Alfonso Cuarón can do no wrong.

Well, all right, he prob­a­bly can and surely will — but in the mean­time, I have to say his movies do not suck. First he got him­self seri­ously noticed with the exploits of two good friends and a very wlling lady in Y tu Mamá También; after that he shifted gears, some could argue very rad­i­cally, in tak­ing on the third Harry Potter film.* Under his guid­ance we ended up with a movie that gen­tly led its char­ac­ters into young adult­hood with­out all the eye-​​rolling and booger jokes that an unsub­tle clod like Chris Columbus would surely have used.

That is, when that third HP movie opened up, the char­ac­ters were as Columbus had made them: Sorta dorky. By the time it was over, they were all sub­stan­tially and irrev­o­ca­bly changed, and it was done so damn grace­fully that it’s only in restro­spect you really see it.

So this week­end I took in his lat­est, Children of Men, and left the the­ater feel­ing some­thing I rarely ever do: Genuinely, pro­foundly affected.

I don’t really want to go too much into the story here, because it might be bet­ter to see this movie with as few pre­con­cep­tions as pos­si­ble, just to make it a fairly fresh expe­ri­ence. The time frame for the film is a lit­tle over 20 years in the future; humans have become infer­tile; a hope­less world has begun implod­ing; sui­cide kits are freely avail­able for purchase.

Cuarón’s con­cep­tual genius here is his extra­or­di­nar­ily long takes. There’s a very long series of events that take place in a car. The cam­era remains inside the car dur­ing most of these events, then gets out and is left behind as the car dri­ves off. It’s strik­ing and very effec­tive, keep­ing you tautly involved in every­thing going on. A later, much longer sequence set in a ruined ghetto is even more immersive.

Beyond that, though, Cuarón paints a world that has lost hope — not because it’s slid­ing into eco­log­i­cal col­lapse, but because there sim­ply are no more chil­dren being born, and every­one alive knows that human­ity has sixty years or so left to it before the very last per­son dies, alone and unmourned by any­one else. It’s just not pos­si­ble for me to express the per­va­sive sense of doom that hangs over the movie or the way it insin­u­ated itself into me; I saw the film Saturday and am still haunted by it, par­tic­u­larly by one scene involv­ing Michael Caine and a lost-​​sounding cover of Ruby Tuesday per­formed by Franco Battiato.

Beyond that are other com­ments made in other reviews, par­tic­u­larly about the half-​​assed revolutionary/​terrorist groups which have all basi­cally lost their way, lost focus — lost even a pur­pose to exist any longer except to foment chaos. The naked real­ism of cows incin­er­ated in brack­ish fields to pre­vent dis­ease or Mad Cow infec­tion, the extra­or­di­nary blend of ani­mated adver­tis­ing signs with ran­dom ter­ror­ism bomb­ings and the direc­tion­less, base­less, faith­less world that still some­how man­ages to con­tain eth­i­cal, good peo­ple pro­vide a mix of ideas and images too stark to rel­ish, yet too intense to ignore.

Throughout the movie there are also sub­tle hints at reli­gious iconog­ra­phy, though here Cuarón plays it with extreme sub­tlety. The only really obvi­ous one was the girl in the barn. (See it and you’ll know what I mean.) All that was lack­ing was straw. Oh, and I guess Joseph — though per­haps in a way Clive Owen filled that role.

Without ques­tion, Children of Men is a deeply evoca­tive film, one that will leave you with a lot to mull over long after you’ve left the the­ater. Alfonso Cuarón is an authen­tic mas­ter and we need a few more like him.

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* Though … again … two good friends and a girl … hmm.

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