A cinematic masterpiece in a world searching for hope
What would happen if the world stopped having children? Can you imagine what that would look like? Thanks to the brilliant cinematography in Alfonso Cuaron's Children of Men, you can. The writer/director puts on screen the horrors of the absence of hope and the courage it takes to regain it.
Clive Owen, Julianne Moore, Michael Caine, and newcomer Claire-Hope Ashitey star in the film that takes place in the year 2027; the youngest person on Earth has died, killed after refusing to sign an autograph for a fan. The world has forgotten what it was like to live, and Clive's character has nearly lost all faith in himself.
That is until he discovers a young girl, Kee (Ashitey), who is pregnant; she's been kept in seclusion for her protection. However, Clive quickly finds out that is not the case and helps her escape.
Clive says before and after working on the film, he felt the passion Alfonso was trying to show. "It's about sacrificing yourself to Alfonso's vision and not getting in the way of it, which seems to me more important than doing any acting. He told me his whole vision of the film and his take on the movie and then I came on board and the first thing he said is, 'This is now the bit I love, I love working with actors, I love the collaboration of that; we're going to do this movie together,' and he was very true to his word. The collaboration continued throughout; it was a genuine, really brilliant collaboration through the whole movie. He kept me completely in the loop in all the post production; he sent me various cuts and edits and there was endless conversations and still now as we're taking the film out there and sort of putting it out there, it still feels like that. So it's been a very, very special collaboration and I do genuinely think he's a very rare and unique talent. The thing about his movies is they are whole visions, he doesn't do that thing of pandering to what he thinks the commercial market wants. He makes his movies, he has a very singular vision and he goes out there and does that. I think he's very special."
In a very moving way, Alfonso follows Clive and Claire's journey out of harm's way - even virtually at times stopping battle scenes to create a comfort with these characters. He brings the audience into the story, capturing a timeless feel. "You see those things, Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib; that is the same reference as concentration camps in the second World War," notes Alfonso. "The real infertility is the lack of historical perspective and that that's where the real infertility resides and how we cannot expect a renewal because we are so rooted in our past, without having an awareness of that past because we are so rooted to it. That has to do with the lack of historical perspective that humanity has; some people, the pessimistics, think that that is just the way it is - I want to believe. I have a very grim view, not of the future, the present; I have a very hopeful view of the future. I think that has to do with I believe an evolution is happening; together with all this greenness an evolution is happening, an evolution of the human understanding that is happening in the youngest generation. I believe that the youngest generation, the generation to come, is the one that is going to come with new schemes and new perspectives of things."
To feel like you're part of the film, Alfonso shot several scenes with no breaks or cuts. "Doing shots like those in Children of Men, there's something about filmmaking - putting great directors, great scripts, and great actors together, you're guaranteed a great film. It's everybody pulling together to try and make something happen and the responsibility is a collective one. And the strongest memory from the movie was how much, how closely I had to work with the operator on those sequences because we would rehearse for a very, very long time and it was very painstaking and specific, but then when we come to shoot it, it has to feel like we're catching it on the run. You've got to feel like you're in the thick of it, and it's all about pacing; if you hold a beat a bit too long, it will suddenly feel a bit manipulative like he's held there."
Alfonso says even though he loves to shoot them, it's the most challenging thing about the film. "The battle at the end comes together with the birth and the car attack - the complication of the car attack, even if the production value is not as bombastic as the battle scene, the problem with the car attack is you're in a vehicle in motion. So that becomes a real nightmare in terms of timing; when you do films with this approach, in a way there's a certain amount of precision that is required. It's not that you do coverage and you have a lot of other material that you might or might not use; it's just a very precise choreography. The exciting part of it is that as a director I try to create the perfect choreography but then it's about the accidents that make the scene happen. Whatever you choreographed but didn't happen or there was an accident; you rely on people like Clive Owen who would take the accidents and elevate the accidents into something better."
Children of Men is based on the 1992 novel by P.D. James; even though he wrote it nearly 15 years ago, the timeless factor is very much there. "That was the start and the huge inspiration for the movie but then Alfonso had a lot of other things he wanted to discuss," says Clive. "He's actually using a film set 30 years in the future as an excuse to talk about present worries, concerns, and fears that we all have. It's an incredibly relevant vision of the future because he's really looking ahead and saying 'if we're not careful, this is where things could be going.' And I don't think the film is that futuristic; if you look at the opening scene, my character walks into a café, walks outside, and a bomb goes off - the beginning of the movie. That's the world we're in, that's not futuristic; that's incredibly relevant. I think it's not that farfetched; there are endless images in this movie that we've seen that we are sort of already familiar with and he's obviously taken it further than the real thing but it's not a fantasy."
Children of Men is a moving and emotional ride; it opens in limited theaters December 25th, and in wider release in the coming weeks.