Reviews | Written by Rich Cross 29/12/2019

CONSTELLATIONS: CHILDREN OF MEN

AUTHOR: DAN DINELLO | PUBLISHER: AUTEUR | RELEASE: OUT NOW

A critical triumph and a box-office disappointment, Children of Men is the 2006 big-screen adaptation of P D James’ acclaimed 1992 dystopian novel. James’ work imagines a near-future world locked in the downward spiral of a fertility crisis. With conception and pregnancy no longer possible, the human race is destined to slowly die out within a couple of generations. Around the world, the impact of this existential calamity has seen societies slide into dysfunction and disaster.

Written and directed by Alfonso Cuarón, Children of Men was greeted by rave reviews on its release, as critics heralded its gripping storyline, inventive design, ground-breaking production techniques and its impressive cinema veritéstyle. Cuarón and his cinematographers delivered breathtaking, intricate single-shots on a huge scale, with the story brought to the screen through an edgy documentary style of filmmaking. The film was rightly nominated for both Academy and BAFTA awards.

One of the things which distinguished Children of Men from other near-apocalyptic sci-fi movies of the decade was the film’s rich cultural and political texture. Cuarón’s script amplified the themes present in James’ novel, to bring into focus a whole range of contemporary social concerns: immigration and the plight of refugees; the corrosion of democracy; the threat to civil liberties; ecological collapse; and the impact of the ‘war on terror’.

It’s the film’s engagement with such ‘real world’ concerns that are the focus of this latest release in the Constellations series. The result is a persuasive and powerfully argued text that begins by setting Children of Men in the context of an ‘era of apocalyptic anxiety’ in popular culture. Dinello goes on to explore the film’s cinematic antecedents, and to examine the range of innovative techniques and technologies that Cuarón employed so effectively.

Due attention is paid to the film’s masterly and immersive design, to the movie’s documentary ambience, and to those signature unbroken, and continually mobile, sequences. There’s a thoughtful examination of the motivations and morality of the rebels, and attempts throughout to draw parallels between the film’s themes and events in modern history, referencing ideas drawn from theology, philosophy and politics. The film’s deliberately ambiguous ending is also carefully appraised.

The Constellations imprint produces work that aims to reach both an academic and a wider genre audience. That can be a challenging ambition, and it’s evident from Dinello’s prose how much he takes that commitment to heart. This is an impressive, intelligent and perceptive analysis of a film increasingly recognised in retrospect as a classic of modern dystopian cinema. Reading this treatise, it’s impossible not to be continually reminded how often the story’s disturbing conjectures feel like something you might hear about in tomorrow’s news headlines.

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