Since the moving picture’s inception, films have been a phenomenal medium to help people reflect, question and examine themselves and society at large. Beneath the action sequences, funny one-liners and curious twists of our favorite movies are underlying questions that force audiences to think critically about the world they live in.
This reflection of modern society through film can be explored through Alfonso Cuarón’s 2006 post-apocalyptic drama, Children of Men.
Adapted from the 1992 P.D. James novel of the same name, Children of Men takes place in the year 2027—18 years after all women have inexplicably become infertile. After years of societal unrest, war and pandemic, the United Kingdom is the last functioning government on the planet, resulting in a dystopian regime undercut by a hopelessly depressed and angry populace as well as a massive refugee crisis.
After years of responding to this pointless new world with apathy, cynical London bureaucrat Theo Faron—portrayed by Clive Owen—is given a chance to make a difference when he is asked to escort a pregnant refugee out of the U.K. to solve the infertility problem once and for all.
The film’s themes eerily reflect those dealt with today, nearly 13 years after its release. The moral and physical confrontations that stem from the film’s refugee crisis resemble the struggles faced since the beginnings of the European Migrant Crisis in 2015.
Furthermore, the film’s exploration of apathy in the face of tragedy has in many ways become a stark reality as people are overwhelmed by the sheer volume of negative press that reports plenty of problems with no obvious solution.
An essential reason behind Children of Men’s effectiveness in discussing these problems is the emphasis on realistic, gritty cinematography. Throughout the production, Cuarón and director of photography Emmanuel Lubezki followed directly behind Clive Owen, giving the dramatic film an almost war-documentary style. Violent scenes were often met with dust and blood on the camera and a constant shaking due to sprinting from one area to another in a series of long takes.
The scope of the film’s refugee crisis is immense. Since all other governments on the planet have stopped functioning, the refugees in England all come from a vast gamut of ethnicities, cultures and creeds. The refugee camps take on the identity as a sort of microcosm of what civilization once was, with districts based on nationalities forming in the ever shrinking and ever oppressed refugee camps.
The crisis’s universal reach makes the human cost of such a conflict much more apparent to the audience. To see all kinds of people locked up makes the problem appear far more relatable to audiences, who are horrified by the events occurring.
This is a far cry from how people, especially United States citizens, responded to the European Migrant Crisis. Despite the horrible imagery that appeared across social media and traditional new outlets, the sheer degree of separation between the population and the crisis at hand made apathy almost inevitable. Responses ranged from wanting refugees banned from the U.S. entirely to people justly spreading awareness of the problems without clear solutions.
Children of Men is a story about finding hope in a hopeless world. While the movie depicts a fictional world, the trials it faces are a reflection of anxieties and problems plaguing our society even to this day.
While there certainly isn’t a single quick fix to solve our problems, the film’s largest contribution to this conversation is to not let the sheer extent and volume of problems we face deter us from trying to help. While apathy may be an easy solution to avoid dealing with society’s mess, the only way to begin fixing anything is to have a little hope and a little empathy.