It’s 2027 in dystopian, apocalyptic London. Theo Faron (Clive Owen) struggles with loneliness and the implications of chaos. A mysterious plague of infertility has affected all women, and not a single human baby has been born in eighteen years. Theo’s depressive outlook begins to change when he is roped into a secret organization, headed by his ex-wife, that seeks to help refugees. Theo agrees to help and ends up aiding in the escape of one special woman who could change everything.
Alfonso Cuarón’s 2006 film, Children of Men, is a beautiful celebration of human life. Based on the 1992 novel by P.D James, the film is part drama, thriller, and sci-fi, with a little bit of action as well. Like many science fiction dystopias, Children of Men does not speak to fictional problems of fictional people, but places real and relevant concerns into fictional situations. The nightmarish situation of world-wide infertility speaks to issues like abortion and healthcare, while also providing an overwhelming reminder of the preciousness of each human life. The film provides a spectrum of humanity in its characters, from a burned-out marijuana grower who still relentlessly loves and cares for his invalid wife to a depressed man who lost his child. Theo is in conflict with the unknown (whatever force has caused the infertility), but he is also in conflict with society, which has turned on its head. He must sort through all the answers that society has come up with- religion, drugs, radical uprisings, strict laws, suicide- and find not only the right course, but hope.
The film also speaks to refugee situations, an issue that is even more relevant now in the United States than at the time of the film’s release. It seems to target an audience of political activists, although it does not call for immediate, rash actions. Instead, the film sends a message that asks audiences to look back to the fundamental things that connect all human beings. This message was the film’s main focus and is explored not only through the variety of characters, but also in various technical ways. One of Curarón’s trademarks is his unique integration of sound design and score. In Children of Men, he focuses on the sound (or lack thereof) of children’s voices and babies crying to direct the audience’s mind towards things like the innocence of children and the value of human life.
Although the characters contributed to the films’ message, I felt that the story had more of an impact on the film as a whole. The futuristic situation is very unique, and Theo’s character development and healing must come about in his journey through this situation. It’s a story about the hope that can be found in relationships and depending on others, which also points back to the film’s message.
Other technical achievements and director trademarks included the use of dark/ grey colors to reflect the darkness of the setting. Curarón was also able to help the audience develop empathy with his cinematography. He and directory of photography Emmanuel Lubezki used long and/or handheld shots that followed characters in key moments and often filmed through windows, cracked glass, and shelves to highlight private and tender moments in the characters’ journeys.
Children of Men was nominated for three Oscars in 2007, and won several other awards. Clive Owen and other cast members including Michael Caine, Julianne Moore, and Clare-Hope Ashitey gave their characters dignity and honesty. The film’s message was communicated beautifully and effectively, and I think it will prove to have timeless messages.