The first time I saw Alfonso Cuaron’s Children of Men was circa 2009. That was before I wanted children. Already married, I had imagined our future as childless but fulfilled. From that vantage point, Children of Men was an interesting but not emotionally gripping story. That was also before I became a Film teacher, so I was far less able to appreciate the film-making.
But over the last few days, I’ve been using it in my Film Appreciation and Analysis class, because the technical skill exhibited in this movie is damn near breath-taking. As a general movie watcher, we don’t think too much about it. The tension builds–we’re pulled into and held by the long takes. The opening scene is two and a half minutes without a cut. Keep in mind a regular shot length in movies is 2-3 seconds. The amount of preparation, practice, and flawless execution to hold a scene and move the camera over time and distance increases exponentially with both factors. The most famous scene from the film is 13 minutes uncut. It is a technological and film-making marvel. See for yourself:
On top of this, now I’ve got a toddler, and he’s not much younger than the child that the protagonist, Theo, lost to a flu pandemic in his past. The emotional conflict that is just under Theo’s surface is obvious to me now, where it was just character dressing before. I can look at the brief argument Theo and his former wife, Julian, have about dealing with that loss, a pain that has separated them though they still clearly love each other, and I *get it*. As a person who has tended to avoid situations that bring on The Feels, this new empathy adds thick layers to the film’s power.
But most devastating is simply the ramifications of a world that has no children and no hope of children. The abandoned and decrepit elementary school scene was creepy before. Now it’s terrifying–the ramifications emanating out in waves. Before having our own baby, I didn’t much like small children. They were annoying. Hard to talk to. Always whining. Or so it seemed to me. Small children are still hard to talk to at times, and certainly they still whine. But they’re also a spiritual fountain of youth. They allow us to be young again through the sharing of their brand new experiences with the world. And the idea of their laughter just being GONE. *shivers*
In short, Children of Men is a masterwork. And I haven’t even mentioned the ingenious way it works in the Fisher King Mythology. That shall wait for another post.