In a world without babies, a newborn child could be the key to humanity's future in a dark and compelling thriller co-written and directed by Mexican-born filmmaker Alfonso Cuaron. Alan Silverman has this look at Children of Men:
The year is 2027. Inexplicably, fertility has dropped to zero around the world. The prospect of being Earth's last human generation sends society over the edge. Terrorists topple governments, religious zealots preach the 'end of days' and desperate refugees stream across borders only to find themselves caged in camps.
In the England of this near-future, martial law keeps chaos from overwhelming the country. As heavily-armed troops patrol street corners, announcements remind the public that 'England soldiers on.' Meanwhile, the government distributes suicide pills for those who can no longer cope. In the midst of this is a sad bureaucrat named Theo who becomes reluctant guardian of the future embodied by a young African refugee named Kee.
Kee opens her tattered dress to reveal her swollen belly.
Theo is recruited by an underground group to escort Kee safely to the 'Humanity Project,' which no one is sure exists, but everyone hopes will figure out what has gone wrong to fix it in time.
The premise for Children of Men comes from the 1992 novel by English writer P.D. James; but director and screenwriter Alfonso Cuaron says the film adaptation reflects today's world.
"From the beginning, the whole thing of infertility, for me, was more than anything a metaphor. What I wanted to do was make a movie in which you take a journey through the state of things outside of our 'green zones' ...outside the comfort of our 'green zones.' So, for me, the important thing was the observation about these themes that are crafting our present. Then, at the end, while you are going through the state of things, audiences make a decision of whether there is the possibility of hope after witnessing the world that we're living in now," he says.
"If you really strip it all away, the film is about the loss of hope. It is about hope ceasing to be real thing within people and my character, Theo, embodies that," says Clive Owen, who stars as Theo and he sees the journey of the reluctant hero, not as some futuristic fable, but a relevant ...even urgent ... commentary on today. "The human spirit is in a sense of hopelessness. Theo has given up. There is no point to anything and in the movie hope is re-awakened. Theo does become engaged again as a human being and there is something to fight for. That's why I would argue with anybody that says it's a very bleak, dark outlook of the future because you can relate to it. This film feels, to me, more relevant than a lot of films that are set right now in the present day."
Young newcomer Claire-Hope Ashitey co-stars as pregnant Kee and says that the parallels with contemporary events keep Children of Men from becoming another dystopian science fiction tale.
"Absolutely. I think there are so many parallels to be drawn between what goes on in the film and what goes on in our world today and I think that's exactly how Alfonso intended it ...as a way of drawing attention, albeit in a slightly exaggerated form, to the problems that we have today and the things we are doing wrong: highlighting them and putting them in this setting which is really kind of pessimistic and sort of depressing," she says.
Cuaron says he welcomes real world political debate on issues such as unchecked illegal immigration and abridgment of rights in the name of security that he includes in the film; but he does not welcome a label often used to describe it.
"I refuse to portray "Children of Men" as a cautionary tale because there is no time for caution anymore. There is only time for transformation now and trying to correct wherever we went wrong," he says.
Children of Men also features Julianne Moore as the rebel leader whose history with Theo leads her to recruit him for the dangerous mission. Michael Caine plays an old friend who helps guide Theo back to caring about what happens.
"I only worked for two weeks on Children of Men. I mean it's a very important, very showy part ... which is why I did it. And it's two weeks, which is also why I did it," he says.
The cinematographer is Emmanuel "Chivo" Lubezki, a frequent and close collaborator with director Alfonso Cuaron.