mont blanc ballpoint pen refill ‘Children of Men’ presents chilling future that no longer seems remote
I killed part of a random winter afternoon 10 years ago in a nearly empty screening of “Children of Men,” which I’d heard some buzz about but wasn’t even close to prepared for. I left the theater two hours later with something inside me permanently dislodged, certain it was one of the best films I’d ever seen, but unsure I could ever handle watching it again.
“Children of Men” is a dystopian action movie set in England in a version of 2027 where women have stopped conceiving children, and the world has plummeted into self destructive despair. It got good reviews and picked up some award nominations, mainly in technical categories, but left theaters after a few weeks, a box office failure.
Its director, Alfonso Cuaron, then known for the art house hit “Y Tu Mama Tambien” and the third Harry Potter film, would disappear for several years before returning with his Oscar winning triumph “Gravity.” I eventually sort of forgot about “Children of Men” too, as it coincided with a film I loved even more at the time, “Pan’s Labyrinth,” the macabre fairy tale by Guillermo del Toro.
Yet “Children of Men” is getting some overdue reappraisal in the media lately, marking the 10th anniversary of its brief, misunderstood, badly marketed run, exactly halfway between the year it was released and the future it depicts. It aged incredibly well, which is to say it’s about a hundred times scarier today.
In the film’s version of England, technology, entertainment and commerce have advanced plausibly, while everything else about society has collapsed. Gangs and militarized police prowl the streets, infrastructure is decaying, the government has succumbed to totalitarianism,
propaganda fills the airwaves, terror attacks are part of daily life and refugees are confined to cages and camps, awaiting deportation or worse. Suicide kits are available over the counter.
With no kids to educate, schools lie ruined as literal reminders of an empty future. The world mourns a famous teenager nicknamed “Baby Diego,” knifed to death at age 18, the last person born on Earth. In a matter of time, someone will be the last to die.
It’s not a typical futuristic sci fi film. This world feels spent, exhausted by the passing years. Cuaron fills every frame with background information bits of context and exposition embedded in urban graffiti, omnipresent advertising, the bleak countryside, vague spoken references to mass tragedies. The dangers are tangible and everywhere. But there’s no explanation why, suddenly, women stopped having babies.
At the dawn of 2017, the political systems of Europe and now the United States have been seized by populist movements that are amplifying nationalist paranoia, discarding sensible democratic norms and threatening to erode decades’ worth of civil rights progress. In “Children of Men,” the planet has crumbled into nihilism because of its infertility crisis. In the real world, we’ve simply voted chaos into reality.
The protagonist, an alcoholic former activist named Theo (Clive Owen), is swept up in a plot by a dissident group to smuggle out of the country the first known pregnant woman in 18 years an immigrant teenaged prostitute named Kee (Clare Hope Ashitey). A jaw dropping single take action scene near the end follows them through a refugee camp that becomes a war zone, the fate of the world literally at stake. Soon afterward, there is a scene so raw, human and improbably optimistic that I actually could not breathe while watching it.
“Children of Men” deserves to be considered a classic, a warning not to turn on each other when hysteria replaces hope. Ten years ago, it shook me out of a comfort zone. Now,
it’s shaking me out of complacency.