Apocalypse Soon: Children of Men

The Mayans, the wise race of ancients who created hot cocoa, set December 21st, 2012 as the end date of their Calendar, which the intelligent and logical amongst us know signifies the day the world will end, presumably at 12:21:12am, Mountain Time. From now until zero date, we will explore the 50 films you need to watch before the entire world perishes. We don’t have much time, so be content, be prepared, be entertained.

The Film: Children of Men (2006)

The Plot: In the near future global civilization is on the brink of total collapse as the human race approaches extinction via a long dry spell of human infertility. There hasn’t been a human child born in almost two decades and the answer for our sudden inability to bear children has been an elusive scientific mystery in all those years. In this world of societal discourse and upheaval Theo Faron (Clive Owen) is an everyman with ties to an underground group of revolutionaries through a past relationship with the group’s leader Julian (Julianne Moore). Kidnapped off the streets by the group Theo is asked by Julian to help attain transit papers for a young woman and help see that she crosses the British border to safety. Asking no questions of what the significance of that particular girl’s safety is Theo agrees and along the way to the first stop on their journey their vehicle gets ambushed. Following that event Theo’s initially loose involvement in the situation becomes more important when he takes on the role as the girl’s sole-protector when he uncovers that the girl is in her third trimester of pregnancy with the first child in over eighteen years. Theo then personally accepts the responsibility to get the woman and her child to a traveling medical facility away from the chaotic battlegrounds in order to offer hope of a future for the human race.

The Review: The world created by Alfonso Cuaron in Children of Men is unnervingly bleak. It’s an uncomfortable future to visit as it’s nearly void of any semblance of positivity. The youngest human being is a college-aged individual (who gets killed at the start of the film) and we’ve turned that person into a cherished celebrity because he represents a length of life for the human race. However, being as how there are no longer any children there is also no longer a concept of pure innocence. The world has been stripped of youths and in their absence of curious joys, laughter and play we’ve placed uncertainty, bitterness, pain, fear and violence. It seems that without children everyone seems to forget how to be a decent adult.

It’s a very real depiction of how destructive we can be when as a species we are faced with a very slow road towards non-existence; and, most importantly, when we have no idea why it’s happening. It’s not the infertility that causes everyone to panic, it’s the not knowing why we can’t have children. It’s not a disease that we can cure (at least not that we can identify), it’s not an invading alien race we can fight against (at least not that we have found), it’s not an oppressive government we can overturn (at least not that we can speculate upon), nor is it presumably a punishment from God (at least you won’t know for sure until you pass). The truth is, it is simultaneously none of those things and can be any and all of those things; but we don’t know, and that is an infuriating and frightening concept, because if you can’t identify the cause of your problem then you can’t even begin to work to resolve it. You can go mad out of fear and either act out in anger towards an apparently futile approach at survival, or possibly wallow in a depression thinking that our lifeline is only as long as the capabilities of the youngest woman on Earth to be able to carry a child should things go back to normal as spontaneously as they were taken from us.

What is most strange about it is how society can cave in on itself in hysterics when faced against something as natural as mortality. We’re pit against imminent death, not immediate death which is no different than everyday life. It is the impending end of the human race as a whole, but not in a way in which we will be painfully wiped out by disease or starvation. We will just live, and then we will die; just like we always have and yet the prospect of there not being any human life beyond the end of our own life is terrifying enough to psychologically alter our value of life.

Children of Men is one of a handful of pictures I can’t seem to ever speak un-hyperbolically about. It’s a masterwork of the utmost in almost every facet of modern motion-picture storytelling and its technical achievements and ingenuity rank it up there with some of the best pictures of the new millennium (if not longer). The narrative is powerful and emotional, the camerawork is often jaw-dropping, the action set pieces are impeccably executed and conceived (the car ambush is incomparably intense and brilliantly filmed) and, most of all, it’s pure visual storytelling with almost zero inorganic exposition – and that is an incredibly rare trait in futuristic science-fiction film-making because it’s thought to be a necessity to explain the world to the audience. Cuaron is fully confident in his ability throughout to show the things that can be shown to evade having his characters say things they wouldn’t otherwise have to say to one another in common conversation; and that is the work of a truly gifted filmmaker.

But why spend 109 minutes watching this film when you only have 484,047 minutes left alive?

Even if one dismisses it as one of the premiere pictures of the 2000’s it also acts as a cautionary tale about how bad things can get when we don’t know what’s happening and we fail to keep our composure.  We can collectively lose all sense of morality, control, logic, decency and empathy in pursuit of selfish survival if given a long enough time to let the fear overtake us. If there is one thing that you can take away from Children of Men it’s that even when you don’t understand the badness you can’t lose hope that there is still the potential for a good. If you’re faced with death on 12/21/2012 it’s imperative that you hold it together until then, because it could be you who either triggers worldwide hysteria, or it can be you called upon to help bring salvation to suffering, like Theo Faron.

Click here for more required pre-Apocalypse viewing…


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