DemosNews: Children of Men: Art & Artifice (Visual)
Children of Men: Art & Artifice (Visual)
By: TheYetter

In English, the relationship between art and artifice is linguistically causal, where artifice is literally the making of art. In England—at least in the England of Alfonso Cuarón’s Children of Men—the making of artifice becomes art.

The film explores the dystopia of an imminent Earth where humans inexplicably cease to procreate. A casual taxonomist would label Children of Men science fiction because of its incredible premise and because it takes place a few decades hence. If anything, it is a meditation on coping with hopelessness, set in a world that springs intricately and organically from one rhetorical fiction—“why can’t women make babies?”

Put yourself in the stead of a storyteller. What if suddenly something so universally catastrophic happened? What would people do? How would governments react? What would happen to age-old belief systems, mores, bodies social, and order when the future excises progeny? How would society segue from an eternal continuum to an ineluctable and terminal dwindling?

Such is the task of Cuarón et alii, and they make no pretence about cribbing their assessment from all-too-real scenarios—and here we have the art of artifice. Children of Men courses through a nation that counters despair with a crusade of morality: expunge the non-English so that the island may be and die pure. Shepherd the bastards and foreigners into prison cities. Pacify the rich with exotic animals and immortal objets d’art (are they to be saved?). Embrace the authority of an active military. The best way to defray the damage of one campaign, according to national propaganda, is to “soldier on” with another.

The film passes from one social tier to another in a remarkably layered portrait of similar straw men. In deft vignettes, bureaucrats fixate on the freak celebrity of the planet’s youngest people; the wealthy relish affluence with renewed impunity; the rebellious congregate purposefully in country camps; the cerebral abscond to utopian societies; the ghettoized refashion dog-eat-dog order in poverty; and the desperate commit suicide.

The protagonist smokes a blunt with his father. Theodore—“the gift of god,” which might be a euphemism for Everyman—is not part of a faction and has no banner to wave. His task is to save the pregnant girl. There’s one: she’s not named Mary, but she is an immaculate commodity. Again, artifice takes center stage as various factions realize and vie for possession of this figurehead of hope.

It often feels as though tales depicting primitive wars over power talismans have inoculated one against emotional investment in such plots, however seeing the commodification of a mother-to-be is tough to dismiss. Children of Men unfurls an essay on refocusing a social agenda and the artificial components of such distraction, but those eponymous children seem to tap an emotional reserve that conventional science fiction keeps ever distant. The immediacy of our offspring is too primal to dismiss.

There are plenty of opportunities to embrace clichés and the film indulges some candidly—the messianic baby in the manger, notably—but routinely Cuarón operates with verve and ingenuity in areas that easily could be hackneyed. Much of this novel air may be credited to the camerawork of Emmanuel Lubezki, whose virtuosity with the handheld is brilliant. The dozen-odd-minute shot as Theo & Madonna run through a British Baghdad is breathtaking, but there are so many moments where the dynamism of the camera extols the scene, the set, and the dialogue. Tension arises from vantage points, and this has thrills.

If you haven’t seen it, watch the film. Clive Owen is excellent. Michael Caine has fun with his part—and it’s a fun role. The real coup with Children of Men is that the same script could have been an average Hollywood flick and its consistent creativity set it far apart. Watch it, and think about the film as a storyteller would. Think about the visual cues you are given and how the plot absorbs them. Think about the position of the camera. In short, think about the art of the artifice.

© 2021 TheYetter of DemosNews

April 30, 2007 at 1:56am
DemosRating: 4.75
Hits: 1965

Genre: Arts (Reviews)
Type: Critical
Tags: movie, review

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