The long takes in Children of Men seem to be a controversial issue for audiences. No matter which side you take, the biggest argument surrounding Children of Men seems to be ‘realistic’ vs ‘too realistic.’ On one hand, some viewers and critics say that Alfonso Cuarón’s use of the long take is a masterpiece of the technique. Personally, I tend to agree with this camp. The four minute long sequence where our heroes get ambushed while driving through the forest was one of the best action scenes we’ve watched so far this year. The choreography, the timing and the camera all showed Cuarón’s talent as a director. But on the other hand, some viewers and critics say that the long takes were just showy, far too realistic. Blood splatters on the camera lens only reminded the audience that they were just watching a movie. Perhaps Cuarón was trying too hard?
Children of Men is a visual treat. From a technical standpoint, the effort and skill that went into so many of the long takes is awe-inspiring. However, the long takes are not just there for the wow factor. The wandering camera leads some very unique ways of building the world of Children of Men. For example, when the camera strays away from our hero and pans upward, watching an entire apartment building worth of personal belongings being thrown out the windows. The wandering camera is a perfect example of the timeless rule, “show, don’t tell.” Instead of listening to a character tell a story of how she watched illegal immigrants get abused, the camera shows the abuse up close. Because of the wandering camera, we get to see the dark, gritty world instead of having it explained through dialogue.
Cuarón’s long takes throughout action sequences give the audience a real feel for space. Instead of jump-cutting to different angles, we are led by the camera through the physical space of the scene. For example, the climactic sequence of our hero’s run from his almost-execution to save Kee and her baby. The camera follows our hero as he runs down the street, through a bus, across the street again, and up into the building. We, as an audience, get to experience the space that our character runs through, and the camera-work makes it all the more powerful when we see a tank approaching from where our character was standing just a few actual moments ago.
In conclusion, Alfanso Cuarón and Emmanuel Lubezki both demonstrated their incredible filmmaking talent through Children of Men. The long takes and wandering camera are a welcome break from a Hollywood that seems to just accept lazy editing as the norm. The film looks unique, and its action scenes are refreshing. How different would the film have been if there were no long takes?