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film criticism by maryann johanson | since 1997

counting down the best films of 2006: No. 3, ‘Children of Men’

WHY IS THIS ONE OF THE BEST FILMS OF THE YEAR?: Current culture-wide fears and neuroses get transferred to a horrifying dystopian near future, and in the process, force us to recognize and reconsider how those fears and neuroses are at play in the here and now. For all its science-fictional setting and premise, this is perhaps the most grounded political film of the year, one that is angry and pointed and yet also ultimately optimistic: Change can happen if we dedicate ourselves to it.

BUT DOESN’T THE FILM END UP CONDEMNING THOSE WHO FIGHT THE SYSTEM AS ALMOST AS BAD AS THE SYSTEM ITSELF? Only in a metaphoric sense, by implying that once an organization — any organization, no matter how noble its motives — gets big enough, corrals in enough different personalities, the group takes on a life of its own, and ends up putting, perhaps, its own survival and well-being above the mission it set out to achieve. The antigovernment group headed by the Julianne Moore character doesn’t fare too well, in the skewering perspective of the film, it’s true, but the Clive Owen character and his efforts in the fight for a new future are the crux of the film’s argument: we struggle because it is worth doing, even in the face of many obstacles, because it is the only choice worth making.

AND YET THEO DOESN’T SEEM TO FARE TOO WELL IN THE END, EITHER, DOES HE? True. We don’t know Theo’s fate at the end of the film, nor do we ever learn whether the Human Project is real, whether safety is over the horizon for Kee, the woman Theo has been helping, or whether Kee is an anomaly or a genuine new beginning for humanity. Cuaron is saying: Choose hope or choose despair, but don’t expect to know how things will end. But hope is always better, even if it that hope turns out to be fruitless.

[Check out my full review of Children of Men here.]

[See the whole best-of list for 2006 here.]

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