This year, four science fiction-loving booksellers will delve into Fantastic Planets, Forbidden Zones, and Lost Continents: The 100 Greatest Science-Fiction Films, the new book by film historian Douglas Brode. They’ll watch the movies, read Brode’s take, and tell you – point blank – how they feel about all of it.
#9 on Douglas Brode’s list of 100 Greatest Sci-Fi Films is Alfonso Cuaron’s 2006 film:
In 2027, no child has been born in over eighteen years. This unexplained infertility has led to a worldwide breakdown of civilization, with the UK being the only country in which any semblance of order has been maintained. Amidst this chaos, a former activists agrees to help a miraculously pregnant girl get to the coast, through a maze of violence, treachery and refugee camps, so the Human Project can protect her and, hopefully, restore hope to mankind.
Of all the films I’ve seen in my life, Children of Men has perhaps had the most profound emotional effect on me. It’s difficult to express exactly how incredible I think this film is, because for me, for the kind of film this is, it’s almost perfect. I’m overcome every time I watch it. The confluence of originality of story, characters, setting, themes, cinematography, editing, pacing, special effects, score, and performance – there is not a weak point anywhere – is stunning. This film is one of those rare occasions where all these things come together to create something greater than the sum of its parts. Nothing is superfluous, every moment serves the larger whole. And there is a truth that runs through this film that is difficult to quantify. It gets under the skin and deep into the organs creating that reaction the word visceral was intended for.
And yet, this is not a film I can watch multiple times without a significant period in between. It’s a bleak vision of mankind’s future, despite its eventual deliverance into hope. The film at no point explains the origins of its present predicament. By refusing to name a specific reason for the sudden infertility of mankind, the film becomes an indictment of all society’s failings. I have come to prefer much of my sci-fi this way – not exploring why something came about, but instead exploring the effects of it. That, to me, is always a more interesting story. It doesn’t matter, ultimately, how we got where we are. We’re here, and here’s what’s happening to us.
Brode barely scratches the surface when discussing this film in his book, touching briefly on the director’s hand-held camera style (creating the sense of intimacy present throughout the entire film) and the draining of the color spectrum, a technique that heavily influenced many later sci-fi films. Brode mostly discusses the differences between the P.D. James novel the film was (loosely) based on, and the themes as being part of a religious allegory, a position I agree with and is backed up by the heavily ecclesiastical score by John Tavener. But he doesn’t go into the rather intense, and in some cases, groundbreaking technical aspects of the film (of which there are many). It’s worth taking a look at the Wikipedia page for the film just to get an idea of the level of vision director Alfonso Cuaron had. And once you do that, I highly recommend watching all of his other films as well.
For me, Children of Men absolutely deserves its place in the top ten.
My brother calls one of his fists “Clive Owen.” I’m not kidding–his fists, with which he expelled many a drunken patron when he worked as a club bouncer, are named “Clive Owen” and “Robert Downey Jr.” And it’s not hard to see why. Owen’s face is slightly squashed, like he’s been punched one too many times, and a post-apocalyptic world only enhances the effect. It makes him perfect for Children of Men.
If you have yet to pick up your copy of Douglas Brode’s
it is available in hardcover in our UT Press section.