Children of Men: The Last One to Die, Please Turn Out The Light By Heidi Sheppard
A world without children is a world without hope. As humans we depend on a sense of purpose, a motivation and longing for a greater good that will continue on after our lives have been lived to the fullest. The absence of a future generation presents the numbing realization that what we do today will never been seen or appreciated by tomorrow’s world. This is perhaps one of the most saddening and hopeless ideas to entertain. In a sense, it robs humanity of its soul. Without a future world to live for, we come to realize that what we do today is lost forever.
The world depicted in Children of Men (Alfonso Cuarón, 2006) is exactly that: childless, hopeless. But despite the bleak, foreboding landscape, we cannot help but become lost in this dystopian world. Cuarón seems to effortlessly weave together his world through the use of bleak colors, lighting, and visually evocative dingy sets to create a cinematic masterpiece. He builds an incredibly vivid world by seeming to simply take a third-world atmosphere and scatter it across a European set. Also, the stunning attention to detail within the film gives the impression that this world is truly ours and through this we are enabled as viewers to lose ourselves completely in the dystopian vision.
Throughout the course of the film we see it illustrated that humanity falls to pieces in a world with no hope or drive. Once we are robbed of our motivation for a greater sense of being and are left with only our selfish desires, we become mere shells of what we once were. Perhaps this is where Children of Men most clearly presents its point. Once robbed of a future, the soul of humanity seems to be stolen away. Everything that once had context now is meaningless. Why should an artist create now if he knows that what he has to share will be utterly lost in a cold desolate world? Why should a writer write when he realizes that his work will ultimately be lost forever on a cold barren earth where only lonely wind blows?
This concept is one of the many powerful questions Children of Men raises. Once we fully grasp that there will be no one to “turn out the lights”, we gradually stop caring. Life no longer is a gift to be treasured, but rather a stretch of time to drudged through as numbly as possible. As a result, humanity forgets the world and lets it fall to pieces, because after all, what does it matter? Who will be there to be damaged by our irresponsibility? Why should we care about the damage our actions and decisions bring if there will be no one there to reap the consequences?
Through the overall style of the film we are presented with many provocative questions that leave us pondering what our actions and motivations truly mean and perhaps, what are we truly living for. Are we simply passing through life one day at a time for ourselves? Or do we believe deep down inside that what we do today will one day affect the children of our generation?
The character of Clive Owen, an ex-activist seems to embody these questions. Clive, a man robbed of his child by death, and woman he loved by grief, seems to simply be living life because he was cursed with it. Showing little interest in what passes around him, and drinking to numb the pain, he moves through life as a shadow of a being. This changes when he is presented with hope. His sense of purpose in life is reborn. By watching the development of such a dynamic, thought-provoking character, we are given a chance to see what it might look like to be a person in this hopeless world.
The film further emphasizes the above points with poignant visual portrayals of the way humanity, robbed of its motivation for a greater good, disintegrates both in its world and morals. Cuarón not only presents these ideas through the use of set, but also by drawing strong parallels and references to modern day events and issues.
Several strong references are made to the destruction of 9/11, and parallels are made to Nazism through the immigration camps. There are several visual references to modern journalism within the film, perhaps the strongest being a visual reference to the “hooded man” from the Abu Gharaib prison photos, a modern symbol of torture and inhumanity. By presenting us with images that we recognize, even if the recognition is subconscious, we are connected with the world of the film & as a result are more wiling to accept the information that is presented to us.
Throughout the narrative of the film, Cuarón presents many powerful positions on the issues of immigration, morality and mortality and we often have to take a step back to reevaluate what we assume to be right. This often leads us to question parts of our own beliefs that we may have never questioned before.
This, combined with the stunning use of long takes, allows us to immerse ourselves into this world. Cuarón breaks away from the usual use of the documentary film aesthetic and by doing so demands our attention completely. Because there are few chances for rest throughout this film we feel the mounting need and urgency of the narrative.
Despite its bleak and at times gruesome narrative, by the conclusion of the film Children of Men leaves us with a glimpse of hope for mankind. We see that tomorrow is coming, and that perhaps humanity has hope after all, despite the nuclear wreck we have let it become. A representation of Tomorrow seems to leave us with a glimmer of hope that perhaps, just perhaps we can continue on.