Children of Men (2006) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

Children of Men is possibly the most ballyhooed look at the future since Blade Runner. It was directed by Alfonso Cuaron, who has quickly assembled a solid reputation and a very impressive resume with żY Tu Mama Tambien? and a Harry Potter film. The basic idea was adapted from an incisive dystopian novel called "The Children of Men," from P.D. James, the noted mystery writer.

Frankly, I don't like what they did to form a script from Lady James's novel. She writes detective stories for the most part, which means she has a natural inclination to make her plots sensible and logical, and to give some real thought to the consequences of her own assumptions and the actions of her characters. The book is about a future in which the human race has become infertile, so Lady James tried to think through what would really happen to our race in such a case. Some examples:

  • With no more young people, no more strong backs to swing the sledgehammers, essential services would gradually decay. Roads would no longer be maintained; oil rigs would be left unmanned, etc.
  • With no more young minds to innovate and try new things, life would become repetitive and downright routine. Think about it. Where would the internet be today if everyone had been at least fifty years old when it was introduced?
  • With the end of the human race no longer than a few decades away, people might lose interest in progress. Even if you had the young men to do the heavy lifting, would you create a new World Trade Center knowing the end of the world was nigh?
  • Governments and charitable organizations would begin training people to survive as well as possible after the loss of critical services like the electrical grid, sewage treatment, and trash removal.
  • Religions would gain even a stronger hold upon the populace, as people sought an answer to their despair.
  • Sadness and a lack of energy would overwhelm us, as the memory of children's voices faded. Deserted schools and overgrown playgrounds would be constant reminders of our sorrow.
  • Without males aged 16-35, there would be very little petty violence or street crime. There would be no unwanted children to wander the streets and turn to delinquency.
  • Scientists would be working feverishly for a solution to global infertility.

I could continue, but you get the point. It is a thought-provoking concept, if a somewhat academic one. If you're interested, you can read Wikipedia's excellent summary.

In the novel's vision, England is basically the last bastion of civilization, owing in large measure to its island status. In order to maintain order, and to defend its borders against all the refugees who would like to move there, the government basically transmogrifies into a fascist regime ... and ...

Well, you get the picture.

It has a great ending. In the new world order, the remaining men and women who might possible re-populate the planet are constantly being poked and prodded and studied by the fascist government and its scientists. The weak, the infirm, the undesirable, and those with major handicaps are basically ignored. Then a miracle baby is finally conceived, and the father turns out to be ...

Well, you'll just have to read it, dammit.


Man, that would have made a great movie.

Children of Men is not that movie. It basically bears no resemblance to that hypothetical film except in the general premise (mankind is collectively infertile) and in the names of a few of the characters. One must remember that future fiction is not about the future, but the present. The present of 2006 is very different from the present of 1992, when the novel was written. While the book tried to think through the premise coldly and objectively, the filmed version of Children of Men is basically a hysterical, shrieking allegory to current events. Instead of the populace trying to cope with boredom in a quietly despairing world, the urban streets have degenerated into war zones filled with caged immigrants awaiting transportation to refugee camps. The British government is basically a fictionalized version of the Bush administration, trying to fortify the country's borders, criminalizing immigration, and clamping down on civil rights in general. When the illegal immigrants are placed in refugee camps, they are stripped of all their dignity, ala Guantanamo or Abu Ghraib. In reaction to this, various groups of fugitives and sympathizers are continually engaged in armed insurrection against the government.

You know, pretty much the opposite of what would really happen if there were no young men in the world.

Oh, well, I suppose a cerebral, academic approach to the premise wouldn't have done anything at the box office. It would have ended up in the arthouses like the similarly-themed Canadian film Last Night. In order to fill the seats, the film needed to add passion, visceral impact and, of course, plenty of explosions. That it did.

The last thirty minutes or so of this film basically consist of Clive Owen being nearly shot in combat, nearly shot face-to-face, nearly killed in explosions, nearly hit by shrapnel, nearly crushed by rubble, and so forth. That sounds trite, and I suppose it is in a sense, but it's also downright harrowing. The film creates a wartime environment as realistic as the opening scenes of Saving Private Ryan or Enemy at the Gates. The scene was shot in a single take with a hand-held camera to create Owen's own P.O.V. It's so effective that if you're lost in the movie's world you may well find yourself flinching and ducking, and getting as involved in the action as you would be if you were playing a particularly absorbing video game and controlling Owen yourself.

Owen plays the world-weary guy who pretends not to give a crap about anything, but deep inside is a man of absolute integrity who harbors great idealism, and merely uses cynicism to cover up the pain of disillusion.

You know, the usual bullshit.

It's the familiar "neo-Bogart with a British accent" routine that has become Owen's stock in trade. Of course one must concede that he does this character well. He ought to. He's had plenty of practice. The thing I like about Owen's take on the character in Children of Men is that he's basically not a bad-ass in any way. He differs from Bogart in that you always knew if you got into a fair fight with a Bogie anti-hero, he'd calmly kick your ass without breaking a sweat. Owen's character, on the other hand, would calmly get his ass kicked. As he proceeds through the war zone at the end, you can tell that he's scared witless. He's flinching. He's retreating. He's closing his eyes. His hands are shaking, He doesn't shriek like a girly man, and he probably doesn't pee his pants, but you can believe that he might, and he does react the way any unarmed non-combatant would really do if trapped in an urban military battle where both sides are heavily armed and assume him to be an enemy. Why doesn't he run away? He manages to get the job done, not out of any superhuman effort, but simply by continuing to move forward because he doesn't really have any other good alternative.

