Sunday, December 27, 2009

Top Ten Films Of The Decade: Number 6: Children Of Men

The thing that makes Children Of Men a great film is how thoroughly it portrays a world without hope. What makes it a terrifying one is how thoroughly that world resembles our own.

Great Sci Fi is of course always truly about the now rather then the future. What Cuaron captures in Children Of Men is the terrifying feeling of the entropy, that I and I know many other’s feel everyday. The feeling that as one piece of Grafitti so succinctly puts it, “The Future Is A Thing Of The Past.”

I don’t know about you, but I’ve spent the last decade or so feeling like we’re on the verge of a cataclysm. Global Warming, Peak Oil, NWO, pick your poison but they’re all resonating with us for the same reason, there’s a real feeling of paranoia in the air on both the left and the right. The feeling that things are coming to an end. The feeling that as Michael Chabon put it, "We’re living on the last paragraph of the last page in some absurd story." The idea that we’re either going to be wiped out, or that what we come up with to save us will change us in some fundamental way. Either way it feels as though humanity is about to go through a huge shift.

Call it paranoia, call it millennial tension, call it being part of the first generation raised in the shadow of 9/11, no matter how you label it. There’s no denying that things are shifting.

Most apocalyptic movies take place in a world that’s about to end, the genius of Children Of Men is it takes place in one that is in the process of ending. Everyone in Children Of Men knows they are going to die, and when they do humanity will be one step closer to ending. In a very literal way nothing they do matters, whether its saving Michelangelo’s David, getting stoned off your ass in a forest, or taking one of those suicide pills they advertise on every street corner. Children Of Men explores what happens to humanity when the phrase “Nothing You Do Has Meaning.” Is no longer a matter of philosophical discourse, but is a demonstrable fact.

But what makes Cuaron’s film so utterly moving is the way he provides the answer, that we try anyway. As dark as a film Children Of Men is its about as far from Nihlism as you can get. At its core it argues that perseverance is as completely at the core of humanity as the xenophobia and cruelty that is displayed out there.

Cuaron wraps all of these ideas in a moving human drama. It’s the fact that Clive Owen makes such a recognizably human and fragile hero that makes his eventual triumph so compelling. Everyone from Michael Caine, to Julianne Moore, to Danny Huston, to Chitwel Ejifor give unshowy pitch perfect performances, they inhabit they world.

And what a world it is, perhaps Cuaron’s smartest move in a movie that’s full of smart moves, is the way in which Cuaron lets you catch all the sumptuous detail he’s put into the movie out of the corner of your eye. While another less confident director couldn’t resist sitting you down so you could take a good long look at his set design, Cuaron with his engrossing long takes just walks you through it, letting you catch only snatches of the newspaper articles, graffiti, sects, and conflicts, that are serving as humanity’s woefully inadequate epitaph.

The result is that Cuaron creates one of the few films where there is genuinely something new to see every time you watch it, and by the time the first ten minutes are over he’s created a sense of continuity that’s nearly panic attack inducing. There’s no escaping Cuaron’s world, no place you can look for the edge of the set or miniature. Your mind just subliminally accepts it as a real place.

Children Of Men, is simply put my favorite kind of movie. A deeply felt, richly imagined work of art, containing one of the most detailed senses of place I’ve seen in a film (not to mention a few of the most exciting set pieces) all brought to being by a master filmmaker in full control of his craft. It’s a work whose power always catches me by surprise, one where scenes even on the dozenth repeat viewing make me catch my breath in astonishment (How anyone could fail to be moved by that first walk with the baby down the stairs is beyond me).

It’s a film that sears itself into your brain.


Calorie Mate said...

You nailed it. The best character in Children of Men is the world itself. I can watch this movie endlessly and never tire of it, both because of those little details AND the big set pieces.

electricloseyland said...

One small element of this film that I absolutely loved was how Cuaron used Radiohead's Life In a Glass House during the scene near the beginning when Owen and Caine are talking and getting high. It's such an unusual Radiohead song because it relies so much on brass horns, and it wouldn't sound out of place at a New Orleans funeral. And that's why its' selection is genius: It's a dirge for humanity. And it makes that point subtly, whereas other songs (like "Knocking On Heaven's Door," for instance) would be cliched and too on-the-nose.

Bryce Wilson said...

Yeah it really was a perfect pick.

Cemented it in our world for me as well.