It was a cold and rainy January 2007 afternoon when a college buddy and I took advantage of a cancelled class and went to our local theater to watch Alfonso Cuarón's Children of Men. As a freshman in college who was two months away from his 19th birthday, I wasn't ready for what was about to unfold before my eyes over the course of the next two hours, and honestly, I don't think I was actually ready for everything this bleak yet incredibly beautiful piece of dystopian art had to offer until much later in life.
Don't get me wrong, I absolutely loved Children of Men and it has remained one of my favorite movies since that fateful wintry afternoon in that cheap matinée screening, but I don't think I GOT the film and its messages until a recent viewing. In those 13 years since I first watched Clive Owen's Theo Faron go from a broken down man with nothing to lose or gain to someone who would sacrifice everything for humanity, I've graduated from college, gotten married, become a father, and experienced one of the worst global crises in generations. To say my perspective on life has changed would be cutting myself short.
That most recent viewing absolutely shook me to my core and had an impact on me like I have never experienced. Blame it on emotions running high, blame it on everything going on around me, or blame it on Alfonso Cuarón's intimate story of hope in the face of despair, but this movie hit me harder now than ever before.
How The Death Of His Son Changed Theo
By the time we catch up with Theo Faron in the opening scene of Children of Men, life as he once knew it is long gone, his son has been dead for nearly 20 years, and his marriage to Julian Taylor (Julianne Moore) is all but a distant memory. The thing is, we don't know that until later in the film, leaving our first few minutes with the clearly broken man trying to figure out the how and why of his downtrodden nature and reliance on a pint of booze in his coat-pocket to get him by in life. When I first saw the movie, I thought that Theo was just the typical anti-hero who never got over the loss of a child. That all changed on my recent viewing.
I have never gone through the experience of losing a child, and so I hopefully never understand the pain, grief, or guilt clearly visible in Clive Owen's portrayal of Theo, but having children of my own I now empathize with the broken shell of a man. In late 2019, my daughter broke her leg at a birthday party, and while that's different than say dying of the flu, I felt like I failed her as a parent as she let out the most heartbreaking cries I've ever heard. As parents, we're supposed to protect our children, and in that situation, I felt like I was to blame for the break. Multiply that feeling of failure and helplessness to the nth degree and you have Theo's shattered and closed-off mindset.
How Meeting A Pregnant Kee Changed Theo
When Theo is first contacted (or kidnapped) by his estranged wife Julian in the early goings of Children of Men, he only goes through the process of securing transit papers so that he could earn some much-needed funds. All of that begins to change, however, when Theo, Kee (Clare-Hop Ashitey), Luke (Chiwetel Ejiofor), and Miriam (Pam Ferris) survive the ambush that claims the life of Julian in the process. This used to be my favorite scene in the movie just from a filmmaking standpoint, but now the part that hits me the most is what follows a few minutes later.
When the survivors of the ambush make it back to the compound to rest up, Kee reveals to Theo that she is pregnant, not so much as telling him, but displays the first baby bump the world has seen in 18 years. At that moment, Theo is transformed from a broken man fumbling through life to a protector that will do anything (and I mean anything) to protect Kee and her unborn child. Watching that scene as a parent helped me finally realize that the part of Theo's heart long thought to be dead was alive and well. The gravity of the situation is inescapable at this point and starts the brilliant second-half redemption story of Theo and humanity as a whole.
The Accuracy And Honesty of The Film's Depiction Of A Global Crisis
The first time I saw Children of Men, I had never lived in a world that was going through global criss as severe and devastating as the one in the movie, but little did I know that 13 years later I would find myself in the middle of one of the biggest pandemics in generations. Watching the movie during the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic has completely changed the way I think about Alfonso Cuarón's depiction of a global crisis — both the good and the bad.
On one side you have the abandonment of hope and freedom in Cuarón's vision of 2027 England with the refugee crisis, military forces setting a checkpoints, and a general sense of despair that's ultimately leading towards violence. Back in 2007 I thought that nothing like this would be possible outside of war-torn nations, but here we are in 2020 with the fear and uncertainty in the wake of a devastating and mysterious pandemic. It's a tough pill to swallow, but the depiction of the global crisis brought on by widespread infertility in the dystopian science-fiction thriller doesn't look all that far-fetched.
On the other hand, however, we see throughout the movie that there are scores of people who care and will do anything and everything to turn the page and bring back something that has been missing for quite some time: coming together in an attempt to get things back to normal or at least as close to normal as possible. Watching people like Julian reaching out to Theo (who she hadn't seen in years) to help get Kee to safety is not too far off from what we saw at the beginning of our current situation where people who hadn't spoken in years called, texted, or messaged long-lost friends and family members just to see how they were doing, proving that we can't do this alone.
The Importance Of Hope
At the very core of it, Children of Men is a story about the importance of hope, and that message resonates with me more now than ever before. From the beginning of the movie, the audience is thrown into a depressing and seemingly hopeless environment, but over time (and the introduction of the Kee's pregnancy) we see what the movie is all about. During my most recent viewing of this great work of art, I was brought to tears by the scene where Kee delivers the baby and she and Theo continue their journey to safety. As they walk through the violent confrontation between the military and armed rebels, the world gets its first glimpse of the first newborn in nearly 20 years and everything stops. It's dead silent as everyone catches a glimpse of the hope and innocence of the child.
I openly wept as Kee and her daughter were guided through the bombed-out apartment building as they sought safety and refuge mostly because we are all looking for a shred of hope, no matter how small or short-lived it may be (the fighting almost immediately starts up after they pass). As we continue to push forward and remain hopeful during these trying times, we are all looking for something to rely on and something to look forward to, and this has shown me the importance of hope because it's what keeps us going.
A lot has changed in my personal life as well as the world around me since I first saw Children of Men back on that cold January 2007 afternoon, and despite the emotional toll it had on me, I can honestly say I've never appreciated it as much as I do now. How about you? Has the way this movie, or any other movie actually, changed since you first saw it? Make sure to sound off and share your stories in the comments below.
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Philip grew up in Louisiana (not New Orleans) before moving to St. Louis after graduating from Louisiana State University-Shreveport. When he's not writing about movies or television, Philip can be found being chased by his three kids, telling his dogs to stop barking at the mailman, or yelling about professional wrestling to his wife. If the stars properly align, he will talk about For Love Of The Game being the best baseball movie of all time.