This year, 2017, is a particularly interesting year to talk about Children of Men. We’re in the middle of a timeline established by the film’s premiere—it came out a little over 10 years ago, and it takes place 10 years from now. Secondly, [and this is so obvious I’m only stating it for introduction purposes] the film was eerily prescient about immigration and how leaders and citizens of powerful countries have responded.
Children of Men takes place in a dystopian future in the United Kingdom. In this bleak image of the year 2027, a global infertility epidemic means that no babies have been born for 18 years, which has thrown the world into emotional and economic chaos. While the infertility and immigration issues are never explicitly connected in the film, it follows that in times of economic downturn, people from less prosperous countries flee to more stable ones. However, an authoritarian government has taken hold, and all immigrants are declared illegal. Refugees are treated hostilely, inhumanely, and are subject to mass deportations. This should sound familiar, even if you haven’t seen the film.
Children of Men is experiencing a new surge in popularity in part because of how accurately it predicted this future. In dystopia, as in fantasy or science fiction, the setting must have some elements of truth, something for audiences to recognize and identify with. All dystopia follows an extreme track of prediction for the future. In a successful dystopia, the prediction may be extreme but it is also believable. This is true for Children of Men. I’m not sure if, in 2006, the filmmakers could have predicted a U.S. President who got elected on promises of a complete ban on Muslims entering the US, or a UK that broke from the European Union in order to make immigration more difficult, but what seemed far-fetched the first time I watched this film suddenly doesn’t seem so unlikely anymore.
People all over the world are afraid because past tragedies have taught us that we live in a world of constant terrorist threat. We are also still recovering from the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. These situations have caused some people, especially citizens of powerful countries, to respond with hostility to those who they see as a threat, whether a physical threat or a drain on precious, limited resources. And while we don’t have an infertility crisis, we do have immigrants who are fleeing terrible situations caused by war and poverty in their home countries, coming to places that they hope will offer safety and security. But recent world events, namely Brexit and the election of Donald Trump, means that our world looks much more like the world in Children of Men than it did when the film was released in 2006.
There is not one, obvious antagonist in the film, but rather numerous figures who represent the ideologies of nationalism, authoritarianism, and racism. In creating the context of an infertility crisis and therefore making life a precious resource, the contrast between these harmful ideologies and the importance of life and liberty are made stark. The message that life must take precedence over ideology is demonstrated in the scene toward the end when Kee, the refugee who has recently birthed the first baby in 18 years, is attempting to flee to safety in the middle of a firefight. Both sides, the rebels and the government authorities, stop shooting when they hear the baby’s cry. Whatever they’re fighting for is rendered unimportant by the presence of new life. She does make it to the ship [appropriately named Tomorrow] and viewers are left with hope.
This is why the movie is more important now than it has ever been. The global political climate has changed in ways that are shocking for many people, and increasing threat of violence and poverty have made many people more openly nationalistic and racist. But shifting political climates give us a chance to reassess what is important, and movies like Children of Men are important for that reason. It can help us in that reassessment by showing us the dangers of putting ideologies above life before it’s too late.