Criterion Prediction #181: Children of Men, by Alexander Miller
Title: Children of Men
Director: Alfonso Cuaron
Cast: Clive Owen, Julianne Moore, Clare Ashitey, Danny Huston, Michael Caine, Chiwetel Ejiofor
Synopsis: A disaffected bureaucrat becomes involved with a plot by an activist group led by his estranged ex-wife to smuggle a miraculously pregnant woman to a sanctuary in the year 2027 where ecological degradation has made the human race infertile.
Critique: Alfonso Cuaron is a filmmaker who utilizes cinema. Yes, he’s an artist and an adept craftsman but he’s a director who, with Children of Men, uses the medium to sound out a political, ecological and, above all, social message in the best way possible, through genre. It’s a propulsive movie, in terms of momentum, action and story. Its overall stylistic delivery is declaratively blunt. It’s a dystopian science fiction story rooted in predictive sociology. But this isn’t the allegorical variety of sci-fi. Cuaron isn’t trying to smuggle a message under a veil of phasers, jumpsuits and flying cars. Children of Men wears its message of a dangerous empirical forecast with zero subtlety. And yet the caustic and explicit exploration of a world in decay plays with a naturalistic bent. It’s complicated and dense. There are shifting factions splintering within clandestine activist groups, machinations of fascistic immigration laws, refugee camps, uprisings and years of backstory to elaborate and explain. There’s exposition galore. It’s plastered all over and yet there are hardly any obvious explanations or boring, oratory dialogue. The commentary is done through articulate design and characterizations. One of the most sobering performances is the mute one of Janice Palmer, Jasper’s (Caine) catatonic wife, played by Philippa Urquhart. Her area is a chronicle of her life which is in tandem with the film’s history. Her collection of editorials, headlines and political cartoons (thanks to Jasper) tell the crucial points of the story, providing some depth and substance. And the haunting presence of Janice also doles out some unspoken import. This is a society that mirrors ours and, if we carry on, we’ll live in a community where people who are outspoken and vie for human rights will be battered into submission. The countless horrors we see in Children of Men have staying power but there’s an implied subtext that lingers in a freaky, taken-to-a-black-site-and-stopped-talking kind of way.
There’s a flurry of technical wonders, explosions and elaborate action choreography caught in long takes. In Children of Men, Cuaron’s direction feels natural, fluid and vital.
Why It Belongs in the Collection: With all the attention on Cuaron and the enthusiastic response to Roma, it would be an ideal time to capitalize on one of his best titles such as Children of Men. On top of that, Cuaron’s first title in The Criterion Collection, Solo con Tu Pareja, is due for a Blu-ray upgrade and, with the hints dropped in this year’s “wacky new year’s drawing,” rumors point to the director’s seminal 2006 film getting a spine number. Plus, if Children of Men gets a Criterion release, it would be a pivotal turning point for Criterion’s distribution model, which would open up the doors for more ambitious titles.