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During an early scene in Alfonso Cuaron's visionary 2006 film Children of Men, which is being released to DVD on July 1st, the hapless Theo Faron (Clive Owen) visits his cousin Nigel (Danny Huston) seeking a favor. It's the year 2027, the world is in chaos, and Britain is the last empire standing. Faron is trying to secure safe passage across the border for an illegal immigrant, one who also happens to be the first pregnant woman the world has seen in 18 years.
Apart from having government connections, Nigel is a serious art connoisseur who decorates his abode with the originals of Michelangelo's "David" and Picasso's "Guernica." Faron asks his cousin why he spends his time collecting these relics of the past when the present is in disarray and it seems certain the future is doomed. Looking out across a bleak skyline, Nigel replies that he just doesn't think about it, while behind him Picasso's unparalleled dystopian vision is sprawled across the wall.
This should be a jolting wake-up call to Cuaron's fellow artists. Great art is meant to be alive and passionate, the kind of stuff that can shake some meaning into life - not simply decorate dining room walls. Huston plays Nigel as an outwardly composed man who holds a belly of rage, a mountain of suppressed expression. Children of Men imagines a world where the artistic voice has been completely lost among the wreckage of constant war and strife, and it's a place that looks frighteningly familiar.
The "illegal immigrant" crossing the border with Faron is Kee (Claire-Hope Ashley), a young African immigrant introduced to him by his ex-wife Julian (Julianne Moore). Though Kee holds the future of the human race in her hands, her status as a refugee makes her a second-class citizen, one who would have a hard time gaining any help from a British government that prides itself on a strict immigration policy. Julian had hoped to carry Kee safely to the "human project," a group of the world's brightest minds working for a better tomorrow. But soon the burden falls squarely on Faron as he rushes through police blockades, refugee camps and a literal battlefield in search of some hope for the girl and himself.
The film's cinematography has been widely praised, and deservedly so, as it mesmerizes with the longest takes amidst the most intense scenes. Certain sequences will leave your mouth agape and your heart pulsating with their technical skill and dramatic force. Yet as Faron paces through this chaotic space, it is the subtle attention to detail in the set-design and composition that establishes the lushly dilapidated environment of the film. Every shot seems painstakingly shaped, and at only 109 minutes, each frame is filled to the brim with narrative. From the rickshaws that line the streets of London to the worn children's paintings on the walls of an old school building, Cuaron deftly paints a society that has moved as many steps backwards as it has developed technologically forward. We see floating computer screens, but they are most often advertising a legal suicide pill called Quietus.
It's a pill that most of this "world without children's voices" seems to have collectively taken some time ago. A DJ on the radio plays a "classic" song from 2003, a time that he fondly recalls as one of hope and one still artistically rebellious. In fact there appears to have been little music created at all since the dearth of fertility began; Faron's friend Jasper Palmer (a brilliant Michael Caine) still talks of Lennon and McCartney and listens to some Radiohead and the occasional Rolling Stones song, but the present music scene remains awfully quiet.
Earlier in the film Julian tells Faron, after a bombing that nearly takes his life, that the ringing in his ears is the final cry of his cells dying - once it's gone he will never hear that frequency again. Cuaron uses a similar piercingly high-pitched noise throughout the finale of the film, a sort of cry for help from the dying notes of grand art. Yet rather than wallowing in tones of discordance, the film ends somewhat optimistically with the birth of a baby named Dylan. The times are indeed capable of changing if we know to protect what matters. A thrilling film like Children of Men reassures us that we are still capable of inspired self-expression today, but only as long as we defend the voices of great artists like Cuaron.
TRAILER: www.youtube.com/watch?v=NikEQy1XxDE SEE ALSO: www.childrenofmen.net
Imran Siddiquee is a freelance writer pursuing self-expression in all its forms. This includes the occasional contribution to LAS as well as writing blogs, essays, short stories, an unpublished novel and some screenplays. He also creates horribly amateur music with his brother Yusuf.
See other articles by Imran Siddiquee.
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