Who's the father?
Kee: There's no father. I'm a virgin. Nah! Be great, though,
hero and woman in his charge in a
bleak and quite awful dis-United Kingdom.
Moore and P.D. James could not be more different in terms
of, well, almost everything. Although they are both excellent
writers (one specialises in comic-novels and the other,
words without the pictures), Moore leans towards the wild
man, multi-ring fingered iconoclast angle, while James (a
venerable literary lady) has an OBE and is about as representative
of the great British establishment as the changing of the
guard. She still writes under the initials P.D. and it's
tempting to think that Phyllis Dorothy had to succumb to
a publisher's request just as Joanna Kathleen Rowling did
– boys don't read books written by girls, do they?
Sheesh. So where's the connection?
roughly the same time, both had imagined a very bleak British
future (Moore's was published between 1982 and 1988, James'
in 1992) and both have had that future fully and soberingly
realised on screen. V For Vendetta, a movie
lacking Moore's credit (all other Moore adaptations have
been fiercely criticised by the hirsute author), still works
as a deft political fantasy, a savage signpost indicating
where we may be heading but the anti-government protagonist,
V, is presented as almost super-human, an ideal, an idea.
In Children of Men (and I cannot work out
if the title is supposed to be ironic, sneering, straightforward,
what?!), its ‘V' is a resistance movement throughout
the British Isles that the fascistic government continually
paint as terrorists. It's an extraordinary film, technically
speaking, but it's also immensely entertaining in the bleakest
way imaginable. Did I mention it was bleak?
the near future in an all too recognisable UK. Yes, the
buses have plasma real time video advertising on their sides
(an aspect of production design that reminds us that talented
Mexican director Alfonso Cuarón's last full feature
- thereby not including Paris, Je T'aime
- was Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban).
The dull blue-grey palette of the cinematography is (like
The Matrix's green hue) almost too depressing
to endure. Mankind is on its way out because women cannot
conceive and the overwhelming blanket of doom has cast a
pall on the world that few are able to shake off. Theo (a
terrifically convincing Clive Owen) is a drone who walks
out of a café after hearing that the youngest person
on the planet (he was 18) has just been stabbed to death
by a fan that was refused an autograph. Seconds later, the
café is destroyed by an explosive – even this
event doesn't shake Theo out of a deep-rooted melancholy.
He 'feels like shit' all the time and works at a mindless
job. We learn that his son's death has levered his life
into a depressive pit and that he was once a political activist
(with Julianne Moore as his partner, now one of the most
feared terrorists of the UK underground). Suffice to say,
the media do a lot of the shading and we are left to unravel
this world with the zones of zeitgeist info available to
us now. Very little cues an audience into when we are but
what elements do, do enough. Theo's friend is political
cartoonist Jasper, whose work looks extraordinarily like
the Guardian's Steve Bell. He is played
by Michael Caine and here, he is playful and funny and the
political conscience of the movie. Caine's way out from
underneath the crippling sadness is mostly marijuana based.
And the actor has fun with Jasper – and we do too.
is kidnapped, taken off the street like an Iraqi man with
a wealthy wife. Scared (who wouldn't be?), he is taken to
meet his old flame and mother to his dead child. As a father
can I just say that to type the words 'dead child' makes
one pause. She needs Theo to pull strings via friends in
high places (oddly but in keeping with the movie's tone,
this is Battersea power station complete with Pink Floyd's
inflatable pig suspended outside. Why? Why not)? Theo needs
to obtain a visa to allow a very special person down to
the coast where she would meet up with a boat – onboard
is rumoured to be "The Human Project," an offshore
scientific concern that represents mankind's only hope for
a future. Owen complies, gets the visa and has to set off
with his special cargo as per the visa's purview.
journey south starts off delightfully. Owen and Moore play
the estranged couple to the hilt and a scene in a car involving
ping pong balls is an utter delight – but then it's
designed to be given what comes next. Here, Children
Of Men doesn't so much change gear as startle explosively.
Cuarón's skill is found in the almost perfunctory
way the action and drama unfolds. He really does succeed
in presenting the events as if they are really happening
a la cinema verité. There is some insane stunt work
or some artful CG as whole takes compress the most extraordinary
physical events. This sequence is merely a stylistic taster
for something special that's coming down the line.
INSERT: Anyone remember seeing an album/CD cover
with a naked couple sitting on the front in a sort of psychedelic
background? I think it may have been the score for a movie
called Zabriskie Point. It remains unlistened
to (Pink Floyd did the score, does that remark make me un-cool?).
The point I'm making is that there are some movies out there
that set up shop in your head and create a micro-mythology
– purely because you are continually exposed to its
supplementary material and the movie's content and merit
are almost always a mystery until you make the effort to
see the damn thing. A director I worked with recently made
the intriguing remark that Children Of Men
had one key scene that was extraordinary. That set the micro-self-placed-mythology
in place. Talk about great word of mouth.
the end of this key sequence, Chiwetel Ejiofor as Luke,
makes a decision which plunges everyone in the car in so
deep there is no turning back, literally in this case. Ejiofor
is fast becoming one of my favourite British actors; he
has great presence, an intriguing face and a comfortable
screen quality that allows him to play almost anything (romantic
comedy, deadly assassin or grubby political activist to
name just three). I would imagine most professional actors
would love a career of great variety. 'Chewy', as he's known,
is doing just that. Back at a safe house, Theo finds out
what all the fuss is about. His partner on the trip is a
young pregnant woman. The resistance want to stop the government
getting hold of her and use her and her baby as political
leverage. Theo, whom Kee trusts absolutely because of what
Julianne Moore's Taylor has revealed about him, only cares
that she find safety, a place to have the child. Where do
they go? A prison where immigrants are tortured of course,
Abu Grahib style. It's the only way to get to the water
and any hope that lies on the waves.
are some very smart twists and turns that culminate in a
sequence of extraordinary reality. Cueing this up is the
birth of the child and for the first time in a mainstream
picture that I can recall, we see a baby born relatively
clearly. Whether the sleight of cinematic hand is an animatronic
slipped from a stagehand under the bed or if it possibly
could be ultra-sophisticated CG, the effect is intimate
and moving – and that, my friends, is all that counts.
Cuarón knows how the use the tools to serve his story
and is not in thrall to the almost limitless possibilities
from the tools available. And now we come to that sequence.
I will not give anything away except to say that verité
style, we stay with Theo and Kee throughout and as a battle
erupts between the warders and the resistance (we're talking
tanks, automatic fire, explosions, mangled and ripped up
bodies) it feels real.
only afterwards you suddenly have a little but powerful
epiphany. It was all one take… OK, I know that CG
can stitch takes together and certain wall wipes can be
artfully used to change the shot BUT it's the overall cumulative
effect that is important. You feel every bit of the struggle
to stay alive, you feel each and every close bullet ricochet
and you can almost feel the heat of the explosions. It's
masterful film-making made to look as if they just happened
to be there when all this carnage erupted and that takes
some skill. I must give a nod of appreciation to the army
of craftspeople who made this shot(!) so seamless.
it's bleak. Yes, there is little evidence that the human
race is worth saving (I mean we are pretty awful animals
when push comes to shove). Yes, it's all shot in that depressing
haze of hopelessness. But Owen, Caine and Moore all shine
brightly and the narrative is so deftly handled by Cuarón
that it all becomes somewhat thrilling once the ingredients
are effortlessly conjoined. Add to this, moments of technical
brilliance and you have a story that is well worth anyone's