Thursday, December 21, 2006

Review of Children of Men

Not completely sure where to start on this one, except don't watch this movie if you want to have fun. I mean that last statement positively, too.

If I taught a class in movies having social commentary or a class in utopianism, I would make Children of Men a mandatory view. It does a good job at making social commentary on today's world, allusions to shameful times in history and creates a believable world. In the midst of accomplishing those things, it also doesn't feel pedantic, patronizing or like a piece that sacrifices entertainment for the sake of saying something. In other words, it makes for a movie that draws you in while exploring plenty of issues.

(For one thing, it makes one of Orson Scott Card's points without getting heavy handed. The theme pretty much goes along the lines of why do all these people have to make trouble and war? There's more important and nice things that can happen, like having kids and keeping together a family that makes meaning for the people involved).

This movie has plenty of graphic scenes that grab you in the jugular. A fair amount of people die and get shot quite senselessly, especially in comparison to the central plot and themes. Those parts don't really make for the dramatic parts that grip you and make the social commentary. Essentially a list of allusions: terrorist bombings of civilian buildings, roadside ambushes by insurgents, street fighting in Iraq, Abu Ghraib, the Holocaust and ther rounding up of prisoners around the UK in alienating, inhumane and embarassing ways. But again, as much as these scenes strike at the audience, they don't come off as a message. . .except as a visceral thrusting in your face of what humanity can do, when pushed to the edge or given too much power.

Can't forget all the random mob violence, also. Can't say that necessarily alludes to anything that I've seen or heard too much about, but I can imagine it happening in the near future. I may even have to use the image in my novel at some point and try not to make the use derivative.

But the movie also provides at least one aspect as counterpoint to the doom, gloom and sadness. Children of Men has hope and an example of an idealistic hero played by Clive Owen and the birth of a child (of course you know that one. . .it's in every movie description you've read). Even though they stick out postively with many other things, the makers of this film did a remarkable job of having some heartwarming parts of character development, well fashioned sentimentality (like you would have with an old friend from childhood) and humor before the climax.

And looking back on it, I remember plenty of instances where I felt the urge to laugh simply and from the depths of my soul because even amongst the gloom, the movie acted to re-affirm life and those things that remind you of it. The portrayal of live animals and most reactions to the baby had a lot to do with the re-affirmation of life.

The interactions between Theo (Clive Owen) and two characters closest to him, Julian (Julianne Moore) and Jasper (Michael Caine), help to create connection, development and yes, even humor. Jasper really does the most for creating the humor.

Michael Caine does an amazing job playing an eccentric old hippie. Even during his most tragic moment, or maybe especially then, you see his goofiness as a heroic ideal that you knew he always had. The tragicness just makes it even more striking, the lovableness of this old man. And, of course, it's Michael Caine. What else can you say?

Julianne Moore does a good job playing her part. Even she had a few moments of human goofiness and warmth that pushed her to the next level, but those didn't happen so often. Nonetheless, those parts did some of the best to draw out Theo's humanity. She definitely acts as a driving force for him. And as made apparent in the movie, Julian provides a motivating force for a lot of characters.

And please notice the interchange between the character's and the actor's names. Except for maybe Owen for most of the film, all the actors did a good job of becoming their character. They made it easy to forget they were actors playing characters. Even Owen did a great job becoming Theo. It just turned out that except during those moments where the other characters brought out Theo's humanity, except while he emoted and except when he made a sarcastic, cynical quip or two, the character felt like typical Clive Owen.

Two other characters deserve some mention, though: Miriam (Pam Ferris) and Kee (Claire-Hope Ashtey). Neither of the actresses necessarily put on amazing performances, unless the simpleness (meant postively!) of Miriam took acting. As characters, however, they both helped the story and the character of Theo a lot.

In large part, Miriam represented the past and acted as a personalized dramatization of losing the good past, the joy of it. She brings out different emotional reactions, but how much blame can get projected onto her. As much as she represents the loss of a good past, she also seems to represent the ambivalent causes of the present narrative.

Kee acts as another character that brings out humanity in Theo. Unlike the characters close to him who bring out the identifiable and compelling humanity in him, Kee brings out the ideal, the hero, the archetype in him. As an archetype, herself, and also as a form of redemption for Theo, she draws out the man in him that would make the world great. . .if it weren't for those who want to become heroes but through the wrong means.

The cinematography and directing also helped me get into the movie. It had that grainy, gritty analog tinge to it unlike the digital cleanness that we see in so many movies. The style reminds me of 28 Days Later. . ., which I haven't seen but would like to now after getting into Christopher Eccleston on Doctor Who (and soon Heroes!!!!! But I'm getting ahead of myself). Now, thinking about it, maybe I'm wrong because maybe 28 Days Later. . . had that clean digital thing going. Nonetheless, Children of Men reminded me of the directing and cinematography of 28 Days Later. . .. Maybe because they're both British and dystopian.

In the end, though, I think everyone should see this movie. It will get you thinking and feeling. Just don't go if you want to have fun and come out of the theater feeling happy. Maybe you'll feel hopeful after the movie, but in a mournful hoping kind of way. Just go!

PS The ending was kind of tacky. Tomorrow. . .? Ugh.


Jason M. Robertson said...

I had seen this movie a good bit early, and was holding my enthusiasm back precisely because it isn't a fist-pumping exit sort of movie. I had a crowd that reacted with a lot of laughter to even the slightest signs of cognitive dissonance, or reference to today, so I was disappointed in that part of the experience, but otherwise I definitely hope the rest of the group sees this.

The_Lex said...

Except for the couple next to us, my audience behaved well. My crowd didn't laugh a lot, but when they did, I sensed it as uncomfortable laughter, mostly. As I think I said in the review, I really appreciated that the movie didn't really hold back from having the humor that it did in it. It took itself seriously, but I think it did a good job of portraying humanity seriously, which involves a couple good bits of fun.