As 2016 marks the tenth anniversary of ‘Children of Men’s’ release, Darragh McCarthy looks at how the dystopian future presented in the film is disturbingly close to our present.
This year marks the tenth anniversary of Alfonso Cuarón’s dystopian epic ‘Children of Men,’ which portrays a Britain of 2027, a world of human infertility, anarchic chaos and extreme forms of discrimination against perceived non-citizens. The film follows Theo Faron, a government bureaucrat whose former history of political activism results in him being tasked with helping the only pregnant woman in 18 years get to the secretive “Human Project”, an almost mythical group of scientists based in the Azores that are dedicated to curing the infertility that women globally are facing.
Just as salient a decade on, this sci-fi masterpiece is strengthened by its basis in the immediacy of all too familiar present and past horrors, rather than in an unforeseeable future. Events which have worsened further since the 2006 release of the film can be easily interpreted as similarities and precursors to a world increasingly alike the one of Children of Men’s near-future setting, where democracy can only seemingly collapse entirely if much needed radical change is not fought for and fails to occur.
In the film, the British government portrays itself as the only ‘stable’ government remaining in the world. Its propaganda reels present a world in flames, proclaiming on a background of a flowing Union Flag, and to the chimes of Big Ben: “The World Has Collapsed – Only Britain Soldiers On”. British jingoistic and patriotic militarism could only increase in a world of growing conflict and instability that has normalised the ever-increasing and prominent Islamophobic and anti-immigrant sentiments. Last December, the Tories and their ‘Red Tory’ counterparts in Labour applauded themselves after voting to bomb a country thousands of miles away, and soon after, morbidly celebrate the implementation and use of expensive and high-tech new weapons and bombs. The world of ‘Children of Men’ has been torn asunder by war, with headlines on newspaper cuttings reading “Africa Devastated By Nuclear Fallout, millions of people died in seconds | Russia Detonates Nuclear Bomb, Kazakhstan Annihilated | US Troops Full Attack”, and other such all too plausible and familiar-sounding imperialist atrocities. While the mutually-assured destruction promised by nuclear weapons is less of a prominent fear today, there remain a total of 15,695 nuclear weapons in the world, possessed by a mere nine countries, with the United States and Russia accounting for 93 percent of these stockpiles. There is no reason for the deployment of nuclear weapons in the future to be viewed as being impossible, and ‘Children of Men’ reinforces this sentiment.
Other newspaper headlines inform us of some of the events that resulted in the circumstances present in the Britain of the film, namely how they treat non-citizens in the country, such as; “Extremist Explosion | Raid Nabs Refugee Weapons Cache | Immigrants Beware | Chaos in Refugee Camps”. Such headlines and rhetoric are essentially what we are seeing today and ever increasingly over the past few months following the November 2015 Paris attacks. The treatment of refugees, “illegal” immigrants (and non-white immigrants in general), and non-citizens as a whole in this future is in many ways, although less extreme today, reminiscent of what we’re seeing across Europe, worsening ever rapidly over the last decade. The September 2006 release of the film, a mere 5 years after the 9/11 attacks, was a world that was still rapidly changing due to the ever permissible and growing expansions of widely accepted anti-Muslim sentiment and anti-immigrant attitudes. Innumerous abuses have been committed since September 11, often under the cover of “security concerns”, apparently a free pass to commit any number of crimes in the name of fighting against anything that falls under the ever-broadening umbrella of what a “terror threat” constitutes. In light of the Paris attacks at the end of last year, it would appear almost any sort of action can be taken against a Muslim resident in Europe, building on the already horrible situation that has been constructed and is apparently easily excused by the actions of a few on 9/11.
The film shows refugees that have made it to Britain after fleeing conflict elsewhere been hunted and rounded up by a heavily militarised police force and a government utilising seemingly endless “emergency powers”. The borders have been closed for 8 years, anti-immigration cops and the army sack apartment blocks populated with immigrants, dumping their belongings out the windows in what can only be seen as imagery strongly reminiscent of the Holocaust. Rounded up and surrounded by these armed forces, with terrified faces they hold on to their families, and those that are lucky clutch their identification in the air. Those that are not so lucky are held in cages, presumably awaiting transportation to one of the many camps where they will be processed under conditions and the kind of treatment obviously reminiscent of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay.
