079. 28 Days Later (Directed by Danny Boyle, 2003): Before I started caring so deeply about movies, cataloguing their faults and flaws, celebrating their acting and cinematography (To be honest, I didn't really know what cinematography meant, really, I still don't. It means if it looks pretty, or not, right?), I saw 28 Days Later with friends and absolutely loved it. A friend of mine proclaimed loudly, upon exiting the theater, that it was the worst film he'd ever seen, sped off in his car, never to be seen again (I'm lying, I saw him a few times after that). I looked at my other friend as the car sped away, "I liked it!" he said, and I did, too. Any film that can elicit that kind of reaction must be worth ranking, right?
28 Days Later is a zombie movie, to be sure. But, whereas the goal of most zombie movies is to make you jump when the zombies spring forth from dark corners and cheer as the heroes lop off zombie heads, 28 Days Later hits you with a much more visceral, deep-in-your guts dread.
When the main character, Jim (Cillian Murphy) awakens in a hospital to find everyone gone, it really gets to you. It makes you imagine the same thing happening to you. As he leaves the hospital and finds the city deserted, and the score swells, and he just looks deflated/defeated, it's absolutely gripping.
Of course Jim finds some fellow survivors, and, of course, they follow a radio signal sent forth by other survivors, and they run from and kill various zombies along the way, it is a zombie movie, after all, even if the zombies are not expressly identified as such. And, here's the kicker, the fellow survivors, are somehow more inhuman than the flesh-eating, staggering zombies.
A thrilling, absolutely terrifying film, that pushes one as close to hopelessness as one can get. Maybe that's why my friend reacted so negatively to it. Maybe he really felt the hopelessness and was frightened at what he felt. His reaction does have as much in common with fear than it does with dislike. That brings me to the ending, I've read people complain about the relatively upbeat ending, but I think it's perfect. After the journey Jim, and the viewer goes through, it would be unfair to give them a downer. At least give them some hope. There's never anything wrong with hope.
078. Children of Men (Directed by Alfonso Cuaron, 2007): I might have monkeyed with my results a little bit to get these two back-to-back, because, in a strange way, their almost companions of one another. Children of Men puts Theo (Clive Owen) in a not-too-distant future, where the human race is completely sterile, no one has kids, no one has hope. As Theo is on his way to work, he finds out that Baby Diego, the youngest man in the world has died, and is almost blown up by a terrorist bomb. He asks for the day off, claiming to be so devastated by Diego's death, to go smoke pot with old hippie Jasper (Michael Caine), who is mourning Diego in his own way, with a special marijuana hybrid that tastes like strawberries. But, Theo isn't really interested in mourning, he didn't even like the man ("He was a wanker," he says), truth be told, Theo isn't really interested in anything.
Eventually, he ends up reconnecting with Julian (Julianne Moore), his old flame from his protestor days. She tries to enlist his help. After much hemming and hawing, he finally agrees to transport a motley assortment of individuals to a destination, provided he gets paid, of course. Their car gets jumped, people get killed, and Theo learns the true value of his human cargo, giving him a reason to fight back, a reason to go on.
The filming of this movie is phenomenal. The bombed-out landscapes, the ongoing battles in the background, the faint promise of hope. While both Children of Men and 28 Days Later deal in similar themes, similar landscapes, similar feelings of hopelessness, and similarly unwillingly heroic heroes, the big difference is in their chief message. In 28 Days Later, it's about keeping yourself alive. In Children of Men, it's about keeping hope alive. It's in the face of the soldiers who stop fighting when they realize just what Theo is escorting. It's in Theo's face, when all is said and done. I wonder if my friend enjoyed Children of Men.