A Message In Search Of A Meaning
Children of Men is a strange film to judge. The story is not original (Simply think The Handmaid's Tale from 1990, taken to an extreme), then again, few stories are. What it gives us is an interesting and updated spin on an old idea. Perhaps 'interesting' is the key word, though.
So what works in Children of Men? Its vision of the future is extremely realistic, and really does feel round the corner. Carrying on current trends, certain items are plausibly advanced, while others haven't changed at all. The society it portrays is again, simply an extreme extrapolation of where things are headed now.
The 'action' scenes are excellently portrayed, keeping you on the edge of your seat at every window smash, ricocheting bullet, and explosion.
The cinematography carries on the recent trend of 'documentary' style film-making all the way. This is perhaps its greatest advantage, and its downfall. Instead of watching a story, we feel as though we are watching a documentary. It often gets bogged down in these scenes, that while harrowing and intense in a way we've become used to with films such as Saving Private Ryan, or Black Hawk Down, do not progress the plot, or characters. Children of Men is most interesting when it takes a pause. The moments with Michael Caine's character. The conversation between Moore and Owen as they meet up again, and we gain a few glimpses of their underlying character. The discussion at the farm, with the dilemma of how to proceed.
Saying that, these scenes are few and far between, and afterward, you realise that the extremely effective 'action' set pieces are almost a mask to the somewhat limited script and story.
Children of Men is a message in search of a meaning. On the surface, it seems to be saying a lot. Scratch beneath, and you realise that it doesn't really know what it wants to say. The conclusion is disappointingly stereotypical. We expect the blunt and unresolved end that comes with this type of film, as if to say in capital letters 'Look, it's all very serious, depressing and meaningful stuff, and we're leaving you to interpret it the way you want'. The shame is, with Children of Men, that 'message' just leaves the film drifting like the characters in their row-boat.
To a certain extent we are still treated to that oh-so-popular message of today: "Authority figures=Evil, Weed smoking anarchist hippies=Good", but to its credit, Children of Men at least doesn't glamorise the 'resistance'. They turn out to be as villainous, if not more so, than the government they oppose. It doesn't take sides the way you expect, even though it does beat us over the head occasionally with a few politically correct messages. At least the two leads Theo and Kee are essentially average people caught in the middle.
I wanted to like Children of Men, but it doesn't quite work. Far more could have been made about the repercussions of Kee and her child in this dystopian, barren world. Children of Men is a good example that sometimes when you try not to say anything specific, you end up saying nothing at all. It is a brave attempt, and well worth seeing. It makes a change to see some thought-provoking and intelligent science fiction, but we've seen it all before and explored in far more depth.