6 November 2006 | Philby-3
A thinking person's thriller
Alfonso Cuaron has given us a very clever rendering of a very English dystopian novel. P D James, the "Baroness of Bad" is famous for her well-written and absorbing police procedural novels ("Inspector Dalgliesh") but in the early 90s she produced a vision of a world only 20 years into the future in which for unspecified reasons all the women on earth have become infertile and no babies have been born for the last 18 years.
The rest of the world has lapsed into chaos but the British, stoically, have put the remainder of their civil liberties into the fire and have settled down under an oppressive dictatorship to ward off foreign boarders and await inevitable extinction, though there are some violent dissidents called the fish.
Theo (Clive Owen), a journalist with connections to the top, is "persuaded" by his ex-wife and fish member Julian (Julianne Moore) to obtain some exit papers for Kee (Claire Hope Ashity) a young black woman, who, it turns out, is pregnant. Theo is swept up in Kee's escape across a grim decaying landscape. Not only are there the security forces to contend with, but some equally ruthless insurgents. Cuaron builds the tension exquisitely, interspersing the adrenaline fueled bits with quieter bits.
Kee' projected saviors are a mysterious group called the Human Project who conveniently sail their well-maintained Greenpeace style ex-North Sea fishing trawler past offshore light buoys in the hope of rescuing the human race. But the improbability of this doesn't matter much because by the end of the movie Cuaron has effectively demonstrated what the world would be like if humankind suddenly stopped reproducing. Having children is our way of cheating death, without them there is nothing but death, and in this future there are none about but the living dead.
The casting is pretty well perfect. Clive Owen as Theo puts his haunted good looks to good use as he turns from cynical reporter to a hunted enemy of the state. The motley characters he meets along the way his ex-wife, the fish rebels, the refugees who help him, the "fascist pig" border guard and above all Michael Caine's aging hippie are all wonderfully realized.
It has been suggested that Cuaron has really made a film about today, not 20 years into the future. The rampaging security forces we see might as well be in Bosnia or Iraq, or even Northern Ireland. In an age of terrorism, order without law very quickly becomes tyranny, which has never been the answer to terrorism. What he and PD James do demonstrate is just how fragile our civil society is.
As a film this is a very fine piece of work. The sets exude grimy Britain, the battles are hair-raising, the quieter moments intense. Cuaron would do a great James Bond movie. He has turned a rather rarefied novel into an exiting and engrossing thriller without obscuring the original message. He is a very versatile and enterprising film-maker and I'm sure he's going to do lots more good stuff.