The Bizarre Experience of Rewatching ‘Children of Men’ Today

You’ll be able to’t examine Alfonso Cuarón’s 2006 dystopian movie Youngsters of Males now with out encountering the phrase “prescient.” Most individuals would additionally name it bleak.

However once I first noticed it in a movie show in 2006, I spent the whole lot of the movie sustaining an excruciating consciousness of my future husband’s knee in relation to mine. It was our first date, and the electrical cost between our knees, our fingers, our elbows, distracted me virtually solely from the movie’s unrelenting violence. 

Youngsters of Males follows Theo (Clive Owen), a jaded bureaucrat dwelling in 2027 London after an unexplained occasion has brought about worldwide infertility. The world has descended into chaos: Economies have collapsed, wars have damaged out, terrorist bombings are virtually unremarkable. The result’s an unprecedented migrant disaster, with mass deportations and refugee camps that share a visible language with Holocaust movies.

Theo is conscripted by his ex-wife Julian (performed by Julianne Moore), a member of a militant immigrant rights group, to assist transport a migrant lady, Kee (Clare-Hope Ashitey), to security. He quickly finds out why: Kee is miraculously pregnant.

“Shantih, shantih, shantih,” Theo’s good friend Jasper (Michael Caine) says on the discovery of Kee’s being pregnant. That is additionally famously the final line of T.S. Eliot’s poem “The Waste Land,” a mantra of peace amid unfathomable despair.

I had remembered Youngsters of Males as a gritty, speculative blockbuster with better-than-strictly obligatory cinematography (together with the notorious blood-spattered digital camera lens on the movie’s climactic battle scene), in the identical vein as The Day After Tomorrow or Deep Influence. 

I remembered the shaky-cam, documentary-style pictures. I remembered the whimsical, John Lennon-inspired efficiency by Caine, and the dissonant lullaby of classical music within the soundtrack. I remembered that the revelation of Kee’s being pregnant occurred in a barn, a nod to there being no room on the inn. 

I did not bear in mind how lots of the predominant characters can be killed, or how early within the movie. I did not bear in mind the girl carrying her personal severed arm out of a bombed-out constructing, or the graffiti that learn “Final one to die, please prove the sunshine,” or the piles of refugees’ our bodies organized in tidy rows. I did not bear in mind “the flu pandemic of 2008,” which killed Theo and Julian’s child twenty years earlier than the occasions of the movie.

I completed my rewatch with the speechless slow-blink of an individual who has simply been totally destroyed by a murals. My response greater than 15 years later was neither articulate nor insightful: That was bleak! (And prescient.) 

The ultimate scene, imbued with unsettling ambiguity, is a little bit of a litmus take a look at for the viewer’s stage of pessimism. And it appears the pH stage of my psychological outlook has shifted fairly a bit since that day within the movie show.

In Youngsters of Males’s climactic scene, blood spatters on the digital camera lens to lend the movie a cinéma vérité really feel.


Maybe pessimists will see bleakness. And perhaps optimists will solely keep in mind that their date’s gentle drink was deserted half-full, as a result of he finally reached over and took their hand in his. Or perhaps 2006 noticed escapist sci-fi, whereas 2022 sees the very issues we’re attempting to flee. Perhaps hindsight is 20/20, or prescience compounds bleakness, or I used to be simply an apolitical, privileged, lovesick teenager again then. 

Or perhaps a modern-day Nativity scene resonates in another way after your personal expertise of motherhood. 

The quarantine

It has been 16 years since that first date, 10 years since our wedding ceremony, seven years for the reason that European migrant disaster, six years for the reason that Brexit referendum, 4 years since “children in cages.” It has been practically three years since I gave start to my first little one. He bought his identify the identical day the novel coronavirus illness grew to become COVID-19. He is a pandemic child, a member of Era C, a toddler of quarantine, a miracle.

