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Children of Men Review
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Monday September 25, 2006 16:08 by ronan - Illuminati - no really
Fascism, Infertility and the smallest violin in the world; Children of Men fails to deliver.
"The first sequence with Caine is what started me hating the whole thing, summing up the political depth of the implied critique by the soundtrack of Radiohead and the Beatles; might as well have namechecked George Monbiot while they were at it. "
Directed by stylish Mexican director Alfonso Cuarón, Children of Men is is the latest in a series of dystopian visions of a totalitarian society that isn’t actually so far away. It’s a cheap buck that appeals to the “Oh gosh, isn’t George Bush awful?” Banksy appreciating market, but really that market should be bloody well ashamed of itself if it swallows this sort of shite. Children of Men begins with the premise that human beings can no longer reproduce, and since then the world has gone to shit something awful, or as they put it, ‘No children, no future, no hope.’ In the face of a totalitarian state, public loyalty is maintained by the criminalisation of foreigners and the odd bomb-blast. And aren’t we shocked when someone suggest that the bombers may actually be the government in disguise!! So far, so typical.
We step around these mean streets with Clive Owens who slots in as the stereotypical disillusioned former activist, sighing about the awfulness of it all as he sips his coffee and grieves over his long dead son. Michael Caine throws away what little dignity he had left by appearing as a bearded old hippy whose wife has been tortured into catatonia by MI5, for some reason (we assume it’s cos she’s a little bit left). In fact, the first sequence with Caine is what started me hating the whole thing, summing up the political depth of the implied critique by the soundtrack of Radiohead and the Beatles; might as well have namechecked George Monbiot while they were at it.
Owens’s little world is torn apart by the re-appearance of long lost lover Julian (played by Julianne Moore) who is now the leader of a group of terrorists/freedom fighters (with the catchy name of ‘the Fishes’) battling against the tyranny of the system, man. Julian, who luckily managed to take a GHD with her when she went underground, needs him to smuggle a refugee girl to somewhere for reasons undisclosed, he spends about half a second in inner turmoil before he signs up, and off they go. Unsurprisingly after a few pathetically contrived reminiscences about their good old days living in squats and taking ketamine, they get back to eating the faces off each other with abandon.
Before they can get gone they’re ambushed in the woods by a gang of eco-crusties who just do that sort of thing apparently. Julian gets herself shot and the gang retreat to a farm used as a safehouse by the aforementioned freedom fighters. Here it transpires that all is not as it seems (once again) and even the nice Fishes are not to be trusted. We also find out that the girl is pregnant, and as such is the hope for humanity and has to be carried away to some chaps called ‘The Human Project’. Clive decides that it’s time he took charge of the girl himself and off they go again.
What annoys me most about this film is its crude attempt to stroke every emotive button possible; (re)fugees in cages line the streets, a refugee camp becomes Belsen, becomes Abu Ghraib, becomes the Gaza Strip, with every emotional scene being ushered in by operatic sopranos holding the door as subtly as an applause sign in Jerry Springer. Real political critique is eschewed in favour of vacuous and cloying sentimentality, while the characters are so shallow we’re not at all disappointed when they pop their clogs in pointless displays of self sacrifice.
As a film it falls between two stools, on the one hand it could be an interesting sci-fi exploration of the consequences on society should people suddenly become infertile, and realise that their generation is the last. The other is the desperate attempt to turn science fiction into a vehicle for a vaguely leftist critique of the war on terror, and the growing tendency towards totalitarianism in the west. As for the first, all we really have is that things have gone to shit, and then some, since the discovery of human infertility, there’s some talk of state sponsored suicide but there’s no connection between infertility and the descent into fascism, other than some vague references to ‘despair’. If the movie is attempting to suggest how close we really are to fascism, it’s more or less bankrupted by its foundation on the fictional premise of infertility, while its desperate attempt to find emotive parallels with everything bad ever reflects an inability to deal with the realities of present day state control.
Fascism as brown shirts and jack-boots is dead as a method of state control, and in most parts of the world is confined to a few dozen over enthusiastic sentimentalists, new totalitarianisms are to control different societies and so will be different in form. By trotting out the same old cliches in a quest for shock value Cuarón maintains the narrow critique of fascism as something that does bad things to a certain group of people. While this part is no doubt crucial, and the transformation of Jews to Arabs and refugees is appropriate, in fascism this demonisation is part of the project of incorporating dissent into a united body politic. In Children of Men this half of the relationship is neglected in favour of a focus on the exclusionary aspects of fascism, even though New Labour’s renovation of social democracy would seem to offer much material for critique. Most of the movie takes place on the run from the law, so we don’t actually encounter the reality of daily life at all. Struggle instead of being crucial to the genesis of totalitarianism seems to be the sole preserve of various groups of lunatics more concerned with individual gain than any kind of progressive agenda. The only ‘goodies’ in the movie are the mysterious Human Project, which is some kind of an intellectual think tank, operating from a fishing trawler; it’s the perfect New Labour solution to totalitarianism. While V for Vendetta mangled the politics it was based on, it at least scored some points by hinting at the descent into fascism beginning with a government sponsored terrorist attack, and it had a charismatic lead character to pull us through the dull bits. Children of Men has neither of these, it’s a rather dull action movie masquerading as shallow political critique, masquerading as a poorly developed what if story, and should be scorned for the resultant nothing that it is.