Children of Men
|Children of Men|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Alfonso Cuarón|
|Based on||The Children of Men
by P. D. James
|Music by||John Tavener|
|Distributed by||Universal Pictures|
|Box office||$70 million|
Children of Men is a 2006 British-American dystopian science fiction drama-thriller film directed and co-written by Alfonso Cuarón. The screenplay, based on P. D. James' 1992 novel of the same name, was credited to five writers, with Clive Owen making uncredited contributions. The film takes place in 2027, where two decades of human infertility have left society on the brink of collapse. Illegal immigrants seek sanctuary in the United Kingdom, where the last functioning government imposes oppressive immigration laws on refugees. Owen plays civil servant Theo Faron, who must help a refugee (Clare-Hope Ashitey) escape the chaos. Children of Men also stars Julianne Moore, Michael Caine, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Charlie Hunnam.
A co-production of the United Kingdom and the United States, the film was released on 22 September 2006 in the UK and on 25 December in the U.S. Critics noted the relationship between the U.S. Christmas opening and the film's themes of hope, redemption, and faith. Despite the limited release and low earnings at the box office compared to its budget, Children of Men received wide critical acclaim and was recognised for its achievements in screenwriting, cinematography, art direction, and innovative single-shot action sequences. It was nominated for three Academy Awards: Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Cinematography and Best Film Editing. It was also nominated for three BAFTA Awards, winning Best Cinematography and Best Production Design, and for three Saturn Awards, winning Best Science Fiction Film.
In 2027, after 18 years of global human infertility, civilization is on the brink of collapse as humanity faces extinction. The United Kingdom, one of the very few stable nations with a functioning government, is deluged by asylum seekers fleeing the chaos and war which have taken hold around the world. In response, the UK has become a police state as the British Army round up and detain immigrants. Theo Faron, a former activist turned cynical bureaucrat, is kidnapped by the Fishes, a militant immigrants' rights group. They are led by Theo's estranged wife, Julian Taylor, from whom he separated after their son Dylan's death during a 2008 flu pandemic.
Julian offers Theo money to acquire transit papers for a young refugee named Kee, which Theo obtains from his cousin Nigel, a government minister who runs a state-sponsored collection of salvaged art from around the world. The transit papers require that the bearer must be accompanied, so Theo agrees to escort Kee in exchange for a large sum. Luke, a Fishes member, drives them and former midwife Miriam towards the coast to a boat. They are ambushed by an armed gang, and Julian is killed. Luke kills two police officers who stop their car, and they bury Julian in the forest as Theo breaks down crying over her death. The group ditches their car for another to escape to a Fishes safe house.
Kee reveals to Theo that she is pregnant, as Julian had told her to trust only Theo. Julian had intended to hand Kee to the "Human Project", a supposed scientific group in the Azores dedicated to curing infertility; however, Luke persuades Kee to stay, and he is later voted as the new leader of the Fishes. Later that night, Theo eavesdrops on a meeting of Luke and other Fishes. He discovers that Julian's death was orchestrated by the Fishes so Luke could take over as leader, that they intend to kill Theo in the morning, and that they intend to use the baby as a political tool to support the coming revolution. Theo wakes Kee and Miriam, and they steal a car, escaping to the secluded hideaway of Theo's aging friend Jasper Palmer, a former political cartoonist turned pot dealer.
The group makes plans to board the Human Project ship Tomorrow, which will arrive offshore from a refugee camp at Bexhill-on-Sea. Jasper proposes getting Syd, a camp guard to whom he frequently sells drugs, to smuggle them into Bexhill masquerading as refugees. The Fishes discover Jasper's house, and the group flees while Jasper stays behind to stall the Fishes. Luke brutally murders Jasper as Theo watches from the woods.
The group waits for Syd in an abandoned school, where Miriam confides in Theo how many pregnancies miscarried at the beginning of the infertility crisis and her sadness at how "as the sound of the playgrounds faded, the despair set in. Very odd, what happens in a world without children's voices". The group then meets with Syd and are transported to Bexhill, where they see refugees being beaten, tortured, robbed, and executed by camp guards and police. When Kee's contractions begin on a bus, Miriam distracts a suspicious guard by feigning mania. She is taken away and hooded.
