Children of men places us in the dystopian future of 2027 during the midst of a human infertility crisis. With no children having been born in the last 18 years, humanity is in shambles with England being the last country having any reasonable shred of law and order. Hampered by a crumbling infrastructure and slew of terrorist attacks, the government has turned to the deportation of illegal immigrants as their main focus. It is in this hopeless place that the cynical protagonist, Theo Faron, is approached by his ex-lover Julian with a life altering request. Representing the fugees, a shadowy group that fights for the rights of immigrants in Britain, Julian asks Theo to transport a young pregnant woman to the coast so she can be handed off to a mysterious organization known as the Human Project. Theo must then go on to survive a radical government police force, murderous intrigue, and a violent immigrant uprising while transporting the most precious of cargo in what could be humanities last hope.
The aesthetics of the film are rather impressive despite being shot in the traditionally low budget “documentary” style. Taking place in the not so distant future where new technologies have been created and then failed to be maintained, the production team went to great lengths to ensure this atmosphere of decline was met. The lighting aspects of the film are grey and foggy, and the wardrobe is composed of dull neutral colors emphasizing the dreariness. Almost all of the urban backgrounds in the film have been physically altered with graffiti and water damage, and even seemingly random pieces of garbage are placed with purpose to highlight the lack of care for a childless future. In one particular shot, the focus goes from a detainment cage surrounded by police in the foreground to a rundown high-rise apartment building being cleared of refugees in the background. Personal belongings are being tossed from balconies several stories up and human cries of anguish can be heard from the streets below. The grand scope of the scene highlights the film makers dedication to detail at all levels of the shot. On the micro perspective equal attention is given to create depth to backgrounds. When Theo is first abducted by the fugees he finds himself a brightly lit room covered by newspapers. Upon close inspection, each headline charts a major global event of the past 18 years of the fertility crisis. Dozens of man hours must have been spent writing, assembling, and printing each newspaper for a shot where they will most likely be seen at a glance or not at all.
Perhaps the most significant film making achievements is the directors usage of several long one take shots that follow Theo through intense action sequences. In an almost 4-minute scene filmed entirely from the interior of a car, Theo and a group of fugees have begun to travel towards the coast to meet the human project. Along the route they are attacked by mob and Julian is shot through the windshield before dying in Theo’s arms. To accomplish this take, the production crew custom built a rig which seated 4 crew members on top of the car while enabling a remote-controlled camera to move across the interior and have a 360-degree view, all without having any of the film equipment in sight. This allowed for a point of view never possible without having cuts in the action. Most impressive however is a 6-minute scene which follows Theo avoiding a battle in the streets between the English army and a group of immigrant rebels while trying to save Kee and her baby. The scene travels a vast area going from a gunfight in the streets, parked buses, and 3 separate floors of an apartment building with dozens of extras, all the while hundreds of squibs are being set off and chunks of wall being blown apart by tanks. The rehearsal and choreography reaches far beyond what is expected in traditional cinema and places the viewer in the right along Theo in his struggle for survival.
The story of Children of Men is two pronged, following both the immediate actions of main characters and the broad narrative of the world around them. As previously stated the production team put immense effort into creating a unique and decaying world serve as a background for the film which allows this layering to occur. When setting the stage for Theo’s journey in the beginning of the film, not only does the script show us Theo’s direct cynicism of the world but also vast crowds of demonstrators in the background who have seemingly lost faith in religion and politics. Later, when traveling to visit Jasper for a night of relief, Theo is shown as casually annoyed by the presence of police at the railroad until the focus is then brought to refugees in a cage begging for their life and freedom. By achieving this effect, the director allows us to experience both the struggles of Theo as he tries to fulfill his mission but also those regular people around him for which he is doing it.
Children of men explores an array of philosophical values from religion to basic human rights. A primary theme which is explored is that of faith versus chance. In the literal sense, there a several direct biblical allusions of faith to include the midwife being named Miriam, the name of Moses’s sister who places him in the Nile. There is also the visual of Theo washing his feet and putting on sandals, and even a prank by Kee that she is a pregnant virgin. However, the film uses “faith” more as a driving force that motivates characters to take on “chance”, or the opposing forces of the world around them. At several points Theo has the opportunity to abandon Kee and return to his previous life of relative comfort and safety. Despite this temptation he leans on his faith, getting Kee to the human project which he believes to be the best option for humanity, despite the armed opposition in his path. Ultimately, he loses his life to the chance bullet in his abdomen, but not until his faith has allowed him to successfully deliver Kee to the human project.
The human rights perspective captured in the film has become increasingly more relevant in today’s world than when it was made 10 years ago. Following absolute chaos in the rest of the world, Children of Men depicts the plight as waves of immigrants flow to England as the last beacon of hope. Instead of the safety they hoped for they are exposed to violence and placed in subhuman conditions, all for the fact of lacking citizenship. As a result, they form a pseudo terrorist organization which takes on the misguided belief that further violence can resolve the situation. This is not unlike the current situation of flux unfolding in Europe and the Middle East as environmental and political strife have forced millions of people to seek asylum. Perhaps the ideals portrayed in this film can spark thought and conversation on the topic and promote innovative ways to approach the problem of mass migration.
Children of Men is a powerful and poignant film that is not only masterfully crafted and entertaining, but can serve as a cautionary tale to our existence and current way of life. It is rare that a movie can achieve all of the aspects in a brief 2 hours, and should recognized as one of the most underappreciated films of this generation.