It may have taken the rollercoaster ride and technical masterwork of Gravity for Alfonso Cuaròn to finally gain awards recognition, but 2006’s Children of Men is the point where he deserved to have been shot to fame.
A box office flop on its release, Children of Men tells the story of a near future where humans have become infertile and no one knows why. When Theo (Clive Owen) is asked by a former love (Julianne Moore) for his help to transport an immigrant, Kee (Clare-Hope Ashitey), to the coast, he’s thrown into a political fight where the future of mankind is on the line.
Children of Men is a film imbued with anger at what humans can do to each other and how hate can easily take over. Released in 2006, it’s pre-Brexit and Trump but what was striking then and what is coming to pass now is how easily you could see its fictional society becoming a reality. Immigrants are locked up in cages with heavily armed guards standing outside. TV screens on trains proclaim that ‘Britain soldiers on’ while its society collapses outside the windows. Like all the best science fiction and speculative fiction, it holds a mirror up and reflects our problems and evils back. When people are scared, and in Children of Men they’re terrified at the very real prospect of the end of the human race through an unexplainable infertility epidemic, their fear spreads as anger, and with a government willing to point the finger and stoke the hate, how easily that venom is thrown at whatever is different, whoever is different.
But it’s not a film just filled with anger - its moments of hope and humanity give it a beating heart. It’s in Theo and Jasper's (Michael Caine) warm friendship and the unwavering love Jasper shows towards his disabled wife. Former maternity nurse Miriam (Pam Ferris) speaking of how she first noticed the infertility epidemic as the ward diary become completely empty of appointments, all told while in a decrepit school. A warzone being brought to complete stillness by the sight of a baby. It’s ultimately a film about hope; about people with the courage to help others, sacrificing themselves not for a political purpose but for what’s best.
Of course, the technical filmmaking skills of Cuaròn and his DOP, Emmanuel Lubezki, are fully on display. The roving camera feels journalistic, getting right into the heart of the drama and turning to pick up images like a mother in the street crying over the corpse of her son, or family pictures arranged on a mantelpiece telling of better times for those who have lost so much. The long takes feel visceral and breathtaking, throwing you into action, the lack of cuts making it feel like a documentary.
Arrow Films have given Children of Men the release it deserves. As well as beautiful 4K visuals, it’s packed with extras. It’s given a new video appreciation, a video essay and archival documentary, each from critics, philosophers and film experts. The films visual effects and camerawork are explored, as well as its themes and resonance with contemporary culture.
One of the great films of the 2000s, and sorely overlooked, Children of Men is long overdue its appreciation, but this release goes a long way to giving it back. Enjoy it for its story, enjoy it for its entertainment value, and enjoy it for its intelligence. Just watch it.
CHILDREN OF MEN / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: ALFONSO CUARON / SCREENPLAY: VARIOUS / STARRING: CLIVE OWEN, JULIANNE MOORE, MICHAEL CAINE / RELEASE DATE: 5TH NOVEMBER
Extras: New audio commentary by author and critic Bryan Reesman, There is No Future - a new video appreciation by film historian Philip Kemp, Fertility & Progeny - a new video essay by author and critic Kat Ellinger, The Possibility of Hope - an archival documentary featuring interviews with activist Naomi Klein, philosopher Slavoj Žižek and others, exploring the film’s resonance with contemporary current affairs, Comments by Slavoj Žižek - an archival featurette on the film’s themes, Creating the Baby - an archival featurette on the film’s visual effects, Futuristic Design - an archival featurette on the film’s sets, Theo & Julian - an archival featurette on Clive Owen, Julianne Moore and their characters, Under Attack - an archival featurette on the film’s ground-breaking camerawork, Deleted scenes, Image gallery