Children of Men a Different Kind of Nativity Story
- Thursday, December 21, 2006
DVD Release Date: March 27, 2007
Theatrical Release Date: December 25, 2006 (limited)
Rating: R (for strong violence, language, some drug use, and brief nudity)
Running Time: 109 min.
Director: Alfonso Cuarón
Actors: Clive Owen, Julianne Moore, Michael Caine, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Claire-Hope Ashitey
Opening on Christmas Day 2006, Alfonso Cuarón's Children of Men tells its own story of a woman with child, societal prejudice, and hope for a better tomorrow. But unlike the Bible's story (also currently on the big screen, in The Nativity Story ), this bleak but fascinating story is set in the future, where the concern is one of physical life, rather than spiritual life.
The year is 2027, and England is the last civilized place on earth. Determined to keep it that way, London authorities round up the usual suspects - immigrants - and keep them in cages until they can be deported. Meanwhile, the aging population grapples with widespread infertility, the cause of which is unknown, as it collectively mourns the recent death of baby Diego, the youngest person on the planet.
The government's approach to the problem is misguided and heavy-handed. "Avoiding fertility tests is a crime," reads one billboard - an indication of the government's intense interest in replenishing the population.
Tired of being made into the government's scapegoats for all that ails society, a group of refugees, or "fugees," under the leadership of Julian Taylor (Julianne Moore), fights back. The group's violent tactics earn it the label of terrorist organization, but their mission for Julian's former lover, Theo (Clive Owen), has a noble purpose. They enlist the weary bureaucrat to guide a pregnant woman, Kee (Claire-Hope Ashitey), to meet with the Human Project - a shadowy group committed to the propagation of the human race - and to conceal her condition during the journey.
The enemy in this scenario is the government, which, the group fears, will take the baby away from "fugee" Kee, and resign her to a fate no better than that of the caged refugees throughout London. Her child represents the last hope for humanity, and with the help of Theo's friend, Jasper (Michael Caine), Kee's rendezvous with the Human Project seems to be within reach.
Children of Men moves slowly at times, but always with purpose. It does not meander, nor is it boring. It does, however; require patience. Those who grant it that will be impressed, for the film's periodic payoffs, and its mesmerizing climax, are among the year's best cinematic sequences. These include an out-of-nowhere ambush on a car, shot in one long take; Theo's traversing of a war-torn city, again, in one amazing, extended shot; and a serene scene of new beginning amidst the chaos of battle.
Owen is gruff as Theo, and his haggard manner and profane language make him difficult to warm to, even as we admire his willingness to risk his own life to benefit others. Caine's Jasper provides moments of levity among the gloominess, while Moore and Chiwetel Ejiofor make the most of smaller roles. Although director Cuarón and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki have justly received the lion's share of attention for the environments and camerawork on display in Children of Men, it's Ashitey, as Kee, with her fiercely protective maternal instincts, who gives the film its life force.
With its downbeat vision of the future, and its deliberate pacing, Children of Men will be a challenge for mainstream audiences accustomed to quick-cut editing and over-explained plotting. Cuarón, adapting a novel by P.D. James, does not provide answers to every question raised by the story, but draws enough parallels between London in 2027 and our current debates over immigration and terrorism to allow viewers to pour their own meaning into the final product.
That's a bold strategy for a big-budget holiday film, but for Christian audiences interested in a radical, contemporary approach to hope amid dire circumstances, Children of Men is bound to stir discussion. It's no substitute for the true nativity story, but it proves to be a thoughtful story with echoes of the Incarnation. Add in the bravura work behind the camera, and Children of Men has potential to become an unlikely holiday classic - not one for the whole family, alas, but a challenging, ultimately inspiring film for adult viewers.
- Language: Lord's name taken in vain; numerous profanities.
- Violence: Bombing; gunfire; terrorist acts; kidnapping; violent protests; people are shot at point-blank range; trains and cars are attacked by mobs; a woman cradles a dead man; an implied mercy killing.
- Sex/Nudity: A woman exposes her breasts and pregnant belly to a man.
- Smoking/Drinking: Drug use, drinking.
- Religion: Muslim imagery and language; a woman calls upon St. Gabriel; a joke about a virgin birth; soldiers make the sign of the cross.
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