Directed by Alfonso Cuarón and released in 2006, Children Of Men is a dystopian/Sci-Fi/thriller based on the book of the same name, written by P.D. James and published in 1992. Children Of Men follows Theo Faron in a world disturbingly accurate to what 2027 would really be like if human fertility rates were dropped to zero. The world is run down and in abject chaos, as the last survivors of the human race come to terms with their inevitable extinction.
Needless to say, there will be massive spoilers as we divulge in an analysis in the final few scenes of the film, the themes they represent and how the writing works so brilliantly. If you’re lucky enough to have never seen this film before, I would absolutely implore you to watch it for the first time, and remember the feelings you have as the credits roll, as they will be unique to this film. I remember seeing trailers of this film back in 2006 in the cinema, and was initially uninterested in the low-sci-fi concept of the film. It seemed like a bland thriller to me at the time and I remember that initial feeling of disinterest, but I was young and impetuous. I wanted to watch sci-fi with monsters and grand battles, and not think about the themes of humanity and death. I’m very thankful that perspective changed, and after a strong recommendation from a friend, I finally watched it about six years after it’s release, and was immediately blown away.
Since then, this film has consistently been in my top five favourite films of all time, even as the order changes every now and then. It is pitch-perfect in my eyes, from the flawed characters to the beautiful cinematography (Most people who haven’t seen it but know it probably know about it’s outstanding long-shots). The atmosphere and the dreary yet immaculate realization of a world on the brink of collapse suck you in to a world that could very feasibly exist if society makes (yet another) wrong turn. What draws me in the most, however, no matter how many dozens of times, is the environmental story-telling. Children Of Men pulls no punches in explaining it’s world through drips and drabs, it doesn’t dare insult the audience’s ability to put two-and-two together, and uses clever placements of newspaper articles, propaganda reels and signage combined with abject brutality at unexpected and surprising moments to fully detail exactly what kind of a world this is, and you’ll be just as captivated on the 30th re-watch as you were the 1st.
When analysing the best scene from a film, I would normally try to steer clear away from the conclusion, as I tend to believe that a lasting feeling brought on by the film’s end must first be built in every act. However, the final scene is a film in even itself. Of course, I will be loosely categorising the conclusion as a ‘scene’, and although it does contain the longest (and arguably best) long-take, there are multiple segments to this section which lasts the last twenty minutes or so, as a perfect culmination. I intend to do a full analysis of the film in the future, and analysis of every little detail and piece of background information (Which is no small task, and all very intentional by Cuarón), which I’m excited for, as that gives me another excuse to watch the film again in the future.
The final Long-cut takes place after Theo and Kee manage to communicate to Marichka that they need a boat, and she complies, taking them to an apartment complex after escaping the villainous and erratic immigration officer, Syd. They relax and eat with some of the elders of the complex, before making the move, aware the uprising and ensuing battle has already begun. After passing a grieving mother who cradles her dead son in a pose similar to works of art such as Guernica and La Pietà (Both of which are referenced by Theo’s cousin Nigel earlier in the film). The scene transition after is sudden and jarring, with an immediate effect. We see Theo pushing Kee in a wheelchair through a dark tunnel, and a sudden sting of music alerts the audience that the final push is here, and it is somehow more dangerous than the rest of the film so far. The tunnel is dark and the framing is narrow, showing the characters and the audience that this is the way; forward, through the smoke and death.
When the characters break into daylight, the sky is a sheet of light grey, the middle-ground of morality, as two sides battle each-other. We see a group of fleeing Bexhill Uprisers, firing away at an unseen enemy. We know their cause is just, against a totalitarian state only interested in brushing them away into a small and crowded camp and forgetting about them, and the soldiers, fighting a cause they have been brainwashed into believing is just against an enemy who seeks to disrupt their way of life.
