It’s 2027 and the world’s youngest citizen has just died at the age of 18. People take it hard. With fertility down the tubes, humanity is staring in the face of its own extinction and it’s a pretty bleak picture.
Theo, a former activist, is kidnapped by some scary dudes (Charlie Hunnam, Chiwetel Ejiofor) who turn out to be working for his ex Julian (Julianne Moore). The two haven’t seen each other in 20 years, since their son Dylan died in a flu epidemic, but as the world’s countries have collapsed around them, Julian has led an underground rebellion, and she needs Theo’s help. They need to illegally transport a refugee, Kee (Clare-Hope Ashitey), and while Theo’s cousin can secure the necessary papers, they obligate Theo into accompanying her. Which ends up being just as well because shit goes down and Kee needs Theo. But the world needs Kee: turns out, she’s pregnant with the world’s first baby in 18 years. Now it’s up to Theo to get her safely to a refuge at sea, but no one, not the government, not the angry mobs, not Julian’s own people, are going to make it easy for him.
First, this doesn’t need to be said but I will say it anyway: fucking Alfonso Cuaron. What a brilliant director. This is just such an astonishing work in film. The sense of urgency is brilliantly sustained throughout. There are so many scenes in this one movie that are best of career, highlight reel stuff that you can never quite catch your breath. There’s a long scene, kind of a car chase in reverse, where the car in question is specially outfitted so that a custom-rigged camera can rotate not just inside the vehicle, but outside the windshield as well. It’s fantastic, heart in throat stuff.
Cuaron stays away from exposition but the film never lacks. We aren’t told much about Theo but we’re shown quite a lot – nearly every scene contains an animal, and that animal is always drawn to him; he never touches a gun; his private cry for Julian; his aborted cigarettes; his seemingly unflappable response to crisis; his need to save others, even strangers. A character emerges without wasting a lot of time on formalities – that’s how you establish a frenetic pace.
And Cuaron’s setting of the film is second to none. It was filmed in 2005, just a few short weeks after London had its own terrorist bombing. Cuaron uses imagery from Pink Floyd (who often sang about oppression, war, and being) and Banksy, a guerilla street artist and political activist. At one point, the camera pans by cages with prisoners inside and one of them gives us a brief glimpse of the “hooded man” from the Abu Ghraib prison torture pictures, seen in the exact pose as the real pictures. There are specific calls to past wars, and political movements (Michael Caine has based his character on the fervent pacifist, John Lennon, Theo’s workplace is a nod to George Orwell’s 1984) but I was surprised how well it holds up, feeling every bit as relevant to today’s issues as those of a decade ago. Which is obviously not a good thing for the world but shows what a specific and visionary film maker Cuaron is. And meticulous. There are so many details, musical cues, religious references, nods to thematically-relevant literature that you lose count. You can’t even notice most upon first-watch, but you absorb them and get immersed in this gritty world and all of its noise and flaws and trauma.
With stunning lensing by Emmanuel Lubezki and astonishing, seamless editing by Cuaron and Alex Rodriguez, Children of Men is must-see moviedom in every sense. Cuaron is an immense talent; his is a filmography that must be discovered and rediscovered at every available opportunity.