The future is unwritten, at the best of times. Though, in this statement, there is the unspoken acknowledgement that yes, our children are the ones who will be the ones to write it. So what happens when there are no more children? Does that mean we no longer have a future?
Alfonso Cuarn’s 2006 adaptation of PD James’s novel Children of Men is bleak. It is dark. It is about the end of the line for humanity. But it is shot so beautifully, and in such an interesting and captivating way, that the darkness becomes hypnotic, almost alluring. CuarÃn’ uses the camera as a true capture implement, favoring long, uninterrupted takes, both to call attention to the inanity of the world in some cases being punctured by sudden violence and to be an impartial observer of the world’s end. Of course, not all the shots were true uninterrupted takes, but rather very cleverly edited together sequences to give the appearance of same. But the power lies in what is being shown, not how it was done.
The vistas captured reference many things, both contemporary and classical. It was designed as the “anti-Blade Runner“, giving the appearance of a world that had reached a certain point and had just stopped and given up on progress. Hence the lack of futuristic technology or architecture. The overall feel of the setting is supposed to bring to mind such disparate things as Guantanamo Bay and Pink Floyd’s Animals, Abu Ghraib and Michelangelo’s La Piet , Picasso’s Guernica and the Holocaust. It’s purposefully unsettling, showing humanity at it’s endpoint. This is the world the viewer is dropped into, and the long takes mentioned above soak the viewer in its despair.
And then there’s the actual story. Clive Owen plays the taciturn and damaged Theo wonderfully, giving real anger and hurt to the character that plays off the others in a real and powerful way. Seeing him slowly come around to protect the pregnant woman is a wonderful piece of acting, as it plays out in his features, and his reactions to the other characters. One can never be sure of his motivations either, for most of the film, whether he is doing it for a sense of duty to humanity/his ex, or whether he’s doing it because he’s given up hope and just needs some sort of direction, and flipping the finger to the world is the best he can do otherwise. Weird similarities to the film Shoot ‘Em Up, actually.
So, yes, bleak is an understatement when it comes to this film. “Everything is terrible forever” seems to be the going theory of society in it. But for some reason, it’s a movie that gave me hope when I saw it. In a weird way, the final image of what could be the first or last child born to humanity made me hopeful rather than hopeless. Maybe things will work out. Maybe things will get better. Maybe humanity will learn it’s lesson and rise again. Or maybe not. But we’re left with that. The hope.