In Alfonso Cuarón’s Children of Men, the world has gone to hell. Based on P. D. James’ 1992 novel of the same name, the film is set in 2027 and no babies have been born for 18 years due to a global infertility crisis. This has caused a worldwide economic collapse and the UK is inundated with illegal immigrants, so many that the army is always in force, rounding them up to send to hideous refugee camps across the country. They look like makeshift shanty towns; the people forced there have built their own hierarchy and barter with violent guards.
Where there is a human rights crisis, there is a human rights uprising. A militant group called the ‘Fishes’ seek the help of our lead, Theo (Clive Owen), as they harbor a young immigrant girl, Kee (Clare-Hope Ashitey) who is miraculously eight months pregnant. They believe they can acquire safe passage to the mysterious ‘Human Project’ – a supposed safe space for refugees in need that is only known through whispers and rumors.
Theo is something of an everyman; he has no discernible personality traits, and what we learn about him is in bits and pieces from the people around him. This is no bad thing in context – he is instantly relatable. The audience is able to project onto him and we are made to think: what would we do? We constantly hope that somehow the next person they meet will be kind, that they will do what we’d like to think we would. In the world Cuarón has created it’s impossible to know who to trust. Other than Theo, we have no idea what anyone really wants from Kee, and are left to wonder if this uprising really have her best interests at heart.
The film boasts more than a handful of familiar faces in its supporting cast, with Julianne Moore, Michael Caine and Chiwetel Ejiofor all doing what they do best. Cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezkil also creates something rather remarkable behind the camera. Gut-wrenching single-shot action sequences take an observer’s perspective, shakily following Theo on foot and ending with an often blood-splattered lens. We are literally in this world with them, it’s visceral and thrilling. The film is filled with powerful imagery, the last act featuring a particularly moving, almost biblical, metaphor.
It is simultaneously soul-crushing and spirit-lifting. Watching twelve years after its release, the potent themes of immigration, border control, and seeking humanity in others means Children of Men remains more timely than ever.
Dir: Alfonso Cuarón
Cast: Clive Owen, Clare-Hope Ashitey, Michael Caine, Chiwetel Ejiofor
DoP: Emmanuel Lubezkil
Music: John Tavener
Country: UK & USA
Runtime: 109 min
Children of Men is available on special edition DVD and Blu-Ray from November 5th.