaza is the CineStar theater. What makes this theater somewhat unusual is that the theater makes a point of showing English language films in English. Even German Tom Twyker’s new film, Perfume, was the English language version. The screens are actually underground requiring two sets of escalators after buying reserved seats, the seating is stadium style with good sized screens, and surprisingly, I saw an English language film in Germany with no subtitles. The only downside to this film-going experience was seeing about as many commercials as one sees at an American multiplex.

Not scheduled to open stateside until Christmas, The Children of Men makes for an interesting bookend to V for Vendetta. Both are big budget films from major studios that as slightly disguised science fiction attack the politics of George Bush and Tony Blair. Children of Men takes place in 2027 but is clearly a slight exaggeration of life in 2006. The film can also be read as an extension of the political subtext of Y Tu Mama Tambien, brought up to the forefront. With the clout gained from making a Harry Potter film, Alfonso Cuaron had an agenda that he was able to address with a vengeance, more directly dealing with the disparities of between classes, races and nationalities, using P.D. James' novel for some basic narrative elements.

The British government that exists in Children of Men is more savage in its indictment of alleged terrorists, including an expulsion of all non-British citizens into internment camps. Cuaron simultaneously looks to the past of Nazi Germany and the more recent past of ethnic cleansing in the former Yugoslavia, Abu Ghraib, soldiers who work for Homeland Security, and posters encouraging citizens to inform on suspected illegal aliens. This is also a future where cars sometime require jump starts. One scene that could be described as fantastic involves Danny Huston job to preserve the last remaining examples of Western art, including a recontructed "David" from Michelangelo missing a leg, Picasso's "Guernica" on his office wall, and the Pink Floyd pig floating outside. Into this mix is a young woman who finds herself pregnant and in danger, both for being an illegal alien and to keep from having her baby used for political purposes. Cuaron looks at political idealism lost, held onto, rediscovered or corrupted.

While Clive Owen is the reluctant protector of the pregnant young woman, and former idealist with a renewed sense of mission, Michael Caine is the heart of the film. As one of the most visible stars who made his mark in the Sixties, Caine's presence is a kind of signpost of an era of both turbulence and idealism. Underneath the uncharacterist hippie hairdo is the familiar grin, with Caine as last true believer from the Viet-Nam era. The soundtrack provides an aurel commentary with late Sixties and early Seventies nuggets from Deep Purple and King Crimson, as well as odd cover versions of The Beatles and Rolling Stones.

Children of Men does not offer the wish-fulfillment fantasy of V for Vendetta. The conclusion is guardedly optimistic. The premise that "the future is now" is a familiar trope for science fiction. In the hands of Alfonso Cuaron, the message in Children of Men is both urgent and eloquent.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at November 14, 2006 10:55 AM


Happy birthday!

Posted by: A. Horbal at November 15, 2006 04:44 PM