Children of Men

Children of Men: One of the best films of last decade

Humans have become infertile. The youngest child alive has just been murdered for refusing to sign an autograph. A lot of people are in hysteria. Most have just given up. This is a society on the brink of its end. Bombings, raids, murders: these are all par for the course. When there is no new life, I guess life loses some of its value.

This is the world we enter at the beginning of Alfonso Cuaron’s great “Children of Men.” It is one of those rare cinematic treasures that succeeds on both a personal story level, as well, as reaching powerful new heights in direction and cinematography.

Cuaron really wants us to enter the England he creates in the film. He knows that an overabundance of CGI will put an immediate gloss and façade from which the audience will never break through, so instead he utilizes long, orchestrated handheld takes.

One need look no further than the opening sequence. The film centers around Clive Owen’s character. He purchases a coffee and notices a crowd. They are watching TV. He looks on. There is news that the youngest person alive has just been murdered. The camera faces Clive, but there happens to be a mirror above the EXIT door which allows us to see a glimpse of what is happening on the news. Half interested, Owen exits, and the camera follows. He walks down the street by the store, and we witness now that we are very clearly in a time that is not our own. We follow Clive to a garbage pail where he dumps a bit of the coffee out and we pivot around him as he dumps a bit of booze into the coffee. Then BAM! An explosion! The coffee shop blows up! He is shocked. WE are shocked, because WE were just in there. Clive was just in there! There have been no cuts. There has been no trickery. The viewer’s eyes are smart: we can detect the texture of CGI even when we don’t realize it. The audience now sits down in its seat because its eyes know they’ve seen an explosion. Congratulations Cuaron, we are now fully immersed in your world and story.

The virtuoso cinematography is what first gripped me about this feature. But there is so much to it. Clive Owen gives a virtuoso performance. He is no hero. He is just a regular guy. And in his gut, he has a sense of right, which in and of itself is heroic in these times. And Julianne Moore, in her brief screen time, creates an entire past for her and Owen.  Michael Caine is always fun to watch and the sound design of the film is particularly impressive. Just like the opening scene, it knows how to make the loud bits resonate by often playing with very quiet sections.

And, oh the long shots! In a time of generic directing and safety coverage, “Children of Men” creates more excitement than a million summer popcorn actioners without ever using the editor’s razorblade. Film students will probably study the long shot car chase sequence for years to come (NOTE:  I must add in here, that this is by no means a cost-effective technique as long shots often are in independent filmmaking—this sequence in particular employs a crap load of technology, equipment, crew, and car rigging. But this is what money should be employed for! But, make no mistake:  this is not INDIE speaking).

One might also study the long shots for secret cuts. While the filmmakers have verfied the car chase sequence is in fact one long shot; blood on a camera lens indicates that the final showdown long shot may have a cut in there somewhere. This is very well and good because early on in the shot, an amount of blood splatter comes onto the lens. It does remain there for quite a while (there may have been some digital clean up or add on as it does get weaker as the shot progresses) the shot eventually ends with a clean camera lens.

This is the one that got it right: about a world that very well may have gone wrong. But there is hope.

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