Children of Men. Dir. Alfonso Cuarón. Universal, 2006.
London, 2027: the world is a depressing place, devoid of the laughter of children. Everyone in the world has mysteriously become infertile; no babies have been born for eighteen years. When a young woman becomes pregnant, the protagonist must help her flee the country to keep her safe and save the human race. Children of Men does not makes its important point through its presentation of a futuristic dystopia; in fact, it’s not centrally about a future society. If the movie were actually focused on the perils of what society might be like in the future, there wouldn’t be too much to say that hasn’t been said and done many times before – an oppressive government, downtrodden masses, depressing background music, and so on.
Cuarón also places little emphasis on the science-fiction elements of the plot. We do not know exactly what caused the universal sterility or the miraculous birth as such traditionally crucial “why” and “how” questions don’t seem that important in the course of the film. These issues become dwarfed in their relevance next to the message of hope through life that the movie projects.
To say the least, the movie does not begin with an encouraging or hopeful tone. Clive Owen plays the protagonist, Theo, who agrees to help a young woman, Kee, leave the country at the request of his former girlfriend (and because of the large payoff he is promised). He does not realize that the woman is pregnant until he is about to leave the political group’s hideout in an effort to save his own life. That night, she calls him into the barn and reveals her secret. From this point on, Theo is determined to see Kee and her child safely out of Britain. One of the crucial elements of the movie is the contrast between Theo’s former, self-focused life and his later life of meaningful sacrifice. As the movie progresses he matures to the point where he can realize that keeping himself safe is less important than defending what can bring hope to the world. Theo knows that the cause is far greater than himself and worth sacrificing to preserve.
In the pivotal scene, Kee reveals her pregnant stomach to an awestruck Theo, who blurts out, “Jesus Christ!” Though the exclamation brings a lighter, more comic moment to the rather melancholy backdrop of the film, it also reveals another facet of the plot. The exclamation is not intended by Theo’s character as an allusion to Christ, but the nature of the plot reveals it as such. The woman is a poor refugee, belonging to a low social class that is looked down upon by society and seen as a social problem by the government. She gives birth to a child who will bring hope to the entire world for future life. In spite of the hope that resides in the child, the government threatens his life, so his mother and adoptive father must flee the country. This is essentially a Nativity story.
But there is no messenger angel, no virgin conception, no prophecy, no explanation given by God for this “miracle.” Many elements of the Biblical story are there, but the actual circumstances surrounding Kee’s pregnancy are absent of religious overtones. It is painstakingly clear throughout the movie that mankind is in desperate need of a miracle – a sign that science and the material world cannot provide. Most have given up hope for the human race, faced with the stark fact that with no new births, the population will continue to age and die off until no one is left. In the midst of all this, where is God? Where is faith? We see brief shots of religious zealots on the streets, proclaiming that infertility is God’s judgment for humanity’s sins. But it is evident that people have largely abandoned the search for an explanation. Rather, their hearts yearn for a saving miracle.
Even without angels and prophecies, the film is able to show us countless moments of divine experience. Every man and woman who lays eyes on Kee’s child is struck dumb in awe, transfixed by a sight no one has seen in eighteen years. What had been a commonplace occurrence – childbirth – now seemed otherworldly and sacred. In the middle of a fierce explosive battle between the government and rebel forces, refugees huddling in besieged buildings leave their safety zones to catch just a glimpse of the wailing baby and to touch with trembling hands the tiny bundle of hope. When Theo and Kee walk outside into a street lined with hostile soldiers, a dramatic hush falls over the entire battle scene. Guns stop firing, people stop fighting and killing. Everyone looks at the mother and child, and several soldiers make the sign of the cross on their bodies. The moment of surreal silence and peace lasts until the child passes them.
In that scene, we realize that the world instinctively responds to the greatness of human life, and the mysterious power that has enabled such (in our mind, everyday) miracles. Amid a vicious war in which lives are thoughtlessly terminated with machine guns and grenades, this source of new life is captivating in its grandeur and simplicity. We are reminded of the hypocrisies of mankind, and the lack of respect we sometimes give human life, which demands so much admiration as a gift to every one of us. We should also consider the parallel to the wonder and joy generated by the new life after death promised by Christ’s resurrection.
The film allows us to see and understand the significance of the birth of Christ over two thousand years ago. The shepherds’ worshipful looks of awe and wonder at the newborn Christ in his lowly manger are mirrored on the faces of downtrodden refugees and battle-hardened soldiers in the 21st century. The deep yearning in our hearts for a lasting hope and an encounter with the divine has remained throughout the millennia. Theo knew the child was the fulfillment of hope, and so he was willing to give up his own life to save the child. Hope is worth the sacrifice.
For those seeking the miraculous, the divine, and the source of life and hope, Children of Men will inevitably point viewers toward the ultimate bringer of salvation in the world – the greatest miracle from the past into the future – Jesus Christ.
Faith Sadar ’08 is a Government concentrator in Dunster House. Ann C. Chao ’08, Books & Arts Editor, is a Social Studies and East Asian Studies concentrator in Currier House.