Children of Men was directed by Alfonso Cuarón and released ten years ago, in 2006. This strangely prophetic movie takes place in a dystopian future, a world where civilisation has all but collapsed and where no child has been born for 18 years due to a mass and unexplained infertility. Set in 2027, the film follows Theo (Clive Owen), a former anarchist, now an apathetic worker drone who, in the opening moments of the film, survives a shocking and violent terrorist attack and is thrust back in to the world of activism and socio-political turmoil. The rest of the cast is rounded out by Julianne Moore, as a terrorist leader and Theo’s ex-wife; Chiwetel Ejiofor as her 2nd in command; and Michael Caine, playing against type as an ageing hippie. The first thing one notices about this film is that, despite the science fiction element, this is a recognisable (if nightmarish) world, in which our characters inhabit. The streets of London are gloomy and grey, and awash with anti-immigration propaganda. In the film, the UK is the only country in the world with a working government and crucially, we are never told explicitly how the world has ended up like this. To maintain some semblance of order, Britain has become a police state. The army patrols the streets, citizens are subject to constant passport checks and illegal immigrants are rounded up in interment camps. One such immigrant (or Fugee as they are referred to in the film) miraculously falls pregnant and Theo is tasked with protecting her.
The film is a masterpiece in set design and cinematography and is a perfect example of how to use CGI to augment practical effects. London streets are transformed into scenes from Orwell’s 1984 and the refugee camps evoke Guantanamo Bay and Auschwitz. The film was shot by Emmanuelle Lubezki, who would later win 3 consecutive Academy Awards for cinematography (for Gravity, Birdman and The Revenant.) His camera ducks, dives and glides through the muck and the grime, feeling like a documentary at times; and several key set pieces are shot in single long continuous shots to mesmerising effect.
Hanging over the whole film is the uncomfortable feeling that this is the way our own world is heading. Anxieties over immigration as well as the rise of nationalism and the increasing distrust of our own governments are all too real for us in real-life 2016. At the forefront of this story is the mass infertility and the mystery of what caused it. Was it part of some botched experiment or chemical attack? Was it a result of man playing God? Or perhaps it was an act of God Himself; a final punishment put on Man for his collected sins. Importantly, we are told that the world had already “gone to shit before the infertility thing happened.”
Ultimately, Children of Men is an optimistic film, and a deeply spiritual one. It is a cautionary tail on the dangers of apathy in the face of nationalism, capitalism and xenophobia; and a parable on how faith triumphs over despair.