May we all have faith in Children of Men.
Watching this film again really clarified its greatness for me. I'm still unsure of just how great it is, but it's definitely great. It's messy, sure, but that's the point. It ends abruptly, sure, but that's the point. It feels rough and unpolished, but again...
In many ways, this feels like the quintessential Alfonso Cuaron film. His trademark is technical mastery in service of the creation of an overtly messy, organic film poetry, one that doesn't shy away from any of the hiccups and false starts of real life, one that shows humanity for what it is: a fleeting moment of grace built on choas, sex and violence. Here, his skills and style perfectly serve a story about a spark of hope amidst the mess of a dying world, a world where all humanity's worst traits are flung out in the open for all to see, and society's on the verge of collapse. In this film, the moments of transcendence are earned, and no director's better at earning them.
Call me crazy, but in a way, I see this as a companion piece to Little Miss Sunshine. Both are stories in which, due to the whims of fate, a big, dysfunctional family (a literal family in one, all of humanity in the other) finds all its members falling over themselves to further the hope of the baby in the family (the actual family baby in one, humanity's only baby in the other). In a metaphor for the larger historical process of evolution - the way fish lay hundreds of eggs in hopes that will hatch and grow, the way whole species are created in hope that some will prosper - each one in the group finds a special way to contribute to that hope, and they cling to it, because it's all they have. In this way, Little Miss Sunshine and Children of Men are about faith, in the grandest sense.
It struck me seeing the film a second time why so many people were willing to sacrifice themselves rather than go on with Kee and Theo. They actually choose to stay behind when they could've gone along for the ride, and I always wondered why, until I realized: not only do they feel a sense of purpose in contributing to hope, but in many ways it's easier to hope than to know, and to risk the knowledge that it's all been in vain. Julian and Jasper and Miriam and Marichka, and even Theo in the end, all get to end their time with the faith in their life and their actions, assuming that they will have made a difference. Kee of course has the hardest job of all, having to actually give birth and then figure out what to do once she reaches the Human Project, but the others all get to revel in their faith that Kee would be alright. It got me thinking about religion, and how in many ways, faith is wiser than force... certainly wiser than trying to force something to go your way, which is what Luke tried to do. Without people believing in something, that something would never get done. The believers and the doers each have a part in the doing.
There are other feelings Children of Men evoked in me, other films of which it reminded me. It felt a lot like A.I., actually, or what A.I. might've felt like, had it ended before descending into schmaltz. And speaking of endings, Children takes probably the best route in eschewing a typical "ending" altogether. It gives us hope - "a boat!" - but leaves it to us to decide what really happens. Ultimately, it's about faith (more on how Children's ending differs from the LMS ending in my forthcoming review of the latter film).
There were other, more specific pleasures to be had in viewing the film: Seeing Julianne Moore finally in a great film again (however briefly). Seeing Clive Owen used so perfectly in the part of the reluctant hero. Seeing just how long an action scene could be staged without a single cut.
But what I'll take most from Children of Men is its affirmation of faith. It's affirmed my faith in the cinema, and in humanity. We can only see the best in ourselves once we've seen the worst. The wonder is in it all existing together. And in how artfully that existence can be portrayed.
Verdict: "Pretty damn great."