Children of Men

An excellent addition to the sci-fi canon

"If there were no future, how would we behave?" P.D. James about how her novel answers that question.

"Very badly" would be the honest answer, covering even the good guys in 2027, when the earth has been infertile for 18 years (don't ask why; it's at the very least metaphorical). In an excellent addition to the sci-fi canon, Children of Men shows how almost everyone is out for numero uno, except former freedom fighter in Britain, Theo (Clive Owen)--the name has a certain filmic and religious resonance--who tries to save the only pregnant woman on the planet, Kee (Clare-Hope Ashitey), by taking her through horrors Mel Gibson's "Mad" Max Rockatansky and Harrison Ford's Rick Decard also see up close.

Children of Men's bleak visual design is probably inspired by both those classics, Mad Max and Blade Runner, but it is also singularly the work of production designers Jim Clay and Geoffrey Kirkland, who keep Theo up to his elbows in garbage, battered buildings, and burned-out vehicles. Accentuating the visual vitality is director of photography Emmanuel Lubezki, who never saw a shot he couldn't embellish with at handheld camera, albeit very effectively giving the drama a nervous edge and the audience a front-row seat to the running heroes.

The apocalypse motif has been with us for some time now, most filmmakers envisioning a not-to-distant future with warring factions scorching the landscape and ethnically cleansing (wait a minute, isn't that happening right now all over the world?). The tribes have various names such as Fishes (underground supporters of immigrants' rights) and Renouncers (self flagellators for human rights), sounding more like gangs than rebels. As always, it seems only one man can bring salvation, a scenario getting a bit worn by now. The presence of a "Madonna" and child and the repetition of "Jesus Christ" as the horrified exclamation of choice confirm the messianic motif. This film opens, after all, on Christmas day.

Clive Owen has never been better as the beleaguered hero, and Michael Caine is a joy as a long-haired ex-political cartoonist now seriously into smoking weed. Julianne Moore's sparse role hardly qualifies for second billing, except for her star power.

Writer/director Alfonso Cuaron emphasizes the relevance to today by placing signs at a refugees' bus station called "Homeland Security" and making the government forces trigger happy goons. In all, terrorism rules, and terrorists abound. Help is coming from another group called The Human Project, whose operatives have never been seen, an apt metaphor for the faceless hope that pervades this bleak world.

My favorite doomsday film in the last five years is 28 Days Later, about which I said, "Not only does the film intelligently confront the old `man's -inhumanity-to-man' and `survival-of-the-fittest' themes, but it also glosses the meaning of life and the need for community." Children of Men doesn't grapple with the themes as much as I'd like, for there is too much emphasis on visual design and not enough substantive dialogue.

As an Anglophile, I'm happy Britain has survived. A public service announcement repeats, "The world has collapsed; only Britain soldiers on." Right, then.