This is a dazzling film. I was dazzled. It's those long camera takes. The are no cuts, no breaks to our concentration giving us an excuse to go to the toilet. Watch the camera work and editing here and be amazed. The beauty of it is that it's almost imperceptible. (Hats off to the Flame operators). This film is as natural as a child's gaze.
Technical achievements aside, this film has something to say. Says the director - what if every child was viewed as the only child in the world? Imagine people viewing each baby as they might the infant Christ. Imagine if battles stopped on account of this miraculous presence of innocent life. It's a thought, sure. And yes, of dubious real world utility, but who cares? Watch the scene where this climax occurs and have your heart broken. The flood of conflicting powerful emotions it creates hits like a tidal wave.
But powerful or no, it's a single notion in a very busy movie. What of the world that it posits? What of its protagonists? What of people's motives? And their responses? This movie certainly resembles a guide to the revolution. What clues can we take from it?
This is a dystopian future defined by its lack of children. Inexplicably, women the world over ceased to be fertile eighteen years earlier. Never mind that society and technology clearly continue, somehow this scientific question is beyond the powers that be. Best the audience not ask the question, otherwise there wouldn't be a movie. We just take it as read. Fair enough.
But is this a metaphor? For what? We know the Bilderbergers have said the world population should be 500 million and posited beyond mass-murder means of achieving their ends. Is this film for them? Or the dozen families above them? Or is it merely a dopey science-fiction what-if vehicle for a series of adventures and lesser messages?
Certainly it leads to action sequences and art direction. It's like a crummy Blade Runner without the Ginza vibe. Were the women in Blade Runner infertile? Certainly there were no kids. Both films posit a depopulated world falling apart. Blade Runner was a narrow-focus, existentialist, cops and robbers flick. This movie has a wider eye. It concerns itself with how a society that's falling apart will be run. Shades of V for Vendetta. And as in V, British society is a variation of fascist, albeit less snappily dressed. In amongst this are armed opposition, foreign refugees, religious nutbars and assorted bit-players. And our hero.
Will we ever grow tired of Clive Owen? It's those eyes. Mind you, it's a pity he didn't will them to look elsewhere when Frank Miller pitched his sadistic comic-book gore-fest to him. But never mind. Owen here plays a blank everyman and never were his eyes put to better use.
The opening scene defines Owen, and the world, by way of a terrorist bombing. Shockingly, which is to say, without cinematic hint, the cafe he just walked out of, explodes. A woman staggers out carrying her own severed arm. Cut to titles. The surprise absence of chaotic sound and the sudden appearance of the stark graphics is tremendously effective. Not least at separating us from pondering the terror attack and Owen's lack of a response. Later we're told the government was responsible. But so what? It warrants a single line of dialogue and is then forgotten. Apart from a brief whinge about the ringing in his ears, Owen seems entirely unaffected by the carnage. At work immediately afterwards, he asks for time off but incredibly uses the unrelated death of a celebrity as his excuse. The bombing is not in the news and nor does anyone mention it. Is this a daily event? Or rare? We have no idea. And the woman carrying her severed arm? Nothing. It's like she never existed.
The film and its hero seem far more preoccupied with the celebrity death of Baby Diego, the youngest person in the world. Baby Diego has a catchy tabloid-ready name, ala Britney or Paris. And like them he occupies the discourse in inverse proportion to his relevance. Admittedly this lack of young people defines the movie but Owen doesn't give a shit about that either. Baby Diego was a wanker, says he. A strange sentiment for man who hours earlier witnessed a woman blown to pieces.
Apparently Owen once believed in something. We don't know what. He was some variety of merry prankster who put ketamine in an official's coffee. Whatever it was he thought before, he no longer thinks it now. He seems not to have a life. He has a job that can be defined as computers and partitions. Who cares as to what variation of meaningless it is? Not him, not us. Fair enough.
