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Children of Men

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In the news: Clive Owen
  • In the news: Clive Owen

What's the point of making a doomsday thriller if you end it with hope for the future?

Children of Men is a beautifully designed movie that creates a plausible visual landscape of what the world might look like as we inch toward Armageddon. Death is swift and brutal, and there's anarchy and decay everywhere: disintegrating buildings, dying people, dead bodies, rotting corpses, and the dueling armies with the arsenal that got them that way.

This all might work as a novel, where you can afford to leave your audience feeling miserable. But you don't spend this much money on battle scenes and special effects just to tell people that the world is coming to an end.

Children of Men takes place in England in 2027, 18 years after the birth of the last child on earth. The end of fertility began with a rash of unexplained miscarriages. Soon, there were no more pregnancies, and no more new people. Nobody knows why it happened -- not even the filmmakers, I suspect -- and apparently, nobody has found a way to make babies outside the womb, even though, in 2006, we can fertilize an egg in a test tube. This all feels rather like the work of an Almighty, although the movie hardly invites us to pray.

You can understand how people living in such a world wouldn't care too much if everything started to fall apart. For Theo (Clive Owen), the ensuing years have taken him from radicalism to a safe office job. Enter Julian (Julianne Moore), the American woman with whom he had a baby, now dead, 20 years earlier. She's still a radical, and she needs his help: papers of transport for Kee (Clair-Hope Ashitey), a black immigrant woman who is pregnant.

The noisy story that ensues is a thriller -- call it Mad Max meets Soylent Green -- in which Theo tries to get Kee to the safety of The Human Project, whose name speaks for itself. He gets some help from a cagey old survivor (Michael Caine) and dodges the warfare around them, most of it caused by England's policy of imprisoning immigrants, apparently because of an Islamic uprising.

I'm not sure what to make of this muddle, except perhaps that children are our future, and that we need to do something about immigration before things get out of hand. No doubt the movie wants to advocate compassion, although you could easily use it as a manifesto to close the borders. The director, Alfonso Cuarón, made the nice little Mexican film Y Tu Mamá También and a Harry Potter movie. He's out of his element here, juggling weighty ideas in a big-budget thriller (adapted from a P.D. James novel). He packs his movie with many cameo immigrant ciphers wailing in their own languages. So if Children of Men says one thing for sure, it's "Why can't we all just get along and have babies?"

Starts Fri., Jan. 5.

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