Children of Men
Scott Hardie: “It ruled.”
In adapting P.D. James's Britain-centric sci-fi novel, Alfonso Cuarón has chosen to ignore its statements about Parliament and hereditary rule, and make a more universal film that meditates on the subjects of hope and faith on a global scale. Along the way, he paints in topical commentary about Abu Ghraib and Homeland Security, but they're at the margins; the film is out to convey intense feelings of despair for humanity and suggest what it's like for hope to grow amidst it like a flower in a wasteland, a theme shared with its contemporary Pan's Labyrinth. The despair is clear: In a world where no more children can be born and society has given up, bombings in the streets barely register, and the government is capable of genocidal atrocity without objection from all but a handful of people. Though the cold, disenchanted hero undergoes the usual emotional transformation demanded by this sort of material, the impact of seeing this dystopia is hefty, especially since it's painted with imagery from the real world around us today: Yes, this does feel like how we would turn out if we lost hope too.
Critics have made much of the action scenes undertaken in virtuoso long shots of 4-6 minutes, which demonstrate Cuarón's obvious technical expertise (even faking them must have been difficult), and the sequences are riveting for the verisimilitude generated by the technique. You don't have to be a film geek to appreciate how electric they feel to watch. I do wonder if Cuarón isn't so invested in the technique of his film that he neglects the importance of plot; he swears off narrative as a director, and yet the film would be more satisfying if the characters weren't one-dimensional and seemingly lacking in personal history. In that area the film is poor, but it is rich in its thematic urgency and ability to invoke powerful feelings about the fragility of our humanity.