‘Children of Men’ is an inspiring masterpiece

Ben Raymond

A devout fundamentalist Evangelical and a misanthropic nihilist walk into a movie theater to catch a vibrant new action thriller. Upon entering, they bicker and spit about, among other things, who is going to Hell first and whether a film set in 2027 England in which society crumbles, anarchy runs rampant and women can no longer have babies will offer any sense of optimism about the future.

The previews begin, the film plays and the credits role.

Both exit and have, inexplicably, managed to remove their heads from their butts and come to a happy medium: “That film was inspiring!”

What sort of film could possibly elicit such compromise? What message could it possibly have possessed and how could it have presented this message in such a way as to allow both archetypes the opportunity to be spellbound?

The film is “Children of Men,” and the message is hope. Set against the backdrop of pre-apocalyptic England not 20 years from now, it tells the story of Theo (Clive Owen) who is recruited to harbor and shield the world’s first pregnant woman in 19 years, Kee (Claire-Hope Ashitey), through a menacing labyrinth to safety and a better tomorrow. With the help of Theo’s estranged lover Julian (Julianne Moore), friend Jasper (Michael Caine) and a host of unpredictable characters, they journey through a perilous civilization afire in hopes of surviving the despair and beginning a new society.

Directed majestically by Alfonso Cuarón (“Harry Potter 3”), “Children of Men” is a stirring, riveting masterpiece. And I do mean it is a masterpiece. On every level of filmmaking, it inspires. Dramatic, thrilling and powerfully entertaining, it is truly a thing to behold. Sweeping, panoramic captures of desolate urban vistas and impossibly choreographed action sequences filmed in six-to seven-minute shots leave you breathless. Saturated with excitement and gravitas, it never ceases to astonish. The soul of its regality lies, unarguably, in its directorial merit and how Cuarón chooses to explore the heart of the story.

The camera acts as an invincible third party observer, impervious to the shattering explosions, ricocheting bullets and dizzying hopelessness that surround it. It interlaces through the action with a gracefulness and conviction that lends it an almost human quality. Cuarón goes beyond merely filming the action.

With supreme cinematic dynamism and ingenuity, he provides a uniquely intimate perspective that does more than capture the imagination and suspend reality but leads the audience into an active role in the story. This role is one transformed from simply “watching the movie” or even “experiencing the film,” but becomes a sort of vicarious existence within the movements and happenings of the film. Cuarón illustrates with a profound deliberation and tenderness to the human condition. The prowess of his direction exceeds that of aesthetics and artistic cunning. It imparts a deeply humanistic sensitivity that elevates the viewing experience past pure involvement to the strata of coactive participation and sympathy.

In this, Cuarón does something that is truly revolutionary. With miraculous dexterity and vision, he provides a vantage point through which we ourselves become characters.

The camera actually moves with emotion. Wielded with timidity, pause and curiosity it exhibits distinctly human contemplation. Through the lens, we unassailably tread amongst the warring dystopia. We shudder and flinch, cower and retreat. The film and the viewer are one. What Cuarón has accomplished is, in a sense, a meditative, organic sensation of virtual reality. He uses the camera not as an instrument, but as an extension of innate human instinct. “Visionary” and alike superlatives do not begin to capture its impact.

“Children of Men” is an acutely spiritual film. Allegories and allusions to elements of the story of the nativity and other Christian symbolism abound, gifting an overwhelming sense of piety and faithfulness throughout. But the film serves not as an endorsement of Christianity or any other religious establishment. Rather, it engenders an exceptional wealth of hope through the universality of sacrificing for the sake of others. It was, to me, an achievement of uncommon depth.

Defying labels and denomination, “Children of Men” strives to affect whatever shred of humanity lies within each of us individually. This, it accomplishes as a beguiling, engaging actioner enlivened with mesmerizing photography, dynamic direction and reverence to a gift we have all been given: common humanity.

P.S. You think there is a reason this film went into limited release on Christmas Day and wide release before the Epiphany?