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Directing a world gone mad

Story Highlights

• "Children of Men" director says movie is about the present
• The movie offers a bleak view of world of 2027
• Film stars Clive Owen, Julianne Moore, Michael Caine
By Todd Leopold
CNN
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ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- "Children of Men" takes place as the world is falling apart.

The film is set in London in 2027. A disease that swept through the planet in 2009 has rendered all women infertile, leaving humanity, as one character describes it, in despair. Bombings and assassinations are indiscriminate, the streets are filled with filth and rubble, the government rules with an almost-totalitarian hand and helpless immigrants are trapped behind cages and bars.

Director Alfonso Cuaron describes it as "hopeful."

OK, so he knows hope is in short supply through much of the film. The perceived threat of immigration, the presence of Big Brother-type surveillance cameras, the willingness of leaders to let their people live in fear -- he knows these issues strike hot buttons because, like much of the best science fiction, they're really about today. And the world is a scary place nowadays.

It's not really a film about the future, he says, because "I didn't want to make a film about the future." (Read star Clive Owen's take on "Children of Men.")

"There's something said about humanity, that we learn from history. We learn nothing from history," says Cuaron, the Mexican-born director perhaps best known for "Y Tu Mama Tambien" and "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban," sitting in a lounge in CNN Center.

So, he says, the visual references were deliberately chosen -- "from you guys," he adds, referring to the American news networks -- "iconography engraved in contemporary human consciousness," images that resemble Abu Ghraib or the Maze prison in Northern Ireland. They're images that resonate in their sad timelessness.

'I have a very hopeful view of the future'

And yet, he observes, there is hope.

"Children of Men," based on a novel by P.D. James, stars Clive Owen as a burned-out civil servant who gets drawn into a plot to shepherd an 18-year-old woman (Clare-Hope Ashitey) through the country. She is, it turns out, pregnant, and her baby means hope in its most profound sense -- that of a new generation to save humanity.

The film also stars Julianne Moore as a radicalized former lover of Owen's who brings him the pregnant girl, and Michael Caine as a merry old political cartoonist friend. Caine wears his gray hair long and peers through wire-rimmed spectacles; he modeled his look after John Lennon, Cuaron says.

The film has earned bravura reviews, particularly for some long-take action sequences featuring Owen and Moore threatened by guerrillas, and Owen leading Ashitey through a bombed-out coastal city to freedom.

But Cuaron, though pleased with the film's entertainment value, hopes "Children of Men" prompts people to think. The world it presents is "getting closer and closer," he says, adding we may not see the class lines drawn in our cities, but they're often mere miles apart -- the distance between a leafy gated community and a slum.

Despite his concerns, Cuaron believes our problems can be overcome. His vision of the future -- of the present -- doesn't have to persist.

"I don't have a bleak view of the future. I have a bleak view of the present, but I have a very hopeful view of the future," he says. "But we are absolutely in need of transformation. For me the thing is that the audience comes out and there's hope, and that they ponder what they can do with this hope."

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Children of Men

Alfonso Cuaron, right, talks over a shot with "Children of Men" star Clive Owen, left, and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki.

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