Director: Alfonso Cuarón
Screenplay: Alfonso Cuarón, Timothy J Sexton, David Arata, Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby
Starring: Clive Owen, Julianne Moore, Clare-Hope Ashitey, Michael Caine
Duration: 109 min
BBFC Certification: 15
Written and directed by Alfonso Cuarón, who would go on to great success with Gravity, Children of Men is one of the most overlooked sci-fi films of recent years. Now with the success of the TV adaptation of A Handmaid’s Tale, which shares a similar set up, its time to reassess this film, which has been given the deluxe treatment by Arrow Video.
Loosely based on P.D. James’ 1992 novel of the same name, the film is set in the United Kingdom of 2027. For almost twenty years, women have mysteriously been unable to have children. The result is a human race with no hope of a future, and civilisation is close to imploding. The government has passed laws banning immigration, sealing off British borders and rounding up anyone not born in the country and imprisoning them in concentration camps. And the streets are no longer safe as terror groups routinely bomb civilian targets.
Against this backdrop, we are introduced to Theo Faron (Clive Owen), a former activist now working for the Ministry of Energy, who has resigned himself to spend his remaining time on Earth looking for the answer at the bottom of a bottle. Barely surviving a terrorist attack, he finds himself contacted by his former lover, Julian Taylor (Julianne Moore) who is the leader of a rebel group called The Fishers. Theo is tasked with obtaining transit papers for Kee, a young West African refugee, who the Fishers are trying to get to the coast to reach a mysterious group called the Human Project. After a series of traumatic events, he finds himself on the run with Kee, who has a secret that could change the fate of mankind.
Cuarón’s film makes a lot of changes to James’ book, most notably dropping the overtly Christian themes which do come across as far too preachy in the book, and at times his script is a little cumbersome – with characters required to deliver exposition speeches with bullets whistling past their head. However, the film is stunningly beautiful to watch. Never has dirt, grime and decay been portrayed with such beauty as it is by Cuarón and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki. The future in Children of Men is far removed from the neon lit world of Blade Runner – this is a world that is recognisable to contemporary eyes, as if humanity has decided to stop innovating and just accept their fate. London is still London, just dirtier and with more refugees in cages.
Clive Owen is superb in the role of world-weary Theo, forced into the role of reluctant hero. Julianne Moore is unfortunately a little underused, which is a shame as she is such a great actress. Cuarón is blessed to have a great cast which includes Chiwetel Ejiofor as Julian’s lieutenant, Peter Mullan as a psychotic border guard, Danny Huston as the government minister living in Battersea Power Station surrounded by great works of art saved from the hordes and, my personal favourite, Sir Michael Caine as the ageing hippy drug dealer hiding out in his compound in the woods.
Revisiting Children of Men twelve years later, the thing that strikes me is how, like all great sci-fi, it has predicted a future that we are now sadly edging towards. Mass migration was a major issue in 2006, so it’s not surprising that it should be so central to the film. However in 2006, no one had predicted the Syrian refugee crisis, or that the US President would propose registering Muslims and build a wall on the US/Mexico border, or that the UK would vote to leave the European Union after a campaign of misinformation that targeted immigrants. As we all know, governments and the media like nothing more than creating fear in its citizens and in Children of Men they’re terrified at the very real prospect of the end of the human race through an unexplainable infertility epidemic. This future government deflects the difficult questions by pointing the blame at those that are different, stoking the hatred against all that are not British born. It’s a pretty grim future.
This new Blu-ray release by Arrow Academy is bursting with extras including some that are newly commissioned. Bryan Reesman’s commentary is highly informative detailing the making of the film. The new appreciation by Philip Kemp is a little too dry for my tastes, but far more interesting is Kat Ellinger’s Video essay on the film and the original book, especially highlighting PD James’ feminist ideas. The remaining extras consist of archival material previously available.
One of the great science fiction films of the 2000s, but sadly underrated, Children of Men is ready for re-evaluation. In my opinion this is Alfonso Cuarón’s masterpiece and should be held in the same high regard as Gravity.
Children of Men is released on Blu-ray by Arrow Academy and includes the following extras:
• New audio commentary by author and critic Bryan Reesman
• There is No Future, a new video appreciation by film historian Philip Kemp
• Fertility & Progeny, a new video essay by author and critic Kat Ellinger
• The Possibility of Hope, an archival documentary featuring interviews with activist Naomi Klein, philosopher Slavoj Zizek and others, exploring the film’s resonance with contemporary current affairs
• Comments by Slavoj Zizek, an archival featurette on the film’s themes
• Creating the Baby, an archival featurette on the film’s visual effects
• Futuristic Design, an archival featurette on the film’s sets
• Theo & Julian, an archival featurette on Clive Owen, Julianne Moore and their characters
• Under Attack, an archival featurette on the film’s ground-breaking camerawork
• Deleted scenes
• Image gallery