Children of Men — Alarmingly Relevant Ten Years On

Is Alfonso Cuarón’s dystopian vision right around the corner?

Here at The Culture Point, we love to examine cultural works that pinpoint where we are in society. But we also dig stuff that shows us where we’re headed.

That’s where sci-fi comes in — a genre that often shows us a vision of the future, but also asks contemporary questions. At times, science-fictional concepts can be hard to grasp, with imagined futures feeling detached from our world. But what if the imagined future seems less like a distant dream, and instead feels more like an oncoming tomorrow?

Futures portrayed in the dystopian movies Children of Men and V For Vendetta, both set in England, have never felt as imminent as today.

Children of Men was released about ten years ago. While rewatching the movie, prompted by The Nerdwriter’s video on the film’s incredible cinematography by Emmanuel Lubezki, I realized how prophetic the movie might seem.

As highlighted in a BBC retrospective of the movie, science fiction usually opts for depiciting far-away futures that seem unlikely to come true. Just look at the shiny futurism of old sci-fi movies, depicting utopias with flying cars and iPads (just look at this clip from 2001: A Space Odyssey).

Children of Men is arguably not a sci-fi movie, but it depicts a future that might happen, at least politically. Even though the movie has more in common with a dystopian sci-fi like Blade Runner, Children of Men is far more grounded.

In the BBC article, Nicholas Barber writes the following:

“By now, we should be chuckling at how far off-target its predictions were, both in their overall picture and their background minutiae. Instead, it’s tempting to ask whether Cuarón had access to a crystal ball.”

Much has been written about the making and setting of Children of Men, yet the movie went by largely unnoticed during its release. Today, it’s an even more strikingly political movie, rife with situations that seem to foreshadow where we might be headed.

Shot from a scene in Children of Men, where a bomb explodes in London.

The movie is loosely based on P.D. James’ novel from 1992. Alfonso Cuarón’s adaptation paints a vivid picture of a sovereign but authoritarian England. This is set against the backdrop of a world stricken by an epidemic that has halted female fertility. England is ravaged by a brewing civil war, brutal policing and immigration enforcement reminiscent of a dictatorship.

Apart from the fictional epidemic, the depicted situation is the outcome of Brexit taken to the utmost extremes.

Photo: Chris Lawton.

Dystopian sci-fi is a great way to critique contemporary society, and Children of Men is no different. Even though the movie was released in 2007, its questions have never been as relevant as today.

During the writing of this piece, the political setting of the movie seemed to be creeping closer — especially in light of Trump’s entry ban — restricting travel and immigration to the U.S. from seven Muslim-majority countries.

Where will we be in another ten years? Will Western society look more like the world of Children of Men? Those are questions that sci-fi filmmakers, writers and artists have to tackle in a politically shifting world.

Sci-fi can appeal to both the pessimist and the optimist in us, and current events shape our perception of the future. Either we expect that the current situation can bring about a better world, or that it will take a turn for the worse.

What future do we imagine for ourselves today?