After the insurgents are fled or killed, the camera lags behind as the four gingerly creep through the battlegrounds, when a sudden, unseen yet hauntingly familiar voice calls out for the group to surrender, and we see the pursuing villains, The Fishes, with Charlie Hunham‘s Patric lashing out at Theo, relishing the moment to finally kill Faron. In a lovely detail, the antagonists are led by the one-legged Irishman who Theo first spurned when they came into Bexhill. Kee is whisked away by Chiwetel Ejiofor‘s Luke, leaving Patric to execute Faron. Before he can, the soldiers open fire on them in a rare Deus Ex Machina that doesn’t annoy me. Faron grabs Marischka’s hand, fleeing underneath the crossfire, suddenly forgetting any previous gripes he had with her annoyingness when they met, suddenly two humans escaping an encompassing cloud of war that has brought itself upon them unwillingly.
The two get separated, but Theo is relentless in his pursuit of Kee and Luke. He dodges from cover to cover, and the unyielding camera follows every second of his desperate chase (Which is mind-boggling when you consider every miniature detail contained in this scene, particularly when he gets tot he bus full of sheltering inhabitants). He hides from armour which decimates parts of the apartment complex he needs to get into, and mows down a crowd of surrendering people with no remorse. Using the smoke of the next explosion as cover, he dives into the dark and cramped complex, filled with cowering and terrified crowds. Avoiding the militants and following the signature sounds of the crying baby, he finds Kee and a wounded Luke, who tearfully remembers the beauty of the first new-born child in eighteen years, before only wanting to use it for a symbol for his aggressive war-mongering masquerading as a revolution, finally realising the humanity in the new-born life of who might either be called ‘Froly’ or Bazooka if ‘Kee’ has her way.
If me simply droning about the magnificence of this scene has got you desperately wishing to see it again, some kind soul has put it on Youtube for you to remember it’s beauty.
An explosion then puts Luke down for good, but not before he opens fire at Theo, and Theo shouts in pain, but manages to get away just in time. Suddenly, the pair find that the entire complex are looking straight at them, listening to the distinct sounds of a baby-crying the first time that many of them would have heard such a noise, and someone begins to sing. The pair move past the onlookers, some reaching forward with their hands, all parting away like the Red-Sea, even as people continue to die in the background, they die soundlessly, part of the cycle that now includes life once again. The last of the Fishes, Tomasz, who Theo briefly spoke with at the Farm, aims his rifle at them, but upon realising the baby is here, and wordlessly acknowledging that the baby is no longer the symbol of the revolution, but of a newfound hope for humanity, he passes, and gives the baby one last look. The two Fishes following him also pass, and give long, silent looks, potentially the first time they have ever seen a baby in real-life. Then, the military move in.
What follows might be the most memorable moment in the entire film, but It’s against some tough competition. The military call a cease-fire, and the pair move through the stairwell, as the bewildered soldiers watch on in awe. The younger ones have clearly never seen such a sight before, and the older men haven’t seen anything of the like in eighteen long, quiet years. They move out into the open, and all soldiers, militants and officers watch as they go, feeling a light in their hearts that has been absent in close to two decades. Then the fighting resumes, and the explosions roar in the background. Again, if you want to relive the moment, then please do.
After they escape, their course is clear.
They reunite with Marischka, who indeed has a boat ready for them beneath the town, an obvious smuggling route as evidenced by the refuse of bottles and packages by the canal. She opts to stay in the city, despite most likely knowing its fate will tie with hers. Kee and Theo row away into the heavy fog, a sea of grey above and below them. They watch with finality as Syd’s warning comes true, and the British Jet Fighters zoom by overhead, and the final glimpse of Britain we see in the film is obfuscated by the faint glow of orange and the all-encompassing fog.
It’s here Theo reveals that he was wounded by Luke, and is bleeding heavily, but for the first time in the film, and perhaps in his life, he finds himself at peace. The baby begins to cry, and Theo tells Kee to never let her go, no matter what. He then tells her the baby probably just needs ‘winding’, and softly instructs her to pat the baby on the back, all while smiling, a genuine, warm smile, one we haven’t really seen since was with Jasper and Julian, who, like his son, are gone now, and he knows that he will be joining them shortly. The anger and fear he felt when Dylan died, and when Julian left, and when her and Jasper were killed all slowly fade, as acceptance paints his face.