At the camp, Theo and Kee meet a Romanian woman, Marichka, who provides a room where Kee gives birth to a baby girl. The next day, Syd finds them in their room, and informs Theo and Kee that war has broken out between the British Army and the refugees, including the Fishes. Having learned that they have a bounty on their heads, Syd attempts to capture them, but Marichka and Theo fight him off and escape. Amidst the fighting, the Fishes capture Kee and the baby. Theo tracks them to an apartment under heavy fire where he confronts Luke, who is then killed by a tank shell, and escorts Kee and the baby out. Awed by the baby, the combatants temporarily stop fighting; staring at the screaming baby, they allow the group to leave. Marichka leads Theo, Kee, and the baby to a boat in a sewer, and Theo rows away.
As they watch the bombing of Bexhill by the Royal Air Force from a distance, Theo reveals that he had been shot by Luke. He tells Kee how to wind her baby to soothe her crying, and Kee tells Theo she will name the baby after his and Julian's lost son, Dylan. Theo loses consciousness from his wounds as the Tomorrow approaches through the fog.
- Clive Owen as Theo Faron, a former activist who was devastated when his child died during a flu pandemic. Theo is the "archetypal everyman" who reluctantly becomes a saviour. Cast in April 2005, Owen spent several weeks collaborating with Cuarón and Sexton about his role. Impressed by Owen's creative insights, Cuarón and Sexton brought him on board as a writer. "Clive was a big help," Cuarón told Variety. "I would send a group of scenes to him, and then I would hear his feedback and instincts."
- Julianne Moore as Julian Taylor. For Julian, Cuarón wanted an actor who had the "credibility of leadership, intelligence, [and] independence". Moore was cast in June 2005, initially to play the first woman to become pregnant in 20 years. "She is just so much fun to work with," Cuarón told Cinematical. "She is just pulling the rug out from under your feet all the time. You don't know where to stand, because she is going to make fun of you."
- Clare-Hope Ashitey as Kee, an illegal immigrant and the first pregnant woman in eighteen years. She did not appear in the book, and was written into the film based on Cuarón's interest in the recent single-origin hypothesis of human origins and the status of dispossessed people: "The fact that this child will be the child of an African woman has to do with the fact that humanity started in Africa. We're putting the future of humanity in the hands of the dispossessed and creating a new humanity to spring out of that."
- Michael Caine as Jasper Palmer, Theo's dealer and friend. Caine based Jasper on his experiences with friend John Lennon – the first time he had portrayed a character who would pass wind or smoke cannabis. Cuarón explains, "Once he had the clothes and so on and stepped in front of the mirror to look at himself, his body language started changing. Michael loved it. He believed he was this guy". Michael Phillips of the Chicago Tribune notices an apparent homage to Schwartz in Orson Welles' film noir, Touch of Evil (1958). Jasper calls Theo "amigo"—just as Schwartz referred to Ramon Miguel Vargas. Jasper's cartoons, seen in his house, were provided by Steve Bell.
- Chiwetel Ejiofor as Luke
- Charlie Hunnam as Patric
- Pam Ferris as Miriam
- Peter Mullan as Syd
- Danny Huston as Nigel, Theo's cousin and a high-ranking government official. Nigel runs a Ministry of Arts programme "Ark of the Arts", which "rescues" works of art such as Michelangelo's David (albeit with a broken leg), Pablo Picasso's Guernica, and Banksy's British Cops Kissing. He mentions that he tried to save Michelangelo's Pietà, but a mob destroyed it before he could.
- Oana Pellea as Marichka
- Paul Sharma as Ian
- Jacek Koman as Tomasz
Children of Men explores the themes of hope and faith in the face of overwhelming futility and despair. The film's source, P. D. James' novel The Children of Men (1992), describes what happens when society is unable to reproduce, using male infertility to explain this problem. In the novel, it is made clear that hope depends on future generations. James writes, "It was reasonable to struggle, to suffer, perhaps even to die, for a more just, a more compassionate society, but not in a world with no future where, all too soon, the very words 'justice,' 'compassion,' 'society,’ 'struggle,' 'evil,' would be unheard echoes on an empty air."
