The apocalypse has gone post(al) in both of these films set in England. The action in both starts in London then moves to the country, where the living is not easier. In both of these sci-fi thrillers, man’s command of science and control over his environment seems to have brought with it some terrifying and unexpected consequences.
Even though, as we all know by now, the printed word is doomed, Children of Men is based on a book by P.D. James that I actually read when it was first published. I found its central premise thrilling
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then, that mankind suddenly and completely goes infertile. I found the idea that if there are no people left in a few years that the sheer sadness that no one will ever hear Mozart or read Shakespeare again to be almost overwhelming. In the hands of director Alfonso Cuaron, this intellectual idea becomes gritty, dangerous, and even more provocative. Clive Owen has been cast in one of his best roles here as Theo — his face seems to register all the injustice and pain with a resignation to keep on living anyway, finally giving way to a resignation to give it all up in a way that his life will have mattered.
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The Defending Champion
While it’s not impossible to think that infertility could bedevil mankind, I’m not particularly worried that the premise of 28 Days Later will come to pass. This film basically has animal activists setting some lab animals free from their cages only to set loose a “rage” virus that transmits to humans. It turns into a zombie movie then, but probably the best one I’ve ever seen. And I was blown away by how awesome the “empty city” shots of London were when Jim (Cillian Davis) first realizes that something has gone wildly and insanely wrong.
Both of these films are structured similarly: the opening in London, important mission of survival takes them into the country, fighting off zombies or immigrants who stand in their way, giving us a black woman as a main character who seems to be the toughest of the bunch, and ending with a sense of small hope for society after scaring the crap out of us along the way. Both were directed so intensely that they deliver their particular apocalypse believably and credibly. This is a close one. Children of Men, however, is a film that I could actually talk my wife into seeing, while 28 Days Later was dismissed by her as a genre movie she had no interest in seeing. And she had a point. Although the truth is Children of Men is actually scarier, because it feels like a lot of it could come to pass if we’re not careful.
Still, both of these films work, and they work well. So…
Years from now, Children of Men is going to be included in the group of dystopian future films that include Blade Runner. On the other hand, I fear, 28 Days Later is going to be compared to films like Dawn of the Dead, especially given that it is spawning sequels like 28 Weeks Later, and probably some day, 28 Months Later. Despite their structural similarities, this is still apples and oranges. I just hope there will be humans alive to listen to Mozart, read Shakespeare and watch Children of Men. It’s a close decision on points…