Best Movies of All Time #160: Children of Men (2006) Directed by Alfonso Cuaron
Children of Men takes many of the elements of modern action films and mixes them with a deeply troubling science fiction story, creating at once a thoughtful and highly entertaining piece. It is set in a world where humanity has all at once lost the ability to reproduce, set 18 years after the event. Suddenly, a pregnant woman is found, and a group of people must help her escape to a bastion of humanity.
It is a highly pessimistic work. Though there’s no violence in the natural end of birth, the people react with much hatred, and the world falls to chaos as people begin to realize they’re going to be the last humans on earth. The fear of the film is that the first pregnant woman in years will be a target simply because of her ability to bring hope.
Much like his earlier Y tu mama tambien, Cuaron uses Children of Men to look at contemporary issues in an outside setting. Much of the imagery of the film recalls incidents in the War on Terror. Some scenes use direct recreations of events like the photos from Abu Ghraib. The chaos of the world is in part suggested to be caused by the governments of the world failing to help out society at large.
The two most chaotic scenes are brought back to reality through Cuaron’s use of long takes. As the main group is driving through the woods, they are suddenly attacked. There’s no stopping for any cut, allowing a smooth presentation. It adds a layer of realism to the work by not relying on the magic of establishing shots to essentially disconnect the image of someone shooting a gun and someone getting shot. In Children of Men, all these minor actions take place at once.
It is a rare modern example of how deep an action film can be. There is a lot of musing about the nature of man throughout this film, but not once does it come to a stop. From the opening scene, it is established that nothing is safe, so even when the film takes a break from the violence, you’re never quite sure if it’s going to suddenly pick up again. It is the story of people constantly in search of safety, but it’s a world where safety probably stopped existing long ago.
Children of Men is one of the best examples of what modern film techniques and ideas can do when handled by a skilled director. While many directors opt instead for quick cuts thanks to the simplified process of film editing, Cuaron instead uses modern technology to make the image itself more impressive to behold. It is one of the most visually breathtaking films of the 2000s, and it’s hard to imagine a film managing what it pulls off from any earlier era.