The film switches the infertility from male to female but never explains its cause: environmental destruction and divine punishment are considered. This unanswered question (and others in the film) have been attributed to Cuarón's dislike for expository film: "There's a kind of cinema I detest, which is a cinema that is about exposition and explanations ... It's become now what I call a medium for lazy readers ... Cinema is a hostage of narrative. And I'm very good at narrative as a hostage of cinema." Cuarón's disdain for back-story and exposition led him to use the concept of female infertility as a "metaphor for the fading sense of hope". The "almost mythical" Human Project is turned into a "metaphor for the possibility of the evolution of the human spirit, the evolution of human understanding." Without dictating how the audience should feel by the end of the film, Cuarón encourages viewers to come to their own conclusions about the sense of hope depicted in the final scenes: "We wanted the end to be a glimpse of a possibility of hope, for the audience to invest their own sense of hope into that ending. So if you're a hopeful person you'll see a lot of hope, and if you're a bleak person you'll see a complete hopelessness at the end."
Children of Men takes an unconventional approach to the modern action film, using a documentary, newsreel style. Film critics Michael Rowin, Jason Guerrasio and Ethan Alter observe the film's underlying touchstone of immigration. Alter notes that the film "makes a potent case against the anti-immigrant sentiment" popular in modern societies like the United Kingdom and the United States, with Guerrasio describing the film as "a complex meditation on the politics of today".
For Alter and other critics, the structural support and impetus for the contemporary references rests upon the visual nature of the film's exposition, occurring in the form of imagery as opposed to conventional dialogue. Visually, the refugee camps in the film intentionally evoke Abu Ghraib prison, Guantanamo Bay detention camp, and The Maze. Other popular images appear, such as a sign over the refugee camp reading "Homeland Security". The similarity between the hellish, cinéma vérité stylized battle scenes of the film and current news and documentary coverage of the Iraq War, is noted by film critic Manohla Dargis, describing Cuarón's fictional landscapes as "war zones of extraordinary plausibility".
In the film, refugees are "hunted down like cockroaches", rounded up and put into cages and camps, and even shot, leading film critics like Chris Smith and Claudia Puig to observe symbolic "overtones" and images of the Holocaust. This theme is reinforced in the scene where an elderly refugee woman speaking German is seen detained in a cage, and in the scene where British Homeland Security strips and beats illegal immigrants; a song by The Libertines, "Arbeit macht frei", plays in the background. "The visual allusions to the Nazi roundups are unnerving," writes Richard A. Blake. "It shows what people can become when the government orchestrates their fears for its own advantage."
Cuarón explains how he uses this imagery to propagate the theme by cross-referencing fictional and futuristic events with real, contemporary, or historical incidents and beliefs:
They exit the Russian apartments, and the next shot you see is this woman wailing, holding the body of her son in her arms. This was a reference to a real photograph of a woman holding the body of her son in the Balkans, crying with the corpse of her son. It's very obvious that when the photographer captured that photograph, he was referencing La Pietà, the Michelangelo sculpture of Mary holding the corpse of Jesus. So: We have a reference to something that really happened, in the Balkans, which is itself a reference to the Michelangelo sculpture. At the same time, we use the sculpture of David early on, which is also by Michelangelo, and we have of course the whole reference to the Nativity. And so everything was referencing and cross-referencing, as much as we could.
In the closing credits, the Sanskrit words "Shantih Shantih Shantih" appear as end titles. Writer and film critic Laura Eldred of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill observes that Children of Men is "full of tidbits that call out to the educated viewer". During a visit to his house by Theo and Kee, Jasper says "Shanti, shanti, shanti." Eldred notes that the "shanti" used in the film is also found at the end of an Upanishad and in the final line of T. S. Eliot's poem The Waste Land, a work Eldred describes as "devoted to contemplating a world emptied of fertility: a world on its last, teetering legs". "Shanti" is also a common beginning and ending to all Hindu prayers, and means "peace," referencing the invocation of divine intervention and rebirth through an end to violence.
Like Virgil's Aeneid, Dante's Divine Comedy, and Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, the crux of the journey in Children of Men lies in what is uncovered along the path rather than the terminus itself. Theo's heroic journey to the south coast mirrors his personal quest for "self-awareness", a journey that takes Theo from "despair to hope".
According to Cuarón, the title of P. D. James' book (The Children of Men) is a Catholic allegory derived from a passage of scripture in the Bible. (Psalm 90 (89):3 of the KJV: "Thou turnest man to destruction; and sayest, Return, ye children of men.") James refers to her story as a "Christian fable" while Cuarón describes it as "almost like a look at Christianity": "I didn't want to shy away from the spiritual archetypes," Cuarón told Filmmaker Magazine. "But I wasn't interested in dealing with dogma."
|“||Ms. James's nativity story is, in Mr. Cuarón's version, set against the image of a prisoner in an orange smock with a black bag on his head, arms stretched out as if on a cross.||”|
|— Manohla Dargis, |
This divergence from the original was criticised by some, including Anthony Sacramone of First Things, who called the film "an act of vandalism", noting the irony of how Cuarón had removed religion from P.D. James' fable, in which morally sterile nihilism is overcome by Christianity.