As he departs, his final lesson has been passed to Kee. He realises even though his son has gone, he at least was able to learn how to be a parent, alongside other parents, and even though he will be leaving himself, and he is finally ready, Kee will have no-one. All he could do in the end, was impart his last wisdom to someone who knows nothing about childcare or motherhood, and make sure she is safe. In return, she finally decides to name her child Dylan, after his lost son, as a thank-you and remembrance for everything he did for her. He smiles, knowing that although this journey has taken everything from him, it was the right choice. He loses consciousness as the rescue ship, The Tomorrow, arrives. Kee pleads to him to wake up before the boat arrives, but he doesn’t wake up, nor does he really want to.
As the boat draws closer, the screen turns black, and the titles finally appear. There is a beat of pure silence, as suddenly the gravity of what just occurred sinks in.
Then, after a moment, as the credits begin to roll, the sounds of children laughing and playing can be heard. Then it really sinks in.
The ambient sounds of children represent both the past and future. On one side of the paradigm, it reminds us what this world has lost, and why they are filled with such nihilistic dread as the cycle of life and death comes crashing to a halt. We never learn why Humans were suddenly unable to conceive, and we were never meant to. Like the people in this world, we are subjects to a higher power, whether that be any god we choose to believe in, or as one of the many cults who are named in the movie, or something close to fate and chance, which Theo often feels plagued by.
On the other side, we have the correlating theme of the movie; Hope. Blind hope, in many cases. As irritating as you may find children, they are still hope. Hope that tomorrow’s generation learn from the mistakes of today’s. As the ship bears closer to Kee and the sounds of Children fill the silence, it’s hope that through this perilous journey, amidst numerous sacrifices and countless loss, there is hope for this world, and potentially, it comes in the sounds of children playing, sometime in the future.
What we can learn
Children Of Men is at it’s most effective on the ground level,
The camera straggles behind like a documentary in the midst of chaos and destruction, and it’s subjects are merely following the flow of events, helpless against inevitability. It passes by and lingers on details of the world that our characters ignore, numb to the ceaseless world around them. It’s a film you can watch dozens of times and almost always notice a little detail you missed before.
The ending prevails because it capitalises on it’s themes that it spent the last hour and a half building expertly. Events are foreshadowed with gossip and imagery, and the existence of Bexhill is built up long before our characters even decide that is where they need to get to. It prepares it’s audience for the end, training them in a way few other films even attempt to, to look at the details and complete the mental jigsaw for themselves. The climax is brutal and harrowing, it shows us rebels fighting against a mostly unseen enemy, and when all seems lost, it reminds us that hope is alive.
Children Of Men is a masterpiece in Science-Fiction storytelling, because although it’s world is so intricate and well developed, if you find you can’t piece the whole world together, you still have the gripping events and set-pieces to watch and chew your nails through, and you’ll still be able to gleam enough of the oppressive situation to understand what the stakes are. It doubles-down on its themes, that of hope in the midst of abject hopelessness. It’s a world standing on the precipice, staring into their fate and being unable to change it, no matter how they will it. The people have come to terms with the fact that in only a few decades, everything they have ever built and everyone they have ever loved will perish, and nothing will be able to stop that, and for so long they have been trying to push that thought to the back of their minds, and just continue on with the mundane drudgery that is everyday life. The story culminates in the waking of that nightmare, and in the end we see the people in these scenes hope again, and some for the first ever time.
It’s a grounded story, the journey of a man, and the scenes never leave his side. As much as Theo is with Kee for this journey, so too are we with him. This might be the story of one girl and her new-born daughter giving hope to the entire planet, but we’re only following his part of it. The film ends when Theo’s story does. It’s an intimate following, always a little bit behind, as we see him go from alcoholic, chain-smoking bureaucrat who’s only escape from reality is meeting with Jasper, to Kee’s guardian until the end. At the end, we finally see him smile, not a sardonic or fake smile, but one of genuine warmth, as he watches Kee take care of Dylan. His journey and mission is complete, and we were with him every step of the way.
What’s your favourite scene from this film? What do you think about it’s narrative and themes? Let’s talk about it!