The central story of the film was not in the book at all. Owen plays a bureaucrat who has abandoned his ideals, at least superficially, until he is contacted by his ex-lover (Julianne Moore) to do the most important thing any man will ever be asked to do in this dystopic future world. He has to figure out a way to get the one and only pregnant woman in the world - from a pregnancy which came out of nowhere after 18 years of human infertility - into the hands of some apolitical scientists and medical professionals who wander the seas on a ship which has been converted to a floating laboratory. This is mankind's last hope, and Owen must do this before the pregnant woman is killed in street combat or captured by one of the warring factions and used for their political purposes.

The filmmaking techniques and the details coordinated in that process are absolutely magnificent, as good as any film you have ever seen. There is one car chase shot with a single camera take which involved innumerable actors, explosions, other vehicles, fires, gunshots, and stunts, all performed in real time. The camera crew was placed on the roof of a specially modified car and the camera itself was rigged especially for this purpose. In the final battle scene which I mentioned above, also shot in one take, Cuaron not only managed to rival Spielberg and Annaud for the most harrowing battlefield scenes ever filmed, but he even managed to top Tarkovsky's "Tatar invasion" scene in Andrei Rublev for the title of "most complicated continuous one-camera take in a major movie." He co-ordinated hundreds of actors, tanks, high-powered rifle shots, massive explosions, and other elements of urban warfare as the hand-held camera follows Clive Owen through a couple hundred of yards of city streets, up a flight of stairs, through a building under heavy assault, and down the stairs again. And all while the actors continue to deliver dialogue. Brilliant stuff! Truly brilliant. Based solely on the sheer virtuosity of the photography, you have to see this movie if you love film, or even if you are interested in filmmaking. I would be surprised (and shocked) if three-time Oscar nominee Emmanuel Lubezki is not nominated yet again for Best Cinematography.

I ended up liking this film very much, but if you want to follow me on that path you will have to give the script a lot of latitude. While Lady James tried to think through every detail of what her imaginary world would be like, the authors of this film have not sacrificed the pacing to make all the details add up. Nor should they have. Too much explanation would have diluted the film's power. In other words, while this is not the film that one might have expected from the book, it is also a very, very good one. (It's in the IMDb Top 250.) Go see it, because it cost $76 million to make, and it is not going to be a blockbuster, so it needs need all the help it can get to give the investors a healthy return.  Filmmakers should be encouraged to make more films of this caliber. I paid to see it twice, and I took my kids the second time.



  • widescreen anamorphic

  • six featurettes

  • deleted scenes (very brief and insignificant)


Clair-Hope Ashitey exposes her breasts when she reveals that she is pregnant.

DVD Source Novel

The Critics Vote ...

  • British consensus: two and a half stars out of four. Man, those guys are hard to impress.  Mail 4/10, Telegraph 6/10, Independent 6/10, Guardian 8/10, Times 6/10, Sun 6/10, Express 8/10, Mirror 6/10, FT 6/10, BBC 3/5.


The People Vote ...

  • IMDB summary. IMDb voters score it 8.1/10. (IMDb Top 250). The scores are inversely correlated to age, dropping about a half of a point from group to group, but even the oldest group rates it 7.2
  • Box Office Mojo U.K. It debuted at #1, and has grossed more than $9 million in the U.K. Mojo USA. It did about ten million in its opening weekend, far above expectations, and is heading for $30m or more.
The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

Our own guideline:

  • A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre.
  • B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. In order to rate at least a B-, a film should be both a critical and commercial success. Exceptions: (1) We will occasionally rate a film B- with good popular acceptance and bad reviews, if we believe the critics have severely underrated a film. (2) We may also assign a B- or better to a well-reviewed film which did not do well at the box office if we feel that the fault lay in the marketing of the film, and that the film might have been a hit if people had known about it. (Like, for example, The Waterdance.)
  • C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by people who enjoy this kind of movie. If this is your kind of movie, a C+ and an A are indistinguishable to you.
  • C means it is competent, but uninspired genre fare. People who like this kind of movie will think it satisfactory. Others probably will not.
  • C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie, but genre addicts find it watchable. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film, but films with this rating should be approached with caution by mainstream audiences, who may find them incompetent or repulsive or both. If this is NOT your kind of movie, a C- and an E are indistinguishable to you.
  • D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-. Films rated below C- generally have both bad reviews and poor popular acceptance.
  • E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre.
  • F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.


Based on this description, this film is a B. My comments are not 100% positive, but on balance it is absolutely a must-see if you are interested in what can be done in movies without CGI. The techniques employed are astounding, and it is also a movie with both serious ideas and dramatic heft. It should have been nominated by the Golden Globes as the best picture, drama (rather than Bobby).

Return to the Movie House home page