The film has been noted for its use of Christian symbolism; for example, British terrorists named "Fishes" protect the rights of refugees. Opening on Christmas Day in the United States, critics compared the characters of Theo and Kee with Joseph and Mary, calling the film a "modern-day Nativity story". Kee's pregnancy is revealed to Theo in a barn, alluding to the manger of the Nativity scene, when Theo asks Kee who the father of the baby is she jokingly states she is a virgin, and when other characters discover Kee and her baby, they respond with "Jesus Christ" or the sign of the cross. Also the Archangel Gabriel (among other religious figures) is invoked in the bus scene.
To highlight these spiritual themes, Cuarón commissioned a 15-minute piece by British composer John Tavener, a member of the Eastern Orthodox Church whose work resonates with the themes of "motherhood, birth, rebirth, and redemption in the eyes of God." Calling his score a "musical and spiritual reaction to Alfonso's film", snippets of Tavener's "Fragments of a Prayer" contain lyrics in Latin, German and Sanskrit sung by mezzo-soprano, Sarah Connolly. Words like "mata" (mother), "pahi mam" (protect me), "avatara" (saviour), and "alleluia" appear throughout the film.
- Alfonso Cuarón – director, screenwriter, editor
- Timothy J. Sexton – screenwriter
- David Arata – screenwriter
- Mark Fergus – screenwriter
- Hawk Ostby – screenwriter
- Hilary Shor – producer
- Iain Smith – producer
- Tony Smith – producer
- Marc Abraham – producer
- Eric Newman – producer
- Emmanuel Lubezki – cinematographer
- Jim Clay – production designer
- Geoffrey Kirkland – production designer
- Álex Rodríguez – editor
- Jany Temime – costume designer
- John Tavener – composer
The adaptation of the P. D. James novel was originally written by Paul Chart, and later rewritten by Mark Fergus and Hawk Ostby. The studio brought director Alfonso Cuarón on board in 2001. Cuarón and screenwriter Timothy J. Sexton began rewriting the script after the director completed Y tu mamá también. Afraid he would "start second guessing things", Cuarón chose not to read P. D. James' novel, opting to have Sexton read the book while Cuarón himself read an abridged version. Cuarón did not immediately begin production, instead directing Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. During this period, David Arata rewrote the screenplay and delivered the draft which secured Clive Owen and sent the film into pre-production. The director's work experience in the United Kingdom exposed him to the "social dynamics of the British psyche", giving him insight into the depiction of "British reality". Cuarón used the film The Battle of Algiers as a model for social reconstruction in preparation for production, presenting the film to Clive Owen as an example of his vision for Children of Men. In order to create a philosophical and social framework for the film, the director read literature by Slavoj Žižek, as well as similar works. The film Sunrise was also influential.
A Clockwork Orange helped contribute to the futuristic, yet battered patina of 2027 London. Children of Men was the second film Cuarón made in London, with the director portraying the city as a character itself, shooting single, wide shots of the city. While Cuarón was preparing the film, the London bombings occurred, but the director never considered moving the production. "It would have been impossible to shoot anywhere but London, because of the very obvious way the locations were incorporated into the film," Cuarón told Variety. "For example, the shot of Fleet Street looking towards St. Paul's would have been impossible to shoot anywhere else." Due to these circumstances, the opening terrorist attack scene on Fleet Street was shot a month and a half after the London bombing.
Cuarón chose to shoot some scenes in East London, a location he considered "a place without glamour". The set locations were dressed to make them appear even more run-down; Cuarón says he told the crew "'Let's make it more Mexican'. In other words, we'd look at a location and then say: yes, but in Mexico there would be this and this. It was about making the place look run-down. It was about poverty." He also made use of London's most popular sites, shooting in locations like Trafalgar Square and Battersea Power Station. The power station scene (whose conversion into an art archive is a reference to the Tate Modern), has been compared to Antonioni's Red Desert. Cuarón added a pig balloon to the scene as homage to Pink Floyd's Animals. Other art works visible in this scene include Michelangelo's David, Picasso's Guernica, and Banksy's British Cops Kissing. London visual effects companies Double Negative and Framestore worked directly with Cuarón from script to post production, developing effects and creating "environments and shots that wouldn't otherwise be possible".