What we are seeing today across Europe is becoming ever more quickly alike that of Children of Men’s British government, with European governments introducing Islamophobic, authoritarian laws to do whatever they deem necessary in order to maintain the semblance of order in a world that is under an entirely unstable and unsustainable system. Fences are erected across the mainland, broken through and torn down by refugees fleeing war. If and when they do manage to make it to the safety of their destinations, they are told to go elsewhere, or go home as their home country isn’t quite yet entirely in flames. The Hungarian government has, for example of the kind of treatment that is deemed acceptable, thrown food at refugees kept in cages. Due to such powers, police raids can be carried out under purely racist and Islamophobic speculation. If emergency powers allow for ethnic policing and extreme surveillance and security policies in a post-Paris Europe, what is to stop them from developing into being executed on purely political grounds? Fortress Europe is beginning to collapse, and the political establishment is doing everything within its power to fight back, becoming ever more conservative in policy while under threat from a Europe-wide rise in far-right forces as a result. Refugees are othered and dehumanised, spoken of as “it” and “them” being merely “an economic drain” rather than fellow human beings. They must possess certain skills or qualifications, and depending on their country of origin, they may be lucky enough to be kept in horrible conditions and gain less rights, not even to be considered second or even third-class citizens. Even before the refugee crisis became a media goldmine, refugees and asylum speakers were treated with suspicion, stigmatised and mistrusted. Women and LGBTQ people are often turned away when they would likely face death back home. If anything, things can only get harder for those fleeing their homes for whatever reason. Our lives are no more valuable than theirs, and ‘Children of Men’ in many ways reinforces this idea throughout.
If the world we live in today wasn’t clear enough, constant war can only but result in such crises as we have seen resulting from mass displacements of peoples. The refugee crisis will not go away, nor will it lessen any time in the near future, unless real change occurs. In our world today, destabilised regions become the barbaric playgrounds for human suffering on unimaginable scales, propagated by great powers seeking to display their military and economic might, in pursuit of resources, inter-regional power and domination. Such crises of the plight of millions of refugees are then, only inevitable. Such war is propagated and fueled by a global arms trade led by, interestingly enough, the United Nations Security Council’s 5 permanent members, who make up 5 of the top 6 arms exporters globally; the United States, Russia, China, France, Germany and Britain, who in turn claim to be benevolent and international paragons of humanity for doing the very least they can get away with in helping refugees.
These ever increasing racist, and islamophobic attitudes are one of the biggest threats to peace, peace that is unachievable under the current system of capitalism. Events such as 9/11 and the November Paris attacks can be seen as very significant events for People of Colour, and non Judeo-Christian religions. It is they that must suffer the most from such terror, living in societies that are becoming almost entirely hostile to them, treating them always with suspicion and distrust at the very least, and at worst like criminals or would-be suicide bombers. The term ‘Innocent until proven guilty’ does not apply to those that in any way resemble the racial profile of individuals that cause terror attacks in mainland Europe, rather, they must suffer until racists governments and poisonous societies deem them to have repented and suffered enough for being of a different faith and colour of skin. They are made to be scapegoats for the failings of neo-liberal capitalism and its perpetuated instability, as well as the failings of the capitalist imperialism and neo-colonialism seen in the Middle-East and the African continent. ‘Children of Men’ encapsulates the mood, and in many ways, the fears for the future of mankind that were felt around the time of its release a decade ago. What’s telling though, is that rewatching the film today, it seems to articulate the fears we have permeating our world today as much as it did then, if not more so. It is a warning of a possible nightmare future that we seem ever more likely to be approaching, if our governments are permitted to carry on as they have, at the expense of the lives of thousands of innocents, and no doubt, thousands more to come.
Darragh is a Socialist Party activist based in Limerick City.