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Children of Men's terrifying future

Review by Rachel Cohen | February 2, 2007 | Page 9

Children of Men, directed by Alfonso Cuarón, starring Clive Owen and Michael Caine.

CHILDREN OF Men extracts a haunting projection of the collapse of civilization from the ugliest realities of our present society.

In the midst of Hollywood's recent relative silence, indie director Alfonso Cuarón conducts an emotionally riveting tour of the horrors of today's world of war and occupation, which the mainstream of media and politics addresses with antiseptic indifference at best.

The film asks movie-goers to imagine what would have happened if there had been no fight to roll back last spring's racist Sensenbrenner Bill, and it had indeed become a federal offense even to aid anyone who immigrated without legal sanction.

What if the disparity between wealthy and destitute nations grew only steeper and more chaotic until only one nation in the world continued to offer its citizens a semblance of basic needs, attracting a steady tide of immigrants despite its brutal enforcement of draconian anti-immigrant laws?

What if pollution so ravaged the earth that human life itself could no longer be reproduced? What would the world look like after 18 years without the sound of children's voices? This is the harrowing dystopia that Children of Men thrusts onto the silver screen, exploding with arresting immediacy from start to finish.

In this invented future world, where present-day society has collapsed under mounting racism, greed, political turmoil and environmental destruction, the film tells us, "only Britain soldiers on." Human society the world over is paralyzed by the impending end of human life, and tyranny and despondency have become the orders of the day.

In the midst of all of this, an unlikely assortment of people are drawn together into an equally unlikely fight for humanity.

Clive Owen is Theo, an alcoholic and politically depressed former activist, and his friend Jasper an isolated and aged hippie played brilliantly by Michael Caine. A young "Fugee," or immigrant, woman named Kee is considering the permanent oblivion of the glibly advertised and government-issued suicide kit, known as Quietus, until she learns she holds a secret of world-important proportions.

There is Kee's quasi-Buddhist, but tough-as-nails and impossibly earnest companion Miriam, and Julianne Moore plays the naïve leader of terrorist ring known as "the Fishes," which organizes for "the Uprising" to liberate all immigrants in Britain.

The film is expertly shot and acted, and is driven by the heroism of these and other ordinary people who risk all and share absolutely everything they have for the hope of forging something new. Each of these characters changes dramatically over the course of the movie, as the deadening pall of chaos and repression lifts and the chance of another kind of world appears a viable possibility.

To convey the past of social consciousness on which a few of these characters draw their motivation, the camera pans in a few scenes over a collection of news clippings and memorabilia, including a bronze relief of Lenin and a photo of an anti-Iraq war protest.

Despite the film's central messianic theme, it stands out as one of the most important in years because it brings to life with unrelenting clarity the nightmarish images of today's world news, with the full horror of Haditha, Hurricane Katrina, Abu Ghraib, Guantánamo and Ramallah condensed into one time and place.

Notably, the film's extrapolation of today's world of war and oppression excludes one decisive factor: a political alternative. Instead, Children of Men calculates the character of the future resistance as a lethal and apolitical, top-down terrorist organization which, while depending on the self-activity of the mass of immigrants interned in detention camps, takes it upon themselves to manipulate and deceive these disenfranchised people to stir them to action.

To be fair, the film's aim appears to be allegorical more than political, contrasting the resilience of the human spirit with the cruelty of a degenerated society. But viewers should not be fooled by the superficial interpretation of organized resistance.

Nonetheless, the film's overall impact recalls the words of Rosa Luxemburg, who argued in 1915, "We stand today...before the awful proposition: either the triumph of imperialism and the destruction of all culture, and, as in ancient Rome, depopulation, desolation, degeneration, a vast cemetery; or, the victory of socialism."

Anyone interested in fighting against today's world of war, poverty and oppression should see this movie, and remember that we still have a chance to fight for a different kind of society.

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