Sunday, January 21, 2007

Best Film of 2006: Children of Men

Perhaps all mothers see their sons as Michelangelo saw David. Amidst horrific collapse and mass grief for a childless future, director Alfonso Cuarón’s Children of Men provides a moment of startling access to that vision. The priceless marble statue sits horded in a citadel called the Ark of the Arts. Damaged in its rescue and transport, part of the left leg is gone. A shiny metal rod connects the foot and knee – as if David had crossed paths with an IED on his way to meet Goliath. For a rushing, brilliant instant you glimpse how irreplaceable, in his mothers’ eyes, is every young soldier. This helps set up the plausibility later when soldiers lay down their weapons at the sight of a baby.

In another scene, Clive Owen’s Theo walks down an abandoned school hallway over trash, muck and crunching broken glass. Minutes ago he had put on flip-flops, the only footwear around. Cuarón’s strategy to have us take in panoramic devastation involves such details. Without ever showing Theo’s feet during this short walk, Cuarón has you curling your own toes, squeamish about those nearly naked feet.

Another scene: around a corner Theo refills his whiskey pint and overhears his friend Jasper tell the pregnant ‘fugee girl Kee how Theo’s son Dylan died. Echoing the boy’s mother Julian, also dead now, Kee says about the baby’s photo, “He has Theo’s eyes,” while Mahler’s Songs on the Death of Children plays over Jasper’s stereo.

I had been fiddling with a likely list of top films, no single one quite away from the pack, when I saw this one. Beyond “I know it when I see it,” it may be the unflagging aesthetic precision and the reciprocity of such images, that finally earned my tears. Not everyone agrees – it takes a willingness to let the film have you, like the wary affection that grows up between Theo and Kee. Theo and Julian met at a 60’s protest rally – of course their son was named after the singer Bob. At the end, when Kee names her little girl Dylan, I thought instead about the poet not going gentle into that good night.

Written for's Top 15 Films of 2006, published there 1/16/2007.