Friday, January 12, 2007

Review: Children Of Men (reasonably spoiler-free)

Children of Men is a distopian movie, about a world where no woman has given birth for 18 years. It contains the most powerful scene I've ever seen on film. Kee, a young black woman is going into labour on a bus at the entrance way of a refugee camp. We're watching her fighting the contractions and out the window we see refugees being tortured by the police.

What made this sequence so powerful was not that it showed us a distopian future, but that it showed us our distopian present. The images of refugees who are selected as dangerous at the entrance to the campis deliberately evocative of photos we've all seen from Abu Grahib. The camp they then enter is Gaza with British signage. The most potent political comment, in this amazingly political film, was the message refugees heard as they entered the hell-hole of a refugee camp: "Do not support terrorism, we are here to help you."

The set, and the world-creation, is truly remarkable in its detail, and there's barely a frame that doesn't contain information about the world of the film, and criticism of our world.

What makes Children of Men's critique of our world so radical and thorough- is it takes the world that is usually hidden from those of us who live comfortably, the experiences of Iraqis, palestinians, illegal immigrants and so on, and makes it the centre-piece of Britain's future. Our government's are as racist and as brutal as the world, but at the moment they can hide it from a good portion of their population.

I did have a minor problem with the movie, and that was it's characters - or lack thereof. It is a really sign of the quality of the movie that the fact that the major characters are completely unmemorable is a minor problem rather than a reason to demand my money back. While some of the minor characters were well drawn, the main characters - particularly Theo and Kee very under-developed. This was probably a deliberate choice, which would have worked better if they hadn't given Theo a back-story from cliche hell (guess what? It involves a girl).

One of the reasons that the movie can sustain characters who don't hold your interest, is because it is incredibly well-paced. Like Theo we are taken, a little bit reluctantly, along a series of events we have no control over, and we don't know what's coming next. I get very jumpy in action movies (actually I got jumpy in Happy Feet), and my friend Betsy grabbed my hand to reassure me that it was OK. Then, once they reached the refugee camp I grabbed her hand, and it turns out that we really needed that.

Children of Men is full of horrors, but it does offer us hope. I may write more about it's politics of change. But for me, the hope didn't come from the Human Project, a For me, the hope wasn't about the group that Kee was trying to reach - an organisation we knew nothing about. The hope came from watching people who kept fighting for a better world, even though they had no reason to believe that anyone would be alive to live in it.

I do recommend this movie, it is an astonishing piece of film-making. It wouldn't have stayed with me so much, if it wasn't real. We must fight for a world where women don't have to give birth in these situations.


  1. I thought it was exceptionally filmed, but had massive plot holes (hes one of my fav directors, with Y Tu Mama Tambien, Amores Perros etc)..

    Have you read the book? do you know how the book compares to the movie? It doesn't explain why the Fishes are there, how the weapons get into the camps, why the refugees are rounded up, the relavence to iraq (there are heaps of references to iraq, but the movie doesn't explain the relationship etc)

  2. Anonymous7:36 pm

    "The hope came from watching people who kept fighting for a better world, even though they had no reason to believe that anyone would be alive to live in it."

    Who were they? The Fishes were a bunch of ideology-mad murderers who weren't "fighting for a better world". They weren't interested in Kee they just wanted power.

    Theo had clearly given up hope of anything at the start of the film, and after he couldn't get back to the city he just fatalistically followed through on helping Kee.

    Kee herself was, understandably, looking out for herself and her package. The refugees were just fighting each other, not for anything, and I won't even comment on Sid.

    I don't know where you're getting "hope" from in this film.

  3. Anonymous7:45 pm

    It is "dystopian"

  4. I was thinking more of Jasper, the woman with dreads, Marijka and so on.

  5. Hope? Everywhere! How the act of a child crying in its mother's arms made soldiers and refugees and people dying want to reach out to touch it.

    So many of them had hope for the future that they gave their lives for it. That they acted like it was just something a person did. Jasper particularly affected me and the midwife.

    Also, fatalistically? I think he had nothing to lose, but I don't think he was being fatalistic about it.

    I thought it was a great film. Thanks for the recommendation.

  6. yes, i saw it recently too and had some similar reactions minus the quibbles about depth-of-character, i kept having flashbacks to hippie festivals and communes of yesteryear

    ahhh ... real-time intrudes, suddenly there is breaking glass in the street and what sound like shots from a 22 and all the dogs barking, 3am here in Rio, i wonder if i should turn out my light to avoid a pot-shot?

    be well.

  7. I just saw the film, and see exactly what you mean about the references to Abu Grahib and Gaza. I also agree with you about the charactors, Theo could have done without a backstory. I quite liked the charactor of Jasper though- apparently he was a more important/developed charactor in the film than in the book.

    If you haven't already, I would reccomend renting the special edition DVD which includes the documentry "The Possibility of Hope" which explores the themes in the film (particularly immigration) with interviews with Naomi Klein, Saskia Sassen, Slavoj Žižek and others.