Style and design
"In most sci-fi epics, special effects substitute for story. Here they seamlessly advance it," observes Colin Covert of Star Tribune. Billboards were designed to balance a contemporary and futuristic appearance as well as easily visualizing what else was occurring in the rest of the world at the time, and cars were made to resemble modern ones at first glance, although a closer look made them seem unfamiliar. Cuarón informed the art department that the film was the "anti-Blade Runner", rejecting technologically advanced proposals and downplaying the science fiction elements of the 2027 setting. The director focused on images reflecting the contemporary period.
Children of Men used several lengthy single-shot sequences in which extremely complex actions take place. The longest of these are a shot in which Kee gives birth (199 seconds; 3:19); an ambush on a country road (247 seconds; 4:07); and a scene in which Theo is captured by the Fishes, escapes, and runs down a street and through a building in the middle of a raging battle (378 seconds; 6:18). These sequences were extremely difficult to film, although the effect of continuity is sometimes an illusion, aided by CGI effects.
Cuarón had experimented with long takes in Great Expectations, Y tu mamá también, and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. His style is influenced by the Swiss film Jonah Who Will Be 25 in the Year 2000, a favorite of Cuarón's. Cuarón reminisces: "I was studying cinema when I first saw [Jonah], and interested in the French New Wave. Jonah was so unflashy compared to those films. The camera keeps a certain distance and there are relatively few close-ups. It's elegant and flowing, constantly tracking, but very slowly and not calling attention to itself."
The creation of the single-shot sequences was a challenging, time-consuming process that sparked concerns from the studio. It took fourteen days to prepare for the single shot in which Clive Owen's character searches a building under attack, and five hours for every time they wanted to reshoot it. In the middle of one shot, blood splattered onto the lens, and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki convinced the director to leave it in. According to Owen, "Right in the thick of it are me and the camera operator because we're doing this very complicated, very specific dance which, when we come to shoot, we have to make feel completely random."
Cuarón's initial idea for maintaining continuity during the roadside ambush scene was dismissed by production experts as an "impossible shot to do". Fresh from the visual effects-laden Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Cuarón suggested using computer-generated imagery to film the scene. Lubezki refused to allow it, reminding the director that they had intended to make a film akin to a "raw documentary". Instead, a special camera rig invented by Gary Thieltges of Doggicam Systems was employed, allowing Cuarón to develop the scene as one extended shot. A vehicle was modified to enable seats to tilt and lower actors out of the way of the camera, and the windshield was designed to tilt out of the way to allow camera movement in and out through the front windscreen. A crew of four, including the director of photography and camera operator, rode on the roof.
However, the commonly reported statement that the action scenes are continuous shots is not entirely true. Visual effects supervisor Frazer Churchill explains that the effects team had to "combine several takes to create impossibly long shots", where their job was to "create the illusion of a continuous camera move." Once the team was able to create a "seamless blend", they would move on to the next shot. These techniques were important for three continuous shots: the coffee shop explosion in the opening shot, the car ambush, and the battlefield scene. The coffee shop scene was composed of "two different takes shot over two consecutive days"; the car ambush was shot in "six sections and at four different locations over one week and required five seamless digital transitions"; and the battlefield scene "was captured in five separate takes over two locations". Churchill and the Double Negative team created over 160 of these types of effects for the film. In an interview with Variety, Cuarón acknowledged this nature of the "single-shot" action sequences: "Maybe I'm spilling a big secret, but sometimes it's more than what it looks like. The important thing is how you blend everything and how you keep the perception of a fluid choreography through all of these different pieces."
Tim Webber of VFX house Framestore CFC was responsible for the three-and-a-half minute single take of Kee giving birth, helping to choreograph and create the CG effects of the childbirth. Cuarón had originally intended to use an animatronic baby as Kee's child with the exception of the childbirth scene. In the end, two takes were shot, with the second take concealing Clare-Hope Ashitey's legs, replacing them with prosthetic legs. Cuarón was pleased with the results of the effect, and returned to previous shots of the baby in animatronic form, replacing them with Framestore's computer-generated baby.
