Human beings are a pretty fucked up species. We do a lot of fucked up things to one another, as well as to the environment. War, genocide, rape, oil spills, oil drilling, polluting ground water, abusing other species, etc. Our thousands of years on this planet has hurt every single form of planet and animal life, including ourselves. But one of the things keeping (some of) us from going off the deep end into what we can foresee causing irreparable harm is the thought of what sort of social, political, and physical environment we would be leaving behind for future generations. But what happens when there stops being a future generation? What happens when the entire human race becomes infertile? That is exactly what happens in this dystopian drama in the year 2009. Set in the year 2027, 18 years after humanity has had a chance to go through all of the stages of grief and get used to the new normal, Children of Men exposes us to a depressing new world.
Based on the novel by P.D. James, Children of Men explores a grotesque new manifestation of humanity. Most people are simultaneously numb, enraged, apathetic, and desperate, as the navigate this earth fully aware that our species is facing extinction. Nearly every nation’s government has crumbled as slowly, and just about everyone stopped caring about leaving behind a better tomorrow, when they were quite literally facing their last days. At the opening of the film, the world’s youngest person was 18 years old, his age making him a global celebrity, as everyone fawned over this “baby”.
Our protagonist, Theo Faron (Clive Owen), is still mourning the loss of his son, whom his estranged wife, Julian (Julianne Moore) miscarried almost 20 years ago during the flu pandemic which made the world sterile. While he is essentially going through the motions, she’s dedicated herself to helping the many refugees who flood the United Kingdom’s borders, seeking refuge in one of the last existing governments on the planet. When Julian comes to Theo for help to get one of these refuges, a woman named Kee (Clare-Hope Ashitey), transit papers, he has no idea what he’s getting himself into. What he initially saw as a large, but doable job of helping an unremarkable refuge, turns out to be the most important thing that he’s ever done. In helping Kee, Theo holds the fate of the humanity in his hands.
I took serious issue with this film on two points. The first being the presumption that Whiteness, as it exists in the form of Western governments, would survive this crisis. If we’re being logical, these governments would have crumbled first simply because any government built off of oppression, exploitation, and slavery is already deeply fragile to begin with. The second was the centering of Whiteness in the form of Theo Faron. While I do credit director Alfonso Cuaron for his creation of Kee, a character who didn’t exist in the novel, it’s very clear that his incredible vision was far sharper than P.D. James’, who had the audacity to create a White heroine during a fertility crisis. Like many dystopian/post-apocalyptic films, Children of Men (especially the novel) assumes that White people will somehow manage to outlive all of the people of colour that they’ve been parasitically leeching off of and exploiting for centuries. That’s cute. The subtle racism in the implication that we won’t survive to see these futures, aren’t smart enough to survive without European intervention, or somehow aren’t as strong as the people whose ancestors were so weak they needed us to build their nations for them is insulting, to say the least.
That being said, Children of Men is a captivating film, because it explores so many weighty themes: hope, faith and religion, and the fragility of life. As the characters navigate life, sorrow, and their constant states of existential angst, we see very clearly how, without a future to worry about, human beings have all given in to all our baser instincts. As everyone tries to ignore humanity’s impending extinction, suppressing their fears of fading away into oblivion, we see all of the vulnerabilities laying beneath the surface, and the ways people use one another, lashing out and projecting their pain. We see how government, education, employment, things that had once been so important to so many people are no treated as pointless, foolish dreams. Children of Men is sobering, humbling, and deeply thought-provoking. This deeply philosophical film makes you think about life and death, re-evaluate your priorities, and is a very necessary reminder that, regardless of how our days on Earth end, our time here is limited.
I give this one 4 stars.