It was down to the wire, but I managed to see the two films I was determined not to miss while in Michigan: Alfonso Cuaron’s Children of Men and Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth. There’s been some buzz about these two Mexican directors, each with what is undoubtedly their masterpiece thus far, and both films lived up to the hype.
When I saw Children of Men it was a snowy afternoon in Holland and I was the only person in the theater. (Spoilers of the won’t-spoil-the-movie-unless-you’re-really-picky-about-spoilers sort incoming.) The dystopian future presented will no doubt draw all sorts of comparisons to Blade Runner, but the world of Children of Men is much much closer to our own. As with Cuaron’s Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, I had a sense leaving the theater that there was a whole elaborate system of color symbolism and other subtle visual clues that I was picking up on only slightly. The whole movie is incredibly intense, but when (OK, maybe the spoilers are a little more spoiler-y, but still nothing that you wouldn’t have already heard if you’re seen/read any of the buzz) Theo (Clive Owen’s character) has to help deliver a baby and then shepherd said baby and her mother through the hell of a disintegrating detainment camp for illegal immigrants, I completely broke down. As in, I was in tears, or near tears, for the last forty minutes or so. No doubt a big part of that is just me having a six week old baby, and therefore responding to Baby Is In Danger storytelling at a visceral level. And Cuaron should be given all due credit for his amazing filmmaking — only when reading about it afterward did I realize that, yes, the whole apartment building scene toward the end was one long, long shot. But I also wonder if being along in the theater didn’t also free me up somehow to respond to what I was seeing emotionally, and physically. It was also shocking how, post-Abu Ghraib, the simple act of getting a hood put over your head can be. Seeing it happen to one of the characters just before the camera pans off was like a punch in the gut.
But hey, even if you don’t have enough of whatever parental horomone makes you weepy at the drop of the hat, you should still see this movie. I haven’t seen very many of them the past couple of years, but this one is easily the best I’ve seen in that time. Go see go see.
I was actually looking forward to seeing Pan’s Labyrinth even more, and maybe because my expectations were so high, I enjoyed it a little less. Del Toro’s horror film instincts are still very much in play here, and while it made for a gripping movie I occasionally found it a bit much. And let’s face it, I wanted to see it because it involved a girl encountering a faun, not because it was a tragic story about the horrors of the Spanish Civil War, though it’s ultimately the former that provides the countermelody to the latter, and not the other way around. It is not a fantasy movie — its fantastic elements reside pretty conclusively in the imagination of the protagonist and the “could it be real?” moments don’t add up to much. These facts may make it a little different from the film I was expecting or would have liked to see, but that’s not to say they aren’t exactly what Del Toro had in mind. Like Children of Men, Pan’s Labyrinth is a tightly-constructed gem.
Both directors are going to be able to write their own tickets after this. If I could write them, though, I’d put them to work on a couple of the future Chronicles of Narnia pictures, doing work that’s true to the spirit of the books but darker and with a bit more of an edge — something that’d make ol’ Jack cringe, but maybe not if he had been born fifty years later. Del Toro should definitely do The Silver Chair, with all those giants and underground monsters — and Puddleglum, oh, Puddleglum! Cuaron could make fine work of Dawn Treader or maybe A Horse and His Boy.