Cuarón uses sound and music to bring the fictional world of social unrest and infertility to life. A creative yet restrained combination of rock, pop, electronic music, hip-hop and classical music replaces the typical film score. The mundane sounds of traffic, barking dogs, and advertisements follow the character of Theo through London, East Sussex and Kent, producing what Los Angeles Times writer Kevin Crust calls an "urban audio rumble". For Crust, the music comments indirectly on the barren world of Children of Men: Deep Purple's version of "Hush" blaring from Jasper's car radio becomes a "sly lullaby for a world without babies" while King Crimson's "The Court of the Crimson King" make a similar allusion with their lyrics, "three lullabies in an ancient tongue".
Amongst a genre-spanning selection of electronic music, a remix of Aphex Twin's "Omgyjya Switch 7", which includes the 'Male This Loud Scream' audio sample by Thanvannispen, not present on the original (nor indeed on the official soundtrack) can be heard during the scene in Jasper's house, where Jasper's "Strawberry Cough" (a potent, strawberry-flavoured blend of marijuana) is being sampled. During a conversation between the two men, Radiohead's "Life in a Glasshouse" plays in the background.
For the Bexhill scenes during the film's second half, the director makes use of silence and cacophonous sound effects such as the firing of automatic weapons and loudspeakers directing the movement of "fugees" (illegal immigrants). Here, classical music by George Frideric Handel, Gustav Mahler, and Krzysztof Penderecki's "Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima" complements the chaos of the refugee camp. Throughout the film, John Tavener's Fragments of a Prayer is used as a spiritual motif to explain and interpret the story without the use of narrative.
A few times during the film, a loud, ringing tone evocative of tinnitus is heard. This sound generally coincides with the death of a major character (Julian, Jasper) and is referred to by Julian herself, who describes the tones as the last time you'll ever hear that frequency. In this way, then, the loss of the tones is symbolic of the loss of the characters.
Children of Men had its world premiere at the 63rd Venice International Film Festival on 3 September 2006. On 22 September 2006, the film debuted at number 1 in the United Kingdom with $2.4 million in 368 screens. It debuted in a limited release of 16 theaters in the United States on 22 December 2006, expanding to more than 1,200 theaters on 5 January 2007. As of 6 February 2008[update], Children of Men had grossed $69,612,678 worldwide, with $35,552,383 of the revenue generated in the United States.
Children of Men received critical acclaim; on the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film received a 92% approval rating based on 237 reviews from critics; the consensus states: "Children of Men works on every level: as a violent chase thriller, a fantastical cautionary tale, and a sophisticated human drama about societies struggling to live." On Metacritic, the film has a score of 84 out of 100, based on 38 reviews, indicating "universal acclaim".
Dana Stevens of Slate called it "the herald of another blessed event: the arrival of a great director by the name of Alfonso Cuarón." Stevens hailed the film's extended car chase and battle scenes as "two of the most virtuoso single-shot chase sequences I've ever seen." Manohla Dargis of The New York Times called the film a "superbly directed political thriller", raining accolades on the long chase scenes. "Easily one of the best films of the year" said Ethan Alter of Film Journal International, with scenes that "dazzle you with their technical complexity and visual virtuosity." Jonathan Romney of The Independent praised the accuracy of Cuarón's portrait of the United Kingdom, but he criticized some of the film's futuristic scenes as "run-of-the-mill future fantasy." Film Comment's critics' poll of the best films of 2006 ranked the film number 19 while the 2006 readers' poll ranked it number two. On their list of the best movies of 2006, The A.V. Club, the San Francisco Chronicle, Slate, and The Washington Post placed the film at number one. Entertainment Weekly ranked the film seventh on its end-of-the-decade, top ten list, saying, "Alfonso Cuarón's dystopian 2006 film reminded us that adrenaline-juicing action sequences can work best when the future looks just as grimy as today."
I thought director Alfonso Cuarón's film of P.D. James' futuristic political-fable novel was good when it opened in 2006. After repeated viewings, I know Children of Men is indisputably great ... No movie this decade was more redolent of sorrowful beauty and exhilarating action. You don't just watch the car ambush scene (pure camera wizardry)—you live inside it. That's Cuarón's magic: He makes you believe."
According to Metacritic's analysis of the most often and notably noted films on the best-of-the-decade lists, Children of Men is considered the eleventh greatest film of the 2000s.
