Monday, January 08, 2007

Children of Men

Children of Men is another heavily praised and talked-about mainstream movie that left me cold. For a studio film it is quite bleak and at least it tries to be serious. It is set in London 20 years from now. Human beings have become infertile and it has been eighteen years since the last child was born. (This premise has been called dystopian but personally I feel it very consoling to think that the Human species wouldn't go on forever.) Actually this fact is only a backdrop, the main thread of the narrative is the immigrant problem. Since Britain is the only country that "Soldiers On" (and it is quite an apt phrase), the rest of the world being in a state of Anarchy, never explained how, the immigrants have been pouring in from all over. The British govt, not unlike most of the western governments of now, has declared sheltering and harbouring "illegal" immigrants to be a crime and they are being rounded up like animals and put in cages and deported. There is a guerilla organizations fighting the "resistance" and there are Hamas-like street demonstrations (green flags, slogans of allah-o-akbar) which are designed to feel like you are watching another news report from Iraq or the middle east. But it doesn't really work. It all feels deliberate and false. Now in the midst of all this one immigrant girl has become pregnant and the task of our (reluctant) hero is to protect her and her baby from the government and the guerillas, who want to use the baby for their political purposes, and take her safely to something called "the human project" (in one of the very few kitschy moments in the film, the ship that these guys travel on is called "Tomorrow"). Most of the film then will be familiar to Bollywood-fans which has always exploited this premise of pregnant-woman-in-peril to maximum effect. There are also half-hearted and even ridiculous attempts to give the story an element of religious allegory (virgin birth is alluded to in one place) which never made an impression on me.

Another irritating thing with the film is that it tries to tell a little too much using the set design. In almost every single scene you will notice newspaper cutouts recounting the whole history of the world of the last few years. I tried reading most of the cutouts and they are all relevant to the story in fact they were all so relevant that the entire thing became pointless after a while. Who in his right mind would keep his entire house pasted with newspapers? Not all of the background details are boring. There is a suicide drub being advertised (like a feel-good pill) called "Quietus." Those who don't know the dictionary meaning will not appreciate what that drug is because it is never spelt out clearly.

The film is shot in long-takes and it must have been extremely difficult to do and must have taken lots of advance and meticulous planning. Unlike regular war movies or movies portraying anarchy at least it doesn't use manic editing and cutting to make a point and in that sense the stylistic choice is very admirable. Overall a disappointment but still I think it is much better than the depressing stuff that plays in the mainstream multiplexes these days.

More Reviews here. Surprisingly I couldn't find even one negative review! I didn't like Alfonso Cuaron's Y Tu Mama Tambien too. Sex was good but everything else was so shallow and pretentious.


Cheshire Cat said...

Y Tu Mama Tambien is so sentimental, so manipulative. It pretends to be about sex but it is actually about politics, like another movie, Carlos Reygadas' "Battle in Heaven", which also annoyed me. I find it hard to understand why it received such adulation.

Alok said...

Good to find someone who feels the same :)

I haven't seen Battle in Heaven but I have seen his earlier film Japon which is wildly over the top and weird. Strange combination of kiaraostami, tarkovsky and (weird) pornography. I actually got a chance to see battle in heaven earlier this year but after reading about it I willingly missed it.

Sex is a delicate subject to portray. Personally I would rather see a non-pretentious soft-core film than a pretentious one which tries to say something serious about sex.

Space Bar said...

you forgot to mention that the film is based on p.d.james's 1992 book of the same name. as i remember, the religious themes in the book were very central to the story. i'm more likely to find the contemporising (if that's a word) of the story problematic.

oh--and just flipped through the book - will read again soon - and Quietus is mentioned several times. So, I guess any reading of the film would have to refer to how successful it is as an adaptation.

Alok said...

I am not familiar with the James novel so can't say anything about that. there was an article in nyt about how different the movie version is from the book and it praised the movie too for inventing its own language (the article is behind the subcription wall now.)

i think viewers familiar with the novel will get more out of the movie. it seemed more concerned with technique and didn't really dwell on the thematic aspects of the content that much. for example the religious allusions. i am sure it would have made more sense in the book but in the movie it felt made-up, an add-on.

Cheshire Cat said...

I just saw "Some Like It Hot" - hard to think of a better movie about sex. No better medium than farce.

Alok said...

Yeah I agree, farce is the best treatment. And even if the portrayal is serious and unironic it anyway always ends up looking like as if it were a farce :)

km said...

Y Tu Mama was....mildly interesting, but did not live up to the hype (so maybe the problem is with the hype, not the film?)

Who knows, "Children of Men" may well end up like "Blade Runner" (a film it is constantly being compared with) and in 20 years, it will become a cult film.

Alok said...

well i doubt that. it really doesn't have that elusive, hermetic quality that attracts the cultists looking for some secret knowledge or affirmation.

it is also unlike regular futuristic films (and that's what makes it bleak) in the way that cuaron takes pains to show that though britain 20 years from now will be different but not so different. it will perhaps be worse. i was most reminded of newsreel footage from Iraq in many of the scenes of the film. there was something very here-and-now about it.