Children of Men (2006)

100 Films’ 100 Favourites #19

The year 2027:
The last days of the human race.
No child has been born for 18 years.
He must protect our only hope.

Country: USA & UK
Language: English… and German, Italian, Romanian, Spanish, Arabic, Georgian & Russian, apparently.
Runtime: 109 minutes
BBFC: 15
MPAA: R

Original Release: 22nd September 2006 (UK)
First Seen: cinema, October 2006

Stars
Clive Owen (Inside Man, Shoot ‘Em Up)
Julianne Moore (The Hours, Still Alice)
Michael Caine (The Italian Job, Batman Begins)
Chiwetel Ejiofor (Serenity, 12 Years a Slave)
Danny Huston (The Proposition, X-Men Origins: Wolverine)

Director
Alfonso Cuarón (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Gravity)

Screenwriters
Alfonso Cuarón (Y Tu Mamá También, Gravity)
Timothy J. Sexton (Live from Baghdad, The Liberator)
David Arata (Brokedown Palace, Spy Game)
Mark Fergus (First Snow, Iron Man)
Hawk Ostby (First Snow, Cowboys & Aliens)

Based on
The Children of Men, a novel by P.D. James.

The Story
In the near future, mankind has become infertile, and no child has been born for 18 years. The world has gone to hell, with Britain one of the few countries that still has a functioning government, albeit a controlling, totalitarian one. In this world, government drone Theo is persuaded by his ex-wife, now head of an activist group, to escort a friend out of the country. Turns out that friend is a young woman… who’s pregnant — a situation that interests a lot of dangerous people…

Our Hero
Theo, disillusioned former activist, who’s roped back in, initially by kidnap, later with the promise of a hefty payday. Before long it turns out he’s actually a good guy at heart, of course.

Our Villains
“The rest of humanity” wouldn’t be a wholly bad answer here, as Theo and co keep bumping up against people violently concerned with their own interests. Within that, there’s the issue of if the activist group’s motives can be trusted…

Best Supporting Character
Theo’s friend Jasper, a former political cartoonist turned pot dealer, played by Michael Caine as a John Lennon-inspired old hippy.

Memorable Quote
“As the sound of the playgrounds faded, the despair set in. Very odd, what happens in a world without children’s voices.” — Miriam

Memorable Scene
Any of the (faked-)single-take action sequences is a worthy pick here. Alternatively, fans of a certain rock group will appreciate the inflatable pig floating over Battersea Power Station.

Technical Wizardry
As our heroes escape in a little Fiat, they’re attacked on a country road, the camera moving around the small person-filled vehicle in a single take. They used a special camera rig, along with a car modified to allow the windscreen to tilt out of the camera’s path, and seats that tilted to lower the actors out of the way too. The “single” shot took six takes in four locations, transition effects to seamlessly join shots, and CGI to create the motorbike, windscreen, blood, roof, and more.

Making of
The other most memorable single take is near the end, a running street battle during which Clive Owen’s layperson does his best to not get killed. It took 14 days to prepare the shot, with a delay of five hours every time it had to be reset. It was filmed over the course of two days, but only one complete take was actually captured. In the middle of one take, some blood spattered on the camera lens; Cuarón shouted “cut”, but was drowned out by the sound of tank and gunfire. Cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki persuaded the director to leave it in, and that’s the shot in the final film. Pay attention during the sequence and you can see the liquid and dirt that gets splattered on the lens disappear during one of the ‘seamless’ cuts.

Awards
3 Oscar nominations (Adapted Screenplay, Cinematography, Editing)
2 BAFTAs (Cinematography, Production Design)
1 BAFTA nomination (Visual Effects)
1 Saturn Award (Science Fiction Film)
2 Saturn nominations (Actor (Clive Owen), Director)
Nominated for the Hugo for Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form.

What the Critics Said
“[Cuarón] increasingly shoots the film’s set pieces in virtuoso long takes — gliding tracking shots that evoke Tarkovsky and handheld work that suggests Kathryn Bigelow. What makes these scenes stunning is not only mind-boggling choreography and timing, with Emmanuel Lubezki’s camera somehow capturing multiple planes of action even while continuously changing position, but also their ability to realistically evoke the frightening chaos and simultaneous madness of war. […] Such overwhelming studio work might be too arty for those who like their genre served sans showiness. But Cuarón is implementing a verisimilitude that both matches the film’s edge-of-your-seat escalations and demonstrates a new understanding of blockbuster realism.” — Michael Joshua Rowin, Stop Smiling

Score: 92%

What the Public Say
“Cuarón uses sequences evocative of Holocaust imagery and detention camps to implicitly communicate a world rife with injustice and pain. In designing the look of the film, Cuarón told his art department that he did not want inventiveness, but reference, so that an audience would be able to adequately recognize a distorted form of their own reality. For the reader and viewer who encounter this uncanny world, it feels all the more real because of its familiar elements.” — Mariel Calloway

Verdict

I saw Children of Men on a whim back in 2006. I can’t even remember why — I don’t think I’d seen any trailers or reviews, and it had been open for a good few weeks already. It was a time when I went to see loads at the cinema, though (in those days I paid good money to see Fun with Dick and Jane — does anyone even remember that?), and I think it may’ve been the only thing still on. Anyway, it meant I actually got in a little ahead of the hype that has gradually (and justifiably) grown around the film since, and still loved it. Cuarón mixes intelligent near-future sci-fi with exciting, and excitingly-realised, action sequences to create an action-thriller of a movie that stimulates both the mind and the adrenal glands. A fantastic film in every respect.

#22 will be next… to give the Devil his due.

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4 thoughts on “Children of Men (2006)

  1. Yep agree with this one. I saw it at the cinema too and it remains one of the most interesting dystopian visions I’ve ever seen, clearly marking its director as one to watch. I know people who think he came out of nowhere with Gravity, unaware of Children of Men… its funny how this film slipped some people by; another such film is Gatacca. Wonder if thats coming up when you get up to ‘G’…?

    Anyway thanks for reminding me that I really must rewatch this one sometime soon.

    Liked by 1 person

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