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Children of Men directed by Alfonso Cuarón, is a science fiction film based upon the 1992 novel of the same name written by P.D. James. Set in war torn Britain in 2027 Children of Men tells the story of a world where humans are unable to reproduce, spiraling society into chaos. Theo Faron, a civil servant must aid pregnant refugee, Kee through a war zone to a safe boat.
This essay will investigate the production design of the film and critically analyse the visual references used along with their significant to the plot and relevance to current society. Sources will be extracted from “Cinematical interview with Alfonso Cuarón”, “ Children of Men Review by Roger Ebert”, “Children of Men by Peter Bradshaw”, “An interview with Clive Owen by Rebecca Murray” and “Children of Men trivia extracted from IMDB”. Specifically this assignment will look at the choice of production design and its significance, the reasoning behind Cuarón’s first person method of shooting the film, references in the feature to Nazi concentration camps, The portrayal of the media through set design and its impact on the plot and the subtle symbolic images. The conclusion will summarise these key features of the film’s visual concepts and their relation to the film’s plot.
The production design for Children of Men is evocative and the unique. Production Designer Jim Clay set the film apart from other science fiction films based in the future. Perhaps one of the most discerning qualities about Children of Men is that although it was set in the year 2027 the film did not rely on futuristic looking scenery and hi tech gadgets that would usually wet the lips of other production designers. There were only several references that were made to technological advancements of the future such as the hand gadget used by the wealthy government minister’s son. Arguably using little futuristic elements in the film is to suggest that since society is on the brink of collapse and the world is one complete warzone that technological advancements and human progression have stopped. In an interview with Cinematical, Children of Men director Alfonso Cuarón was asked about his decision to fight against the film looking futuristic. Cuarón responded saying
“Its not about imagining and being creative, it is about referencing reality.” (2006)
The setting of the film could also have avoided this look so the audience is able to relate to this world that Theo Faron is confined to. Roger Ebert of the Chicago Times states “Watching "Children of Men," which creates a London in ruins, I realized after a point that the sets and art design were so well done that I took it as a real place.” (Ebert:2007) The message the film is trying to convey is relevant to current issues, questioning human value on life and giving insight into what may happen to society if the human race are not careful as to their actions i.e. war, immigration, racial tolerance. Arguably the way to express the films moral message is through set design. Virtually every element of the film is something that is current and identifiable from the public transport to the architecture, they are all contemporary.
Alfonso Cuarón chose to shoot the film entirely in first person giving the impression that the viewer is almost in among all the pandemonium occurring in the nail biting scenes. Cuarón stated “I am not trying to use editing or a montage, trying to seek for an effect. I’m trying to create a moment of truthfulness.” This is apparent with bombs and car explosions throughout the film that are never dramatized or made the focus of a shot. Instead they always remain secondary to the actors, occurring partially off screen or in the background. This unpredictability makes Children of Men all the more exhilarating. “Cuarón's gun battle between the terrorists and the army is a bravura piece of work, deploying a very scary sort of first-person shooter graphics.” (Bradshaw:2006)
Fig.1 Theo taking cover
Not only are the shots in first person but also they rarely cut to a separate scene and instead rely on one continuous shot. Consider the scene in which Theo has to run through a war torn City Street to rescue pregnant refugee Kee from the clutches of ‘Fishes’ guerilla Luke. The entire scene was one continuous shot and arguably one of the defining moments of the film as the pain staking process in filming it is apparent. In an interview with Hollywood Movie Guide’s Rebecca Murray, Clive Owen articulates on the long shots of the film “You’ve got to feel like you’re in the thick of it and it’s all about pacing. If you hold a beat a bit too long, it will suddenly feel a bit manipulative.” (DNP)
Malcolm X once referred to the media as being “The most powerful entity on earth. They have the power to make the innocent guilty and the guilty innocent, and that’s power. Because they control the minds of the masses.” This notion is apparent in The Children of Men. The first scene we see is a crowd gathering around a television to watch a live broadcast. Theo’s work colleagues remain glued to their computer screens; the only colour in the city of London is that of billboards. Even the public transport is mounted with television screens piping in Britain’s current agenda to the masses that live in a perpetual world of grey.
