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Future shock; present tense

'Children of Men' imagines a near-future in which mankind faces extinction.

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"Children of Men" is the rare piece of futurism that actually looks and feels like it was taking place years from now – 2027 to be exact. Loosely adapted from a 1992 P.D. James novel and directed by Alfonso Cuarón, it's a doomsday nightmare that seems all too contemporary.

And that contemporaneity is, of course, the mark of a true apocalyptic vision. Because we don't see ourselves reflected in it, the futurism of most sci-fi is not disturbing. It's escapist. But the George Orwell who wrote "1984" was thinking of his own era. Likewise, Cuarón, aided immensely by his cinematographer, Emmanuel Lubezki, draws imagery from the here and now. The ravages of Iraq and global terrorism are this film's template.

Clive Owen plays Theo, a former political activist who is now a burned-out functionary for the Ministry of Energy in London. Mankind has become infertile. The world has been pulled apart by sectarian violence, and Britain, the only country that hasn't devolved into anarchy, has closed its borders. The refugees who nevertheless pour in – unaffectionately referred to as "fugees" – are captured, caged, and deported. The country survives as a totalitarian state with omnipresent security police and surveillance cameras. A public service announcement declares, "The world has collapsed. Only Britain soldiers on."

Theo is drawn into a rescue mission engineered by his ex-lover Julian (Julianne Moore), a radical fighting for refugee rights. His job is to spirit Kee (Claire-Hope Ashitey), an African woman, out of the country. He soon discovers she's pregnant. It's been almost 19 years since a child has been born into this world.

Cuarón is one of the most versatile living directors. His first Hollywood film, "A Little Princess," is a family classic and, at the opposite extreme, "Y Tu Mamá También" is a great coming-of-age sexcapade. His "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban" is the easily best Potter film.

"Children of Men" is unlike anything the director has done before. Much of it was shot hand-held. He stages a couple of sequences, notably a terrorist ambush in the countryside, that are startlingly sinuous. The horror appears to be happening right in front of our eyes in a single take.


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