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Movies To Take With You Into The New Decade: Children of Men

Written by Nick Leitzke

The first movie I Netflixed in 2010 was from 2006. After reading Brother Scott’s 20 best movie moments from the past decade I was convinced to check out ‘Children of Men.’ I didn’t realize it was based on a P.D. James novel. My mother is a big P.D. James fan. Much of my childhood was spent watching British adaptations of her work on the PBS show ‘Mystery.’ I remember my mother read ‘Children of Men’ a number of years ago, and I remember her saying it wasn’t the typical Adam Dalgliesh mystery that James’s readers were used to, like ‘Devices and Desires.’ I also remember my mother not caring for the dystopian vision of a not-to-distant future where women have inexplicably ceased to conceive children. My mother’s misgivings about the work aside, I bumped ‘Children of Men’ to the top of my queue. Brother Scott was right. The ambush scene is one of the best movie moments of the past ten years.

Action sequences are difficult to master. Explosions are an easy moneymaker, but there isn’t any substance to a fireball apocalypse for the sake of blowing shit up. Most audiences are only at the movies so they can laugh and clap their hands, and fireball apocalypses are a sure bet. How many of these movies fall by the wayside over the years, though? How many people claim ‘Universal Soldier’ as their favorite movie of all time when you juxtapose Jean Claude Van Damme with, say, the toll booth scene in ‘The Godfather?’ Subtlety is key. Your audience knows action is imminent and only the most inept director will give them a serious case of blue balls. Don’t go over the top if you don’t have to. An unvocalized reaction speaks greater volumes than shouts of, “Hell yeah!”

MAJOR SPOILER ALERT!!!

‘Children of Men’ has some of the most well-shot action sequences I have ever seen. Its strength lies in the editing. Alfonso Cuaron never cuts away from the action. Each scene is carefully choreographed down to the smile, down to the whimper, as horror unfolds in one continuous shot. The camera pans between cowering victims and onrushing monsters, amplifying the audience member’s role from that of spectator to that of participant. You are in the car with our heroes when the ambush is sprung. All you can do is watch because that’s all our heroes can do – watch and pray that they escape. It’s a subtle intensity that remains like the ringing of ears, quietly burrowing into your head and doing unfelt damage to your reality. That is the goal of cinema. You don’t know the damage is done until our heroes drive off screen and you are left with a racing heart looking at two gunned down policemen.

Subtle action is key to ‘Children of Men,’ but I know the mark of a good movie. Too many times I find myself engrossed in a good movie when suddenly it happens, and I know I’m watching something spectacular. In ‘25th Hour’ it was Ed Norton’s “Fuck You” monologue and Brian Cox’s plea to head west. In ‘The Curious Case of Benjamin Button’ it was when the floodwaters enter the storage room and the clock starts running backwards. In ‘Wendy and Lucy’ it was when Michelle Williams waits for her dog’s custodian to drive away before approaching the backyard. It’s that certain moment in a good movie when I see the bigger picture, when I am connected to life within me and without me, and all I can do is cry.

Distress and pain are not the only reasons why this happens. Sometimes it’s joy. Sometimes it’s relief. In the case of ‘Children of Men’ it’s hope. Clive Owen finally believes in hope, risking his life to rescue the young mother and her child in the apartment building where the army surrounds the last remnants of the uprising. I’m thinking about this stupid scene and seriously tearing up again. He saves the mother and child and steps into the hall. Outside the army keeps shooting, tank shells explode in the lower floors, and through all of this the baby cries. The baby cries, and all despair disappears in everyone who hears it. Everyone is smiling, looking at this little life (shit, here they come), and they just want to see the baby.  Never mind that they are about to be slaughtered. A simple glimpse of life is all they want, because they know hope remains even if they all die.

The shot that gets me is a woman with horrible leg wounds sitting in a doorway. She’s bleeding to death, but all she wants to do is smile and sing a lullaby that she remembers from a time when the world hoped. Clive Owen escorts mother and child downstairs just as the army enters the building, and as soon as the soldiers hear the baby’s cries the captain screams for everyone to cease fire. Outside the soldiers make a path for the three to walk away, a few even cross themselves, and we’re left wondering if this is really beyond our reach. You’d think people would stop killing each other if they understood just how miraculous a human life is. I’m a blubbering mass by this point (not really, they subsided). In the background a grenade launches from the apartment building and the opposing forces go back to killing each other. But the seed is planted. I am hoping for light, believing in something greater than myself, and I know that ‘Children of Men’ is a spectacular movie – my first great movie experience of 2010. Brother Scott, you son of a bitch, you got me.

Posted by admin   @   6 January 2010
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