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Children of Men, Alfonso Cuarón (2006)

Decent sci-fi set twenty years hence in a Britain totally overcome by anti-immigrant hysteria, and a world totally demoralized by the fact that no babies have been born in more than 18 years. Scruffy Clive Owen, who I am starting to like quite a lot but who needs to be more careful how he picks his projects, was once an activist against the fascistic government but gave up and sold out to become a bureaucratic drone. When his ex drafts him back into the movement to save the one pregnant girl on earth, his old idealism is awoken. Pretty straightforward, right? Not really.

Children of Men is very intense, and hugely clever in some of its art-direction-type details (e.g. advertisements for the suicide drug “Quietus” on the television), but I wasn’t too enamored of the incredible oversaturation of violence, and — is this just me? — the basic absurdity of the plot. The most fundamental confusion for me is the spurious linkage of the film’s two fundamental obsessions: the human race’s infertility, and nationalistic/racist anti-immigrant hysteria. I think the movie wants us to link these two phenomena somehow, but it’s never clear how. The illegals aren’t accused of causing the infertility. It’s not at all clear why the illegals are so desperate to get into England in the first place. We see footage of other capital cities burning, and are told by newscasters that “only England soliders on,” but it’s never explained how infertility has led to chaos elsehwere but not in England. A terrorist bomb goes off in scene one, but who set it off, and why? Not clear.

As a vision of a dystopic future of environmental collapse, racism, xenophobia, terrorism, and health catastrophe, the movie succeeds very well, but it seems curiously unable or unwilling to expose or explain the roots of those problems. As such, it feels like a bit of a wallow, more interested in greedily imagining terrible outcomes than understanding their sources.

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