‘Children of Men’: A Dystopian Saga of Hope and Despair

What if, sometime in the future, we would have to live in a world without children? What if, faced with infertility, we were slowly moving towards our own extinction? At a time like that, when hope recedes and there is no humanity left, would faith and religion be enough to keep going? Or would we just self-destruct before anything else can destroy us? I watched ‘Children of Men’, and these questions kept me awake all night.

We all know Alfonso Cuaron as the director of the critically acclaimed space epic ‘Gravity’. But the Mexican director has had a distinguished career before it, with some wonderful movies. ‘Children of Men’, a 2006 futuristic science-fiction thriller is one of them; starring an ensemble cast including Clive Owen, Julianne More, Michael Caine and Chiwetel Ejiofor. The film is set in 2027, where epidemics and social anarchy has left much of the world without political order. Britain is the only surviving nation-state, whose authoritarian government has maintained a tight leash, with immigrants and refugees being treated as animals.

Theo Faron is a disillusioned political activist turned government bureaucrat, whose young son Dylan was killed in an epidemic 20 years ago. His ex-lover is the leader of a rebel group, demanding equal rights and dignity for the refugees. Theo gets drawn into their cause, when she asks him for a favor from his influential cousin, to get transit papers to smuggle a girl out of Britain. And of course, there’s this little problem that compounds everything – an unexplained genetic disorder has left the world’s women infertile, with the world without a new-born baby for the past 18 years.

The premise is exciting; a unique idea, with the potential to be a great action flick. But Alfonso Cuaron isn’t your usual filmmaker; his aim is to accomplish something more. He shows us the future we are hurtling towards as a civilization! His vision is scary; Is this how our world is going to turn into? A world where science has ruled its roost and civilization is coming to a full circle; where faith and religion are ones keeping people alive, in the midst of the chaos around them.

Unlike other sci-fi flicks, where the look of a futuristic world is overdone, ‘Children of Men’ gives us a London that is believable. A London where you see roadside make-shift shops and electric rickshaws. I couldn’t help having the notion that the place like this really exists, a disintegrating picture of a once prosperous city. That is not only it, Cuaron has left no unturned in giving this movie a touch of realism. The hero is like one of us, he has his flaws, and doesn’t attempt at heroics. He doesn’t run around saving the world like some superhuman (as it happens in ‘Minority Report’, a movie I didn’t enjoy).  He is a normal person; a cynic disgruntled with the world, whose last remaining tinge of humanity raises him to do extraordinary things, albeit like an ordinary man. When someone shoots, he takes cover and waits it out. When his loved ones die, his is distraught, but there are no emotional outbursts. This is an action flick alright, but unlike anything I have ever seen before.

With Cuaron, you don’t expect a poorly made film. With single-shot, realistic action sequences and unhinged realism and authenticity in its execution, he sets a new benchmark for action films (unfortunately, not many took the cue). The cinematography by the great Emmanuel Lubezki is excellent; in one of the action sequences, the camera just follows the characters, and the audience is put right in the mix. Blood splatters on the lens; there is dust, and it all feels real.

Cuaron deftly ignores the past and the reason behind the turmoil and the infertility, his focus being on the present. A world without children is impossible to perceive. Their little cries, the soft laughter and the aura of life around a child; a world devoid of these is the worst nightmare one could have. And when we see that pain and suffering on screen, we can understand. We empathize with their plight and internalize that pain. It gets personal, and taps into our deepest of emotions.

Brilliantly written and executed with finesse by Alfonso Cuaron, ‘Children of Men’ is a science fiction thriller which emotionally moves you while leaving you pondering about our future as a civilization and question your own faith and principles. Undoubtedly a benchmark in cinematic parlance, ‘Children of Men’ is one of the finest science-fiction film of the century, and is a must watch.