In the true world, the geopolitical boogeyman is not infertility, however quite the shortage of governmental incentives for households, and having a child is each quotidian and miraculous, pure and preternatural. Cultures everywhere in the world prescribe a interval of postpartum confinement for brand spanking new moms — generally sure meals or hygiene actions are forbidden whereas the physique heals — and these postpartum traditions have an air of mysticism, like they’re rooted in medication however steeped in a non secular reverence for human life. In Latin America, as an illustration, this era is known as “la cuarentena,” the quarantine.

The quarantine of COVID-19 and that of postpartum confinement share an etymological root, a biblically impressed 40-day interval of isolation. My maternity depart lasted 9 weeks, not 40 days, and in my son’s first few weeks of life, once we might nonetheless depend the variety of US deaths on one hand, I guiltily counted all the way down to the tip of my isolation, to my return to work, a return to normalcy. My day without work wasn’t a culturally dictated confinement interval, however nonetheless I felt confined. 

Your sense of time warps in maternity depart, however as in quarantine, your sense of area warps much more. The swift unfold of COVID-19 across the globe has served as a stark visible of our connectedness, the meaninglessness of borders and bodily distance. It strikes me that individuals cling tightest to borders when their insignificance is most obvious. So far as america’ COVID-19 response, then-President Donald Trump appeared most pleased with his January 2020 journey restrictions on China, however nonetheless the virus proliferated.

My very own world contracted in tandem with the lockdown, as I shut out society to make room for my son’s boundless wants. He grew to become a approach for me to show inward when the doomscrolling took its toll.

The shock of parenthood was like slamming right into a brick wall and waking days later with no feeling in your legs and simultaneous disbelief you ever required legs within the first place. That, plus inexplicable pleasure at your newfound immobility. If this analogy does not make sense, it is as a result of I am nonetheless catching up on my sleep.


Clare-Hope Ashitey as Kee in Youngsters of Males.


I used to be informed repeatedly in these days that I’d quickly settle right into a “new regular,” each by fellow dad and mom who’d traversed the trail forward of me and by the pandemic suppose items that appeared to thrill in jettisoning the previous regular.

Infants are born and viruses are borne, I assumed, half asleep. Certainly there is a metaphor there.

As I pushed my stroller via an empty park just some weeks after giving start, it was the empty, caution-taped playgrounds that made the pandemic actual. I did not know then why it was this particular lockdown-era visible that did it for me. Rewatching Youngsters of Males within the COVID-19 period, in all its prescience and bleakness, I lastly understood. 

“Because the sound of the playgrounds pale, the despair set in,” Kee’s midwife, Miriam (Pam Ferris), says from an deserted college as she appears to be like via a window at Kee swinging lazily on a rickety swing set. “Very odd what occurs in a world with out kids’s voices.”

Within the movie’s closing body, the display fades to black and the soundtrack offers approach to the delighted playground squeals of youngsters: The proverbial pitter-patter of little ft, the common shorthand for purity, pleasure, hope, renewal. 

Does that ending insinuate that Kee’s child is a few form of messianic harbinger of aid, or is it the auditory equal of the white gentle we’re alleged to see simply earlier than taking our final breath? A reinstatement of normalcy, or shadows of a world that after was? Shantih, shantih, shantih.


Michael Caine as Theo’s good friend Jasper in Youngsters of Males.


Prescience in unprecedented instances

Selecting to breed is a hopeful endeavor. An announcement of perception sooner or later, an providing of the world to a brand new technology and a brand new technology to the world. However amid more and more bleak local weather change reviews and particularly throughout lockdown, I questioned the choice. Having a toddler can look extra like burying your head within the sand than true hope.

I discovered it comforting, early within the pandemic, to learn concerning the many plagues of antiquity, as a result of historical past offers proof the human race will go on. And I discovered it comforting throughout the different real-life antecedents to Theo’s dystopian future — the election of Donald Trump, the rise of anti-immigrant sentiment, the spike in gun violence — to know mine wasn’t the primary technology to concern that perhaps this was truly the start of the tip. And nothing brings me aid like a veteran mother laughing about how horrible these sleepless, early days used to be. Now that my son’s babyhood is over, I discover myself doing it, too.