The main headline seen is “Britain Soldiers On” relating to their almost being a hierarchy between the natives and the refugees. The manner in which the natives treat the refugees is like that of a prison officer treating prisoners. Essentially making the innocent guilty. Perhaps the best example of the media being the true power and figurehead in this film is the scene in which immigrant rights group ‘The Fishes’ kidnap Theo and take him to a small holding. The walls are covered in newspaper clippings completely surrounding them in a claustrophobic environment. This is arguably symbolic of there being no escape from the media.
Fig.2 References to the media being a powerful entity
The manner in which the refugees are caged is at times unsettling as it is reminiscent of concentration camps during the Second World War. The cages are horrific in appearance, filthy and compacted. Worst still they’re in among the hustle and bustle of London City. The scene in which Miriam is forcibly taken from the bus to the refugee camp, the song "Arbeit macht frei," by The Libertines can be heard. “Arbeit macht frei (Work shall set you free) was written above the entrance of the biggest concentration camp of the Second World War, Auschwitz. As the bus pulls away there is a line of people bound and on their knees along with several dead bodies.
Fig.3 Inhumane cages that hold Refugees
What is visually striking about Children of Men is also subtlety. Cuarón has not relied solely on glamorizing gun battles or trying to make the world larger than life. It is a common pattern in films than in order for something to have visual impact it must be glorified and highlighted to the audience. Cuarón dismisses this notion and often the aspects of the set which are most potent to the plot are so subtle they almost register at a subliminal level. Consider the scene where Theo enters the Battersea Power Station to visit his wealthy cousin Nigel. A stenciled image of two policemen kissing created by real life guerilla artist Banksy can be seen on a background wall. As the police in this film are seen as the enforcers this image arguably represents powerful figures to not be god like but still human beings no different to the refugees they cage. The elusive artist Banksy himself represents anarchy as his graffiti creates an atmosphere of neglect and social decay which relates to Theo Faron eluding the police governing the city of London.
Subtle symbolic images are rife throughout the film; the best example of this is the abandoned, dilapidated school in which the group uses as a meeting point. This scene may be unsettling to some viewers as a school is usually a place associated with innocence and life which has now been replaced with crumbling walls and a de saturated and hauntingly calm atmosphere illustrating that children are now a distant memory. The calmness is broken by a noise, which Theo finds to be a young fawn running through the halls. Although this scene is short it is resonant as the fawn is symbolic of innocence, young life and above all hope even among a crumbling society.
Fig.4 The dilapidated School
Fig.5 The hope for the Human Race
The film the Children of Men is unique in the manner in which it was filmed. The simplicity of the production design did not deter from the plot line and instead relied on subtle references, which present day viewers can relate to. The first person method of filming is completely unique for feature films of this genre and it draws the audience into this claustrophobic world of blood stained debris and de saturated colours. Alfonso Cuarón took a risk in his style of filming but the end result is something that should be admired.
List of Illustrations
Fig.1 Theo taking cover
Fig.2 References to the Media
Fig.3 The Refugee Cages
Fig.4 The dilapidated School
(Images extracted from)
Cinematical interview with Alfonso Cuarón (Dec 25th 2006) http://blog.moviefone.com/2006/12/25/interview-children-ofmen-director-alfonso-cuaron/ (Extracted on Nov 21st 2011)
Ebert. R of the Chicago Times (Published Oct 5th 2007) http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20071004/REVIEWS/710040307
(Extracted Nov 21st 2011)
Bradshaw. P of the Guardian (Published Sept 22nd 2006) http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/2006/sep/22/juliannemoore.thriller
(Extracted Nov 21st 2011)
Rebecca Murray interview with Clive Owen (date not published)
http://movies.about.com/od/childrenofmen/a/childco121906.htm (Extracted Nov 21st 2011)
Children of Men Trivia http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0206634/trivia (Extracted Nov 21st 2011)