Alfonso Cuarón’s Children of Men was released almost 13 years ago, just before the financial crisis of 2007–2008. Its dystopian world without children and hope is filled with stark imagery, grey skies, and a society that has descended into chaos.
It is a film that was overlooked by the Academy the year of its release. Cuarón paints a picture of our world after society has continued on its course of far-right populism, authoritarianism, and an inward-looking humanity, afraid of one another and new ideas. The rhetoric espoused by modern-day populists in Europe and the US are on full display in this film. Despite being released a full decade before the 2016 US presidential election, the film is more relevant now than ever before.
The events in the film occur in the year 2027, at which point no children have been born for nearly two decades. Governments around the world, including in the UK, where the film takes place, have taken on anti-immigration policies to counteract their extreme conditions. Immigrants are forced into cages and sent to ghettos controlled by the army, or are otherwise executed on the spot. The treatment of immigrants in the film reminds me of the current US government’s increased detention of immigrants at its southern border.
In the real world, liberal democracies still haven’t recovered from the global financial crisis. From swaths of voters flocking to far-right political parties in Europe, to the Brexit movement in Britain, to the rise of Donald Trump, these are all reactions to feelings of being ‘left behind’ in the age of globalization and neoliberalism.
If there exists a flashpoint for the current political strife poisoning liberal democracies around the world, it would be the financial crisis. Indeed, the film hints at an event that triggered the political strife, which resulted in the Western world falling into chaos. Yet Cuarón never tells viewers what the event was and allows them to fill in the blanks for themselves. The reason for humanity’s infertility is also left as a question mark.
The great science fiction classics of literature and film depict fantastic and seemingly impossible worlds, which in turn allow us to gain a better understanding of our current political and social climate. Children of Men is one such classic because the world in it doesn’t seem so impossible now. The events and ideology in the film feel starkly real. And the ending is as bleak as the rest, as Theo (Clive Owen), Kee (Clare-Hope Ashitey), and humanity’s fate are all left unanswered.
The final shot of the film is of a ship sailing in from the fog to presumably provide Theo and Kee with their salvation.
Will their world recover from its strife? Will our world be able to avoid going down the same path? We are only left to wonder as the credits roll.