Before I start, I should say that this is apocalyptic as appose to post-apocalyptic, and nothing like a Mad Max II rip-off. On the other hand it’s a superb telling of a simple story. In fact it’s a story that we have actually seen before in post-apocalyptic form.
Some may say that this has a similar story to 2019: After the Fall of New York, yet there’s a more obscure and much closer movie that this apes.
It has been about three years now since I watched American Cyborg: Steel Warrior, an entertaining early 90’s PA about an infertile world where one woman somehow manages to get pregnant. The story follows the difficult task of getting her and her child to a waiting boat via a scavenger and Cyborg-infested wasteland. It’s a good fun typical post-apocalyptic film.
Children of Men by Alfonso Cuarón has almost exactly the same basic storyline:
- Infertile world? Check.
- Miracle pregnancy? Check.
- One guy to help the pregnant woman? Check.
- Crazy people chasing them? Check.
- Not much time to get to a boat that will save them? Absolutely.
So what’s the point, you may ask? Well, despite the similarities these films are as different as chalk and cheese. Where American Cyborg concentrates on guns, explosions, over the top fighting and enough ridiculous technology to keep any bone head happy (including me), Children of Men is a much more serious look at something that suddenly seems depressingly feasible and chillingly possible in today’s society.
PlotSet in London in 2027, the film soon explains that roughly 20 years ago (i.e. today) women simply stopped having babies, and nobody knew why. As the world rioted and slowly descended into chaos, Britain is seen to be the only country that proudly soldiers on. In reality, the country continues under the veil of strict governmental control and a vicious crack-down on any kind of immigration. The rich manage to continue their lives of luxury and most people try to make the best of an ugly situation. At the same time, terrorists who oppose the block on immigration and the abuse of those captured, wage a war on society, and many people have lost hope, ranging from the slightly annoyed who throw stones at trains to the barbaric groups who attack cars out in the countryside.
Visually this looks exactly like how I would imagine a London of 20 years in the future. Advancements in technology are obviously no longer top priority so things like cars and buses are grimy worn-down versions of what we see today. Some things, such as advertising boards and computers show advancement, but not in any overtly obscure way. It’s all quite natural and plausible. The streets and building of London are grimy and run-down, exactly as you might expect.
Theo Faron is just a regular office worker, obviously depressed with the situation, but getting on with his job and just generally keeping his head down. His friend Jasper (Michael Caine) lives in a house in a desolate woods, growing marijuana and giving Theo somewhere to escape from the world. Unfortunately for Theo, he is one day kidnapped by a group of terrorists who campaign for immigrants rights. The leader of the group turns out to be Theo’s ex-wife Julian (Julianne Moore). In his past, Theo was also an activist, but it seems that his wife wanted to take it further and he preferred to stop. Theo has a relative high up in government and Julian needs Theo to get special papers for transfer to Brighton for somebody. Theo is offered a large amount of money for the transfer papers and is allowed to go. After a very, very short amount of agonizing, Theo heads off to get the papers and so starts his adventure. Soon enough he realizes that the girl who needs transport is actually pregnant, the first for nearly 20 years.
Despite all the discussions and moral dilemmas the major part of the film involves a number of chases, mostly those between Theo with the girl and the terrorists. Both believe they are correct in their methods. Symbolism seems to plays a major role in the film, ranging from the obvious, such as the government-approved suicide pills and the empty schools reclaimed by nature, to the not so obvious, like the kitten that claws at Theo’s leg and Theo’s loss of shoes and his failure to find replacements. None of it is important to the story, yet this wouldn’t be the same film without it. It’s all the little bits and pieces that make the movie stand out, and all those bits of pieces that you don’t find in American Cyborg or the majority of post-apocalyptic movies. If only Costner had been subtle like this in The Postman.
One thing I was happy about and pleased to read was that Cuarón wasn’t interested in adapting the Christian dogma of the novel. I haven’t read the book, but the story has lots of unavoidable biblical connotations, but it manages to avoid religious discussion almost entirely. At one point the pregnant girl briefly jokes about being a virgin.
There are some dark moments in the film, and seeing British troops abusing immigrants is a shocking mixture of things we are told happen at places like Guantánamo Bay and the Jewish work camps of World War II. Late in the movie, Theo and the girl break in to an immigration camp as it’s supposedly the easiest way to meet up with the boat that offers the girl and her baby sanctuary. Whole towns are cordoned off and immigrants are corralled into them. Guns are rife and battles in the streets common. When some immigrants manage to break a section of the wall an uprising starts and the troops move in, leading to some explosive battles and some incredible camera work/choreography where the camera follows Theo through a five minute long scene without any cuts.
Final ThoughtsThis is almost the perfect apocalyptic movie. Lots of action, lots to think about and plenty to see. I haven’t detailed the whole plot as there are a couple of surprises along the way and I think you really need to see it to appreciate it.
In the world of post-apocalyptic movies we can always rest easy in the fact that after a few hundred nukes, at least some people will survive to repopulate the world and defend mankind from those evil barbarians that come “as standard”. Here though there are no massive explosions, no huge initial casualties and no freakish mutants. Despite this, the eventual outcome is far more chilling. What could be more depressing than the idea if our whole civilization wiped out?