In 2027 the world’s youngest child dies at age 18 and humanity and the earth are slowly dying. Instead of working for the good of its citizens, the government mandates fertility testing and sends people kits so they can choose when to die. The cityscape is filthy and dark.
Theo (Clive Owen) makes his way around London that is in decay, but outdoor advertising still manages to function. One day a bomb goes off near him so he decides to go visit an old friend, Jaspar (Michael Caine) who used to be a political cartoonist. When Theo returns he is kidnapped and taken to meet his former wife, Julian (Julianne Moore). She works with an anti-government group that supports life. She and Theo had a child together but he died years ago. Now she asks him to secure transit papers for a young black woman, Kee (Claire-Hope Ashety), who is miraculously pregnant – not because she did not have sex but because no woman has had a child in almost twenty years. The papers will get them to the coast so that Kee can be picked up by a ship whose crew is working against international governments to save the world.
Theo seems apathetic rather than a hero, but he obtains the papers. On the way to the coast Julian is killed. Theo discovers that they very people who are escorting them to the coast want the baby for their own political purposes. Theo, with Jasper’s help and that of others along the way, sets off on what becomes a journey of hope.
Children of Men is based on the 1993 P.D. James novel (of the same title) and it reminded me of a cross between Blade Runner and A.I.: Artifical Intelligence because of the themes about humanity and the way it made me feel.
Children of Men is an excellent “text” for theological reflection. The priest who founded our religious congregation of the Daughters of St. Paul, Blessed James Alberione (1884-1971) once asked – like this film – “How many times do you ask yourself the great question: where is mankind heading. How is it moving, toward what goal it is aiming as it continually renews itself on the face of the earth? Humanity is like a great river flowing into eternity. Will it be saved? Will it be lost forever?”
Theo, short for Theodore means “God’s gift”. When Theo asks Kee who the father is, she jokes, “Who’s the father? “There’s no father. I’m a virgin. Nah! Be great, though, wouldn’t it?” thus showing her awareness of Christian teaching. After she gives birth in a warehouse of rebellious refugees of every race that the British government has isolated and is trying to squash, she and the baby make a perfect Madonna and Child. As Theo leads them to the dingy, rebels and government troops stop firing, genuflect, and make the sign of the cross in wonder as mother and child walk by. As their world is disintegrating, these enemies are able to see that there is hope in the wonder of this new life.
There are many parallels between this film and The Nativity Story. The world into which Kee’s child is born is not unlike the world into which Jesus was born. And the difference that each child would/could make for humanity, did and may change the world.
Children of Men is intense, violent, and deeply evocative. It takes modernism and nihilism to their extremes and yet, it the midst of centuries of consequences of our individual and collective choices for self above the needs of others, there is hope in the life of a child.