Many Potter fans will of course be aware that the stunning Harry
Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban film owes its aesthetic and emotional
richness largely to its director, Alfonso Cuarón. While some fans may claim
that his involvement damaged the visual continuity of the series, it is widely
accepted that this was a necessary step to develop a more enveloping series.
His artistic flair and wonderful cinematography is of course present in his new
film, Children of Men. Set in Britain in the year 2027, this film
tells the tale of Theo Farren (Clive Owen), an
activist-turned-bureaucratic-ministry-worker who becomes a vital part in the
survival of the human race. Women in this time are no longer able to conceive
children and, without hope, the world has spiraled into chaos.
As the film begins, commuters are gathered around a television in
a coffee shop on a grey, misty London morning. The news is filtering through
that the youngest person on earth has died. The people watch, transfixed in
despair. This person was 18 years old. The tone of the film is set in a
wonderfully short space of time. The image of these people gathered around a
television and watching bad news echoes terrorist attacks of recent times. As
Theo exits the coffee shop, the camera follows and turns back moments before
the coffee shop explodes, throwing his surroundings into an all too familiar
chaos. This is Cuarón's vision of a world torn apart by hopelessness and fear.
It instills this vision early and brutally. There will not be any bright
colors, studio camera work or blockbuster action sequences. It will be fast,
rough and unexpected. Prisoner of Azkaban has a similar start, not in
action of course (imagine the Dursleys' home exploding; "What will the
neighbors think, Vernon!") but in the way that the director spends little
time preparing us for what is to come. Just enough time is spent telling us the
title of the film before we are thrown into Harry's domestic torture. In a
short space of time we are shown magic, conflict and one of the prevailing
emotional centers of the film: Harry's family or lack thereof. lang=EN-GB style='
Throughout Children of Men we get hints of what has
happened to create this future, but nothing is specific. This future will never
be fully explained to us; this world's tragic past is so deep that trying to
explain it all would almost cheapen it. This world without children has become
a terrible place. Terrorists roam freely and without any hindrance, and
refugees are hunted down mercilessly.
The cast Cuarón has put together is amazing, from Theo's ex-wife
and activist Julian (Julianne Moore), the pot-smoking scientist Jasper (Michael
Caine) and the world's only mother-to-be and African refugee Kee (Claire-Hope
Ashitey). A familiar face from Prisoner of Azkaban is that of Pam
Ferris, who of course plays Aunt Marge. In Children of Men she plays the
sometimes wacky Miriam, a new-found activist and former midwife. She, like
Caine, portrays a wonderfully rich character amidst a sea of straight faces. In
short, these performances are top notch, even down to the background artists
providing the many refugees and army soldiers. As in Prisoner of
Azkaban, CuarÃ³n 's ability to tease a wonderful performance is present with
every actor, but they are never the melodramatic, over-the-top performances
that plague other science fiction films.
The wonderful thing about Children of Men is that nothing
on screen ever feels contrived or artificial. The Academy Award-nominated
cinematography of Emmanuel Lubezki depicts a world that echoes the
war-torn Middle East, but never seems too far away from modern day Britain.
This is the future, but one which isn't as sleek and shiny as in other
science fiction films you may have seen. The lack of prosperity in the human
race is apparent in every frame. The cars and public transport are dated
(even by futuristic standards), the buildings have fallen into disrepair,
and even the weather ’ in its perpetual overcast state ’ foreshadows
humanity on the brink of extinction.
This world is distinct and vividly imagined, in much the
same way that Cuarón's magical world for Prisoner of Azkaban
came onto the screen fully-formed and far more realistic than that of
Christopher Columbus for the first two Harry Potter films.
In Cuarón's world, Hogwarts felt real, transplanting
the almost too perfect Hogwarts from the first two films into a more
fitting and beautiful place.
Potter fans will find this film wonderfully familiar
in its presentation. The camera rarely, if at all, stops. The entire
film is captured on Steadicam. As an example, just remember the beginning
of Prisoner of Azkaban, when Aunt Marge arrives and the hustle in the
hallway that ensues. In Children of Men, Cuarón uses this approach for
almost the entire film, from the most benign look to the most complex action
sequences. It is so refreshing to see what Cuarón does with so little. These
sequences, like so many in the film, are done in almost entirely single shots
and with barely noticeable computer graphics helping. Early in
the film, Theo and Julian are attacked as they drive through the countryside.
In a single shot, there are hundreds of extras painstakingly choreographed,
flaming cars being used as weapons, motorcycle stunts, shattering glass,
explosions and people inside of a car reacting. The shot is not cut and there
isn't a single shot from outside the car. This perspective makes it utterly
harrowing, because not only is it a gripping scene, but it's the point of view
we ourselves would be in should it happen to us.
Presentation and aesthetics aside, the main reason this film will draw you in
is its story. Its mere premise is enough to provoke some thought. What would a
world be like without the sounds of children's voices? How would you feel if
you were part of a dying race with little knowledge as to what brought this
about and, even less, as to how to solve it. In this world, playgrounds and school
classrooms have become graveyards, their function no longer
necessary. Cuarón maintains throughout the feeling that without a
future, the present will fall apart.
Cuarón's Academy Award-nominated screenplay (adapted from the
P. D. James novel) will drag you in, and not let you go until the last
frame. It is such a simple notion, that people will exist after us. When
robbed of that, our hope and confidence are extinguished. It's present upon the
face of every actor, in the detail of every set. This is a grim world. When
hope does burst onto the screen with the arrival of the pregnant woman Kee, we
are shown what hope can do when it is reintroduced into a world without any. It
can inspire some to amazing feats and reduce others to betrayal and murder.
Like all films, this one has its negative points, though
there aren't many. The cutting of this film may have benefited from a few more
chops around the end of the first act. That said, this is Academy
Award-nominated editing and aside from my slight quibble, the rest is
simply wonderful. Also, the distinctive lack of answers to several issues
throughout may leave some people more than curious. This is unlike Potter where
the answers, if not present, will eventually come.
But for most of you, this film will be one of (if not
the most) eye-opening films of the year. When it comes down to it, all
films are about their message. Prisoner Of Azkaban was about Harry
trying to find his identity. Children of Men is all about hope; how
it can be lost and regained and what it will cost. In the end, the message from
this film is so heartfelt that you can't help but come away from it feeling
Arata, David, Alfonso CuarÃ³n, Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby, & Timothy
J. Sexton (based on the novel by P.D. James). Children of Men. Directed
by Alfonso Cuarón. Universal City: Universal Pictures, 2006.
Kloves, Steven (based on the novel by J.K. Rowling). Harry
Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Directed by Alfonso Cuarón. Burbank:
Warner Bros. Pictures, 2004.