Children Of Men: Denial Keeps You From Seeing
Children Of Men: Everything Your Denial Keeps You From Seeing
A Commentary By Carolyn Baker
January 15, 2007
Director Alfonso Cuaron has adapted P.D. James’ 1993 futuristic novel written in the genre of George Orwell into a stunning film that many people will not see — dare not see, because it depicts the world we all fear we are being catapulted into at lightning speed. That world of the year 2027 is one that folks my age may or may not be around for, but if given the choice, I prefer to pass.
Cuaron’s futuristic thriller/downer almost immediately dispenses with the United States as in the first five minutes of the film, we are told that along with a plethora of other nations, it has collapsed, while “England soldiers on.” All other modern empires have crumbled, and only the last vestiges of the former British empire remain as millions of refugees and immigrants from around the world, hoping to survive, inundate the country, which has managed to remain relatively calm and prosperous. Hence, a massive Homeland Security apparatus has been deployed to round up and incarcerate them. Meanwhile, pollution has rendered humankind infertile with the oldest child on earth being only eighteen years old. In this bleak, morbidly gray world, not only do terrorist groups abound and urban warfare prevail, but citizens are offered free suicide pills with the Shakespearean pharmacological brand-name, Quietus.
Amid the burgeoning chaos of this futuristic world, the film’s protagonist, Theo, is kidnapped by a terrorist organization, the Fishes, led by his former lover, Julian, a diehard activist who pressures him to help smuggle one of their members out of the country—a young black woman, Kee, who is especially politically valuable to the Fishes because, astonishingly, she is pregnant.
Theo embarks on a mission to fulfill the Fishes’ request—a journey which takes him across the English countryside, formerly known for its beauty and serenity, but now, while still eerily bucolic, is strewn with piles of burning human bodies. Although the film does not tell us directly, we can assume that they are the corpses of executed refugees—a logical deduction based on the film’s detailed description of such atrocities.
Ultimately, Theo and Kee end up in Bexhill, a gigantic refugee prison camp, somewhat of a foggy, dismal Guantanamo by the Sea where incessant gun battles occur between the English army and the terrorists. It is in Bexhil, in a cold, grimy attic-like room, that Kee gives birth to a baby girl. Relentlessly on the run in search of a boat that will take them to a ship named “Tomorrow” and away from the horrors of Bexhill, Theo and Kee carrying and concealing the infant, navigate one hellish gun battle after the next in a frantic effort to escape.
Cuaron’s choreography of the gunfire is chillingly authentic, reminiscent of Stanley Kubrick’s Vietnam in “Full Metal Jacket” or Bosnia in “Harrison’s Flowers”, and reverberates not only through the viewer’s ears, but throughout the entire body. Yet somehow in the throes of a cacophony of exploding bullets, one begins to hear the faint cry of an infant which gradually increases in volume until it becomes apparent to everyone that the youngest child on earth is none other than the wailing infant in their presence. At this point Cuaron gives us what I believe is the most poignant, riveting moment of the film—about one minute of abject silence in which all gunfire ceases and men and women alike dumbfoundedly stare at Theo, Kee, and the crying baby. For that precious moment in time, war stops, and the life of a newborn human being captures the hearts and minds of a host of adults surrounding her who are hell bent on killing each other. Merciless gunfire quickly resumes, but not without a breath-taking juncture of peaceful quietude in which warriors delirious with destruction are paralyzed by the heart-stopping reality of an infant’s cry. In the ghastly, grotesque world of Bexhill, 2027, that cry stupefies warring humans, if only for a few seconds, with their humanity, the preciousness of life, and a world that they had come to believe was gone forever.
Despite one reference to “the pandemics of 2008”, what “Children Of Men” did not show us was future certainties such as unspeakable climate chaos resulting from global warming, the abject hunger and malnutrition brought about by worldwide famine and disappearing food supply, the horrific consequences of hydrocarbon energy depletion, or a global economic Armageddon. Therefore, in that sense, its depictions were not as accurate as they could have been, but the authenticity of the consequences of other issues such as pollution, war, depression, and despair were nothing less than chilling in their plausibility.
As the world stands on the threshold of unremitting global resource wars, the triumph of fascism in the United States, and most disheartening of all, a community of politicians and a citizenry within the Empire that are absolutely intractable in their unwillingness to acknowledge these realities and address their root causes, “Children Of Men” could not be more timely. It offers us a grisly snapshot of a future that does not have to happen but one that is guaranteed if humans continue to infantilize themselves with denial—literally choosing to be “children” rather than mature “men” and women.