To rope him into the story, his ex-partner (and the mother of his child, now dead), returns to seek his help in an anti-government plot. The memory of his child is intended to be meaningful but isn't. I guess it serves to tie him to the film's defining lack of children but really it's small potatoes. Michael Caine, the hero's stoner friend, discusses Owen's loss in pseudo-philosophical terms, but really it's just gibberish. (Not to mention a damnable slur on the many fine conversations undertaken by stoner philosophers. I take this personally since the first scene of Owen sharing a joint with Caine is a spookily precise snapshot of Me and my buddy Ledge respectively).
But forget that. Crucially, Owen has no opinion about anything. The only opinion he ever offers is that the miraculously pregnant woman, who is the Maguffin/Madonna of this film, should be handed over to the media or the government. Brilliant. Otherwise every plan or initiative that Owen follows is someone else's. His delivery of the Madonna at the end of the flick arguably represents a triumphantly dogged lack of imagination. Says wikipedia - Children of Men is a road movie charting Owen's 'heroic journey'. Um, okay. If you say so.
Bloody Fascists! We hate them because, um... they round up illegal immigrants and, um... what does this government do apart from this? Not much. Apart from black-armoured para-military rounding up or guarding immigrants the PTB are entirely unobtrusive. But we should know that they are wicked because they mistreat foreigners. Sure enough, regular Britons seem entirely unconcerned. Like our hero, they walk past cages of illegal aliens that absurdly sit on train platforms and next to bus-stops. Who is this a comment on? The government or the citizens? What are we to make of it? That foreigners are very important and hard done by? That we should know fascists by how they mistreat foreigners? Really, it's vague to the point of useless. I have it pegged as a dopey quasi-left excuse for art-direction.
We do see the enforcers of the law responding to a feral attack (that we later find is a variation of false-flag). But this scene may as well be from The Bill. The police are well within their rights. The two police who, not unreasonably, pursue our gallant band are shot in cold blood. Sure enough the shooter is later revealed to be a duplicitious bloodthirsty terrorist.
And to the strains of Court of the Crimson King we meet Danny Huston, of whom I am a big fan. Anyone not seen The Proposition yet? It's brilliant and so is Huston. He's the son of John Huston, doncha know. And Huston is the Minister of rescuing great art from the mad hammer-wielding masses and furnishing his apartment with it. Nice. And he's nice too. Really charming. And he helps the hero get the travel documents, the precise purpose of which, our hero does not understand. It was someone else's idea. Anyway his very nice friend in the government helps him out. Bloody Fascists! Oh. At no point does he seem to need or use these documents. What was that all about?
It is the people who oppose the government that comprise the villains in this movie. Julianne Moore, Owen's aforementioned ex, is the leader of the 'Fishes' (don't ask me, maybe it made sense in the book - if it's a hint as to christianity, it's a lonely one) who initially kidnap Owen so that Moore may explain to him what he is to do. Moore aside, the lesser Fishes are surly and drone on in an eye-glazing doctrinaire style. Moore doesn't last long. Her killer is her 2IC who organised the false-flag killing and intends to use the Christ child for a nefarious plot of anti-government mayhem and bloodshed. The other members of the Fishes' committee are not only dupes but a worthless variety of the Judean People's Front. No Castro, Ho Chi Minh or Chavez here. The Fishes, like the film, are merely concerned with the mistreatment of refugees. Perhaps that was the only Python topic left after they'd conceded the Roman's brilliant contributions of sanitation, medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, the fresh water system and public health. Idiocy aside, the Fishes are the most perfectly useless and repellent opposition ever. Don't look here for inspiration for what to do under fascism. Why is it that no one ever thinks to attack the media? That's what I'd do. Oh wait, this is the media. D'oh!
