From another, closed forum, December 2006:
Based on criticisms from below (no debating the merits of a premise if you haven't seen the movie) and recommendations from above (several friends think this movie is the shizzle) and, of course, the overwhelming motivational authority of the Significant Other (who is a doula and two years from being a midwife and naturopath), I'n'I went to see Children of Men on Saturday.
I wish I could be indulgently condescending as before. Now I'm just viciously bilious. That was the largest, steamingest pile of dung I've sat through in a really long time.
Big point: So where did it go wrong, as XXXXX was asking? Well, the premise is not "what if a childless world suddenly had a child to look forward to" as bandied about in the trailers. The premise is "What if a hopeless world were given a miracle?" Hardly novel in science fiction; you can take that one back to Burgess and Huxley. The baby is a McGuffin (aside from some truly campy labor pains and requisitely dystopic birth scenes, the baby does jack). The papers are a McGuffin (so if they were just going to waste Julianne Moore to keep K or T or whatever her name was at the house, why did they involve Theo in the first place?). Really, they're setting up a story where miracles go unnoticed.
Which is fine. Some people are fatalists - the world sucks, humanity sucks, here's a movie about them sucking together. Some people are optimists - the world is basically good, humanity is basically good, here's a movie about things working out because of the fundamental goodness of everything. I myself am not a fatalist (surprise!) but fatalist art can be quite entertaining, moving and insightful.
Thing is, "Children of Men" takes, as its fundamental tenet, that people will fall all over themselves to take advantage of this miracle. IT THEN FAILS TO DEMONSTRATE HOW OR WHY ANYONE WOULD DO SO. To whit:
-Theo cares so little about humanity that when Baby Diego dies he edges in and gets a coffee while everyone else stands stunned. He's cynical enough to use Diego's death as an excuse to go home sick (rather than the rather more immediate detonation of a coffee shop he'd been in not thirty seconds previous). Money is mentioned as his motivation three times (quick aside - if his cousin is well enough off to have frickin' Michaelangelo's David in his foyer, why doesn't he just ask his cuz for some scratch?) Yet this person, who starts out as our ultimate cynic, is the dude who schleps around anywhere this baby needs to go, despite any financial reward, despite any external motivation except some murky possible-feelings about his dead ex-wife. Hey, about that cousin - once Theo tells the Fish to get the girl out in the public, they tell him to piss off, then they try to kill him... WHY DOESN'T HE TAKE THE GIRL TO HIS COUSIN? After all, he's well-off enough to have two Picassos and a Michaelangelo in his house. That would be consistent with his thinking. But instead, we're gonna go meet the Human Project, who we find out through painful exposition, no one's even talked to in a few weeks. Awesome.
-The fishes need this baby to start a revolution so badly that they murder anyone who gets in their way. Yet when they up and start a revolution without it, Big Fish is sitting there inches away from the baby and doesn't even put his grenade launcher down long enough to touch it. Guess it wasn't so important after all. At least he waxes poetic between rounds.
-The government cares so much about potential children that big ole Orwellian bulletin boards proclaim the trouble you'll get into if you dodge fertility testing. Yet when the 1st Lancers is sitting there pulling a Falludja, tanks and all, they don't do more than pause for a minute to go "cool! A baby! Haven't seen one of those in a while!" before going back to blowing things to bits. No one even considers that said baby might be more better off, more valuable, and more under control inside a tank rather than outside. Which is odd, because Sid pretty much decided the baby was his meal ticket. Are army dudes that fundamentally un-cynical? Then how did the prison camps happen?
-and hell - how 'bout the arab lady who doesn't even speak English? She damn near went to her grave helping that baby out. So how come nobody else did? If random people are going to care, important people have to care - or at least explain why they don't. Particularly when there are several previously-demonstrated incentives for them to do so.
Nobody's motivations were clear. Nobody's actions were logical. Nobody did anything that made any sense. The filmmakers were entirely to fond of their garden-variety dystopia to bother exploring it - which is pretty much what social commentary is about.
-See, here's the thing. If there ain't nobody under 20, and you've had a pandemic, and some nuclear war, and god knows what else, chances are good your population has been reduced by at least 25%. Brutal population reduction doesn't jive with overcrowded, Soylent Green-style refugee camps, no matter how badly you wanna show images reminiscent of Iraq. So if you're gonna show that, I need to know why. I need it to have some sort of meaning in the overall narrative.
-About that narrative. So... Theo nearly gets blown up, gets some passports, nearly gets blown up, steals a car, nearly gets blown up, sneaks into jail, nearly gets blown up, gets the girl on a boat and dies. Granted, THX-1138 didn't have much going on either but at least it looked cool. And you didn't see everything coming from a mile away. And at least THX had a little rebellion in him. Theo was an even more passive protagonist than Maximus from Gladiator - something I didn't think possible. Never once does he do anything but take the single path of least resistance offered him.
-And the symbolism. Yes, you're very clever. Your footage looks like Iraqi footage looks like Michaelangelo so let's put a Michaelangelo in it. Neeto. I thought it was kinda cool all the Pink Floyd "Animals" references thrown in there until I realized it was so you could tie it back to Orwell. Do it well it's an homage. Do it poorly it's a rip-off. But the Pig was cool, particularly since
-This movie would have been much better as a comedy. Michael Caine was clearly going for laughs. Sid was clearly going for laughs. I'm not sure why you would have three stalled cars rolling down a hill ("Pop the clutch!") while being chased by killer terrorists called "fish" unless you intended to have Mr. Bean star in it at some point. See, the thing about "Brazil" is it was actually darkly funny... not funnily dark. What "Children of Men" needed was a Space Herpe or two and maybe a jive-talkin' robot.
The thing that really pisses me off is this is exactly the genre of feature I want to make... and everyone does it so badly that as soon as someone pulls off something that sucks less than "Freejack" they nominate it for an Oscar. It'll still lose money (because it's a bad movie) and the impression will remain that there's no room for sci fi in Hollywood, despite the fact that it's where Ridley Scott, James Cameron, George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, and who knows who else got started.
At least Freejack had James Brown bullets and Buster Poindexter and Mick Jagger as its heavies.
I did learn one good thing from "Children of Men." Xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx totally knocked my socks off and radically altered the way I think about screenwriting. I've been slavish to POV ever since. It was good to see that it can be taken too far - like having your bad guys yell their secret plans so that your access character can hear them through the window around the corner or showing the dramatic hero moment of your supporting actor seen in super-long so that your access character can watch it from the next hill over.
...but even then, they couldn't be true to that - the last shot in the movie happens when Theo's already dead.
There were 53 responses to that. I'm still not speaking to two people in the thread. Suffice it to say that things got so heated that I was challenged to come up with a treatment of the source material that solved all of my complaints, if I was so clever... and I did, and it caused a rift in the community with one side agreeing I'd come up with a better approach and the other arguing that Cuaron is God, fuck off.
I've debated the fuck out of this film. I'm completely over it.