Prescience does compound bleakness. But when Youngsters of Males gives another studying of bleakness for optimists, there’s additionally another studying of prescience.

“This factor was not creativeness,” Cuarón informed Vulture on the movie’s 10-year anniversary. He insists Youngsters of Males is rooted in actuality, a logical continuation of our present trajectory. In different phrases, the movie does not have one foot in speculative fiction and the opposite in cautionary story. It is actuality via the lens of a metaphor. A parable.

The pandemic child increase did not actually pan out, and in reality there are actually reviews of a child bust, with start charges falling to a report low throughout our quarantine 12 months. (The US start charge in 2021, nonetheless, skilled a small enhance.) Each time I’ve heard pessimistic start charge reviews and predictions like these previously decade and a half, I’ve considered Youngsters of Males. And a small, virtually absentminded seed of tension has been germinating in me ever since. 

The issue with inhabitants decline is financial — a dwindling labor pressure, diminished innovation. And the answer supplied by economists is not at all times rooted in easy pronatalism. The answer is immigration.

In The Youngsters of Males, the P.D. James novel on which the screenplay is predicated, the miracle child is Julian’s, not Kee’s, and that discrepancy is a crucial one if we’re attempting to reframe the movie’s prescience. Kee is a younger African refugee, not an English citizen, and her mere existence is each unlawful and essential. 


Clive Owen and Julianne Moore as Theo and Julian in Youngsters of Males.


“Poor fugees — after escaping the worst atrocities and eventually making it to England, our authorities hunts them down like cockroaches,” says Jasper, in one of many movie’s most prescient strains.

The choice to recast the Virgin Mary character as an immigrant appears essential now as a result of it makes me see the movie much less as a warning and extra as a proposed answer — an answer floated on a rising tide that lifts all boats. It is just when packaged with hope that prescience makes an attempt to problem-solve. 

Shantih, shantih, shantih

When individuals discover out about my first date with my husband now, 16 years later, they’re typically stunned to listen to we started underneath the auspices of one of many bleakest dystopian movies in latest reminiscence. However I bear in mind leaving the theater with the giddy anticipation of issues to return. 

Essentially the most thrilling a part of a brand new relationship will not be understanding what the longer term will deliver, the scrumptious, heart-leaping uncertainty that hasn’t but been paved over with intimacy. Intimacy is boring; it kills the butterflies in your abdomen. However intimacy has its personal magic, which is tough to explain: It is understanding what your associate goes to say, trusting he’ll stick with you, not bothering to shut the lavatory door when you floss your tooth. 

In the identical approach, dispatches from parenthood fail to convey the transcendent pleasure of listening to your kid’s laughter or watching his face gentle up on the novelty of on a regular basis life. And so, perhaps hope is not an ignorance of warnings, however a religion in options — capitulating to a future whose guarantees are there, simply not fairly legible. 

It has been 10 years for the reason that London Olympics on Theo’s threadbare sweatshirt, 13 years for the reason that youngest little one in his world was born, 14 years for the reason that fictional flu pandemic that took his son, 16 years for the reason that movie’s theatrical launch, 21 years for the reason that trauma of 9/11 kindled Cuarón’s artistic inspiration for the challenge, 100 years for the reason that “new regular” following the utter decimation of World Warfare I that impressed T.S. Eliot’s Shantih, shantih, shantih. There are 5 years till the occasions of the movie unfold. 

Why the preoccupation with time? Youngsters of Males exists unusually previously, current and future unexpectedly, a relic of the mid-aughts with alarming 2020s prescience and a 2027 setting. Perhaps we are able to all breathe a sigh of aid once we attain 2028 and infants nonetheless exist. However Cuarón isn’t any fortuneteller and James’ novel is about in — of all years — 2021.

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