Otherwise, throughout the entire second half of the movie the Fishes are those from whom we flee in terror. Those who do not flee, like Michael Caine, are shot in cold blood. The Gaza/Fallujah battle scenes, which our Joseph, Mary and Jesus miraculously walk through, are due to Fishes' provocative actions. The government's overwhelming military response featuring hundreds of troops, heavy armour and airstrikes is less a criticism of them than of the Fishes. The troops are not only clean and well-dressed, but they seem to have nice manners too. Not like those grotty feral Fishes. We cheer when Fishes are shot by the military. It's unambiguous - Fascists Good, Anti-Fascist Terrorists Bad.
The Fishes aside, there is the fabled Human Project. We never quite get to see the Human Project or find out what they are. No one really knows. No one can contact them apart from Julianne Moore. And she's dead. Apparently they live on an Island in the Azores or somesuch. Apparently they're scientists who want to cure infertility. Apparently they want to want to make a 'new world'.
Er... okay. That's not scary. Did somebody say Bilderbergers just now? How about the twelve families? (What is he on about?)
But forget the nutty ravings. In this film, we're given not a single clue as to the veracity of the Human Project. Was I to suggest that they could well be a bunch of racist, self-impressed, wealthy motherfuckers who viewed the rest of humanity as cattle, or that they wanted the Madonna's child as fodder for pedophiles, there's nothing in this movie to say otherwise. We should know that they're good by way of the reverent hushed tones of the clueless members of the People's Front of Judea. Said the director, post movie, 'They are a metaphor for the possibility of the evolution of the human spirit.' Ha ha ha ha. What the fuck does that mean? Meanwhile back in the real world of Children of Men, our hero has handed over a mother and her miraculous baby to complete strangers. We know nothing of them apart from the fact that they've chosen to turn their backs on the rest of humanity - and that we should place all our trust and hope in them. Whoever they are.
There's certainly no shortage of them. Curiously there's no uniformity to what we're meant to think of various people. Gypsies get a guernsey here. Who apart from Tony Gatlif ever touches gypsies? The old gypsy woman is brave and true and I groove on her. We also see white Russians. They too are hospitable and honest, and not vilified. Um, aren't we meant to hate them? Likewise, a Pole is treated neutrally. We see Muslims. They are sporting Arabic-Samurai headbands, waving kalashnikovs and shouting Allah u Akbar. Are they bad or good? Or merely visual reinforcement of those crazy TV Muslims who hate us for our freedom? Sure why not. But it is a lonely reference, and pales in the face of white wickedness. And there are black people here. Indeed our Madonna is black. Apparently the director wanted to allude to humanity having come from Africa. Sounds fair to me. But our head Fish is black, and vicious, duplicitous and murderous with it. This is a comment on black people? No, says I. It's merely Chiwetel Ejiofor's ability to flip between nice guy and villain. And no, his name doesn't mean anything if you read it backwards.
And there are Jewish references. In the descent into Gaza/Fallujah we are given obscure, blink-and-you-miss-it Arbeit Macht Frei references. Huh? Surely this open-air prison is Gaza? Such confusion - every visual is Gaza but the music is Auschwitz. Is this the director throwing a sop to the producers? Has he won, by reminding us of Gaza? Or have they won, by reminding us Jews are victims? Perhaps it's a tie. Perhaps it's just a clueless hodge-podge. Either way it leads us nowhere.
I don't know that this is quite as cynical and wicked an enterprise as is so commonly offered up by Hollywood. I wonder at the Spanish director. If he's wicked, he's unfocused. If he's good, he's misleading. Perhaps he's just dim? Perhaps he really was dazzled by his dizzy message of the sanctity of the life of the innocent? Perhaps the anti-government forces are villainous because the director wanted a surprising switch half way through the movie? Perhaps he really does believe his own blatherings about hope and inserted the Human Project into the film for altruistic reasons? It's entirely possible he means well. Having not seen his other significant flick Y Tu Mama Tambien I'm in no position to discuss this work in reference to others. It's poor of me I know, but I have no idea what's in the director's head. But really this movie should stand on its own. And as such, how do we judge it? A noble failure with moments of greatness? A subtle but directionless piece of misdirection? Both? Neither? Sorry folks, I have no answers.