Top ten lists
The film appeared on many critics' top ten lists as one of the best films of 2006:
- 1st – Ann Hornaday, The Washington Post
- 1st – Keith Phipps, The A.V. Club
- 1st – Peter Hartlaub, San Francisco Chronicle
- 1st – Tasha Robinson, The A.V. Club
- 2nd (of the decade) – Peter Travers, Rolling Stone
- 2nd – Ray Bennett, The Hollywood Reporter
- 2nd – Scott Tobias, The A.V. Club
- 3rd – Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times
- 4th – Kevin Crust, Los Angeles Times
- 4th – Wesley Morris, The Boston Globe
- 5th – Rene Rodriguez, The Miami Herald
- 6th – Manohla Dargis, The New York Times
- 7th – Empire
- 7th – Kirk Honeycutt, The Hollywood Reporter
- 7th – Ty Burr, The Boston Globe
- 8th – Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times (tied with Pan's Labyrinth)
- 8th – Scott Foundas, LA Weekly (tied with L'Enfant)
- 8th – Scott Foundas, The Village Voice
- Unordered – Dana Stevens, Slate
- Unordered – Liam Lacey and Rick Groen, The Globe and Mail
- Unordered – Peter Rainer, The Christian Science Monitor
- Unordered – Mark Kermode, BBC Radio 5 Live
In 2012, director Marc Webb included the film among his list of Top 10 Greatest Films when asked by Sight & Sound for his votes for the BFI The Top 50 Greatest Films of All Time. In 2015, the film was named Number One on an all-time list of Top 10 Movies by the blog Pop Culture Philosopher.
P. D. James, who was reported to be pleased with the film, and the screenwriters of Children of Men were awarded the 19th annual USC Scripter Award for the screen adaptation of the novel; Howard A. Rodman, chair of the USC School of Cinematic Arts Writing Division, described the book-to-screen adaptation as "writing and screen writing of the highest order", although Gerschatt, writing in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, noted that the screenplay bore very little resemblance to the novel, in the gender of the baby, and the character who was pregnant (Julian, in the novel) and the death of Theo, who in fact, did not die in the novel. The film was also nominated in the category of Best Adapted Screenplay at the 79th Academy Awards.
Children of Men also received Academy Award nominations for Best Cinematography (Emmanuel Lubezki) and Best Film Editing (Alfonso Cuarón and Alex Rodríguez). The British Academy of Film and Television Arts nominated Children of Men for Best Visual Effects and honored the film with awards for Best Cinematography and Best Production Design at the 60th British Academy Film Awards. Cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki won the feature film award for Best Cinematography at the 21st American Society of Cinematographers Awards. The Australian Cinematographers Society also awarded Lubezki the 2007 International Award for Cinematography for Children of Men.
The Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films bestowed the Saturn Award for Best Science Fiction Film on Children of Men, and it received the nomination for Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form by the members of the World Science Fiction Convention.
The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:
The HD-DVD and DVD were released in Europe on 15 January 2007 and in the United States on 27 March 2007. Extras include a half-hour documentary by director Alfonso Cuarón entitled "The Possibility of Hope". The documentary explores the intersection between the film's themes and reality with a critical analysis by eminent scholars: the Slovenian sociologist and philosopher Slavoj Žižek, anti-globalization activist Naomi Klein, environmentalist futurist James Lovelock, sociologist Saskia Sassen, human geographer Fabrizio Eva, cultural theorist Tzvetan Todorov, and philosopher and economist John N. Gray; "Under Attack" features a demonstration of the innovative techniques required for the car chase and battle scenes; Clive Owen and Julianne Moore discuss their characters in "Theo & Julian"; "Futuristic Design" opens the door on the production design and look of the film; "Visual Effects" shows how the digital baby was created. Deleted scenes are included. The film was released on Blu-ray Disc in the United States on 26 May 2009.
- The Lottery, a Lifetime TV series about an infertility pandemic
- The White Plague, a Frank Herbert novel about a genetically-targeted plague unleashed upon humanity that kills only women, forcing humans to face the prospect of extinction.
- Engines of Creation, a nonfiction book by K. Eric Drexler about the prospect of strong nanotechnology which notes that targeted infertility (intentional, unintentional, benevolent, malevolent) is a possibility of strong nanotechnology or molecular manufacturing.
- The Camp of the Saints, a 1973 French apocalyptic novel by Jean Raspail, which depicts Third World mass immigration to France and the West which leads to the destruction of Western civilization.
- The March a film where a charismatic Muslim leader from Sudan, who leads 250,000 Africans on a march towards Europe with the slogan: "We are poor because you are rich."
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