Children of Men is a film that I saw when it first came out in 2006, and I remember walking out of what was then the Sunderland Cineworld and thinking that we were already living in the film. If anything, it’s a future that has only become closer. One of the greatest touches is that Clive Owen’s character Theo wears a London Olympics 2012 fleece.
And now, all I can think is that it’s Brexit: The Film.
Children of Men is set in 2027, when almost everyone has become infertile. A refugee crisis, nuclear fallout, and a secret resistance mark the last gasp of humanity. It’s one of a handful of films from this millennium that can be called modern classics. It’s also a rare example of a film that does not follow the book it’s based on—although screenwriter Timothy J. Sexton had read the P.D. James novel in full, director Alfonso Cuarón read only an abridged version, and they then used it as a jumping-off point. The backstory is represented only through snatches of TV broadcasts, posters and adverts. Although the film has little relation to source material, only some characters and situations, James was surprisingly very happy with the result (she also appears in a small cameo.)
It features some of the most complex single shots ever in cinema, with only limited CGI effects to help preserve continuity. These long tracking shots are not just impressive technically, but because they’re not showy.
I’ve always liked Clive Owen as an actor, and he puts in a remarkable performance as a former activist who has ended up as a fizzled alcoholic. I’ve always thought he was the modern-day Humphrey Bogart. He’s then forced by events to be one of the last hopes of humanity against his will. The Iraq War is definitely a big background feature of the film, but the central idea of Britain as an isolated country folding in on itself is very 2018.
The newly commissioned special features for the Blu-Ray, and many viewers, suggest that the ending is super-hopeful, but I don’t see it that way at all. While Clare-Hope Ashitey (Kee) appears to have been picked up and taken off to safety to give birth, supposedly ensuring the survival of the human race, who knows what has really happened. The viewer is left unsure that the rescuers are honest, and you could ask whether the human race should survive given the state of it depicted in the film. Author James was a hardcore conservative Anglican, so you can read it as a Christian fable if you want, and Cuarón has said he didn’t want to shy away from the spiritual archetypes. But there’s no overt dogma, and it is quite pessimistic in tone overall—I’ve always thought that The Human Project, the resistance utopia mentioned in the film, might be a government-sanctioned myth to keep the population calm.
The film has a great supporting cast, including Julianne Moore as Theo’s ex-wife, who is now a member of the resistance; and Michael Caine as an aging hippie. Danny Huston, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Charlie Hunnam, Peter Mullan round out the roster.
The film’s end credits features the song “Running the World” by Jarvis Cocker which features the chorus “Cunts Are Running the World”. When I was at college, someone from the BBFC came to speak to our class, and told us that when Children of Men was sent for its BBFC rating, they agreed that it was a 15 certificate—but because the word “cunt” appears 12 times in the song, there was an internal debate about bumping it up to an 18. It only got through because it was the end credits, and they assumed most audience members would have left the theatre before hearing the repetitions.
Special features include a new commentary by author and critic Bryan Reesman, a video appreciation by film historian Philip Kemp, a video essay by Kat Ellinger, and the featurettes from the old Blu-Ray, which include some input from the most likely coke-addled Marxist philosopher Slavoj Žižek. You’ll also find some deleted scenes, an image gallery, and a booklet with new writing on the film.