"The world has collapsed; only Britain soldiers on." -- British TV announcer in Children of Men.
Just about every movie set in the future paints the bleakest picture imaginable. Cities are in ruins, chaos rules the streets, oppressive governments watch your every move -- and it's usually raining.
Not to mention the fashion. Why are muted greys and trench coats always the wave of the future? Does the Bible foretell of a worldwide ban on pastels in the 21st century?
These movies could be viewed as cautionary tales, warning us that if we don't get our act together, the world will crumble under the weight of terrorism and disease and corruption and hate. They could also be taken as evidence of our overwhelming lack of faith in our children and our children's children. Guess we don't believe they'll have the hearts and minds to right our wrongs and create a better world.
Children of Men is a dark and violent near-future sci-fi thriller set in Britain in 2027, which isn't all that far off. (I mean, Dakota Fanning will only be in her early 30s.) But if you think things are rough now, wait until you get a load of this era.
Every civilization except Britain is in total ruins -- and Britain itself is teetering on the brink of anarchy. All refugees are rounded up, caged and deported to distant outposts. London is dirty and dangerous, and is plagued by random bombings. Government troops are at war with a rebel group known as the Fishes.
And for reasons never explained, no child has been born anywhere on the planet since 2009. There is no next generation. The world is dying.
The always-excellent Clive Owen (the ruddy-faced tough guy who might have been the only better James Bond than Daniel Craig) plays Theo Faron, a former activist who is yanked back into the game by his former lover Julian (Julianne Moore), who pulled away from him years ago, after the death of their child. Knowing Theo is nearly broke and living from whisky bottle to whisky bottle, Julian and her cohorts kidnap Theo and "ask" him to help them transport a young refugee named Kee out of the country and to the near-mythical (and never-seen) Human Project, a sanctuary where scientists and doctors are working furiously to solve the infertility question.
Why is this girl so important to the Fishes and their fight for freedom and equality? Why are they willing to risk their lives before they would let the government get its controlling hands on her?
Here's a hint: She's taken to wearing baggy blouses and she's not always feeling so great.
Clive Owen is an actor who looks most comfortable onscreen when he's wiping blood off his lip and ignoring the fact that he's been wearing the same clothes for three straight days. He's perfectly cast as the me-first, reluctant anti-hero who will talk a tough game but will do the right thing when push comes to gunshots. Julianne Moore is an actor's actor, but she seems disconnected from her role as a tough-talking, freedom-fighting rebel leader. Her character might not be as pivotal to the story as the ads and trailers indicate, and that's not necessarily a bad thing.
Directed with gritty style by Alfonso Cuaron (Y Tu Mama Tambien, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban), Children of Men is crammed with big ideas, but isn't particularly interested in exploring those ideas. Why exactly did every country except Britain collapse? What did they do here that wasn't done elsewhere? Why is every woman in the entire world infertile? What happened?
Maybe any attempt to explain these things would mire the story in expositional quicksand and give the film a veneer of pretentious silliness. We're just expected to accept this world and to root for Theo and Kee.
This is probably the feel-not-so-great movie of the new year. But if you're in the proper, semi-dark mood, it's a gritty gem.