Director Alfonso Cuarón’s adaptation of British mystery writer P.D. James’ novel The Children of Men carries something of the Mexican born auteur in its theme of hope.
Cuarón confesses, “When I make a film, it is from my standpoint—so the fact that I am a hopeful person ‘taints’ this film. Humanity has an amazing talent for destruction. But also, we can show solidarity and an ability to come through problems together. In the end, Children of Men isn’t so much about humanity being destructive— it’s more about ideologies coming between people’s judgment and their actions that is at work in this story.”
Cuarón had been given an early draft of a screenplay, but he recalls, “I initially didn’t connect with the script, but there was a premise there that haunted me for the next couple of weeks. I remember being in Santa Barbara on the beach and suddenly seeing the whole film right there, in front of my eyes.”
Cuarón isn’t interested in making the technology rich films that usually fall under the heading of “science-fiction” but he was compelled to create a vision that was grounded in the promises and the problems facing the world today. He said, “I found this premise was an amazing opportunity to talk about the present day, using the excuse that it’s set in the near future. I didn’t want to do a film about the future—I wanted to do a film about the present, and the circumstances today that are crafting our future.” Cuarón adds, “This isn’t science-fiction—it’s a chase movie, set in 2027.”
Cuarón went to his writing partner, Timothy J. Sexton, and related the story of the film he had envisioned on the beach. Together, they intensified the novelist’s view of a bleak and dystopian world of the near future into one in which people we are given a reason to believe again…taking James’ concept of global infertility and condensing the book into a filmable screenplay.
In the novel, James had cast her tale 30 years into the future, giving readers more distance to view her vision of humanity’s possible end. The screenwriters reduced this figure to 21 years, bringing the harrowing “what if?”closer. Children of Men is recognisable from our present world, we can believe in this near-future world slowly coming apart in 2027.
Cuarón was determined to tell a story of relevance to the 21st century. He felt that many “futuristic” films predict a world led by some kind of dictatorship, but in his vision he saw a different kind of tyranny in the world: “Many of the stories of the future involve something like ‘Big Brother,’ but I think that’s a 20th century view of tyranny. The tyranny happening now is taking new disguises—the tyranny of the 21st century is called ‘democracy.’ I found that a very interesting concept to look at in Children of Men.”
Cuarón questioned a wide range of people on what they feel is shaping our world—two elements were seen as crucial: the massive global migration of the world’s population and the resulting political issues around the shifts and the enormous effect from and the backlash against hundreds of years of colonialism. These circumstanceswhen combined other conditions such as pandemics, terrorism and global changes in weather patterns indicate that we could face a futuresimilar to the one suggested in Children of Men.
For Cuarón the world of tomorrow is rooted in the real world of today. Cuarón took his ideas and themes and created a timeline of the world events that had led up to the start of the film in London on November 16, 2027. What results is a cautionary story that is Children of Men.
We have to ask ourselves is the vision of the future as presented in Children of Men bleak or hopeful? Cuarón sees the film as a mirror that reflects the mindset of the viewers taking in the story. He says, “When we were creating our fictitious timeline leading up to the film’s beginning, some of the things we included in our history actually started happening—we’d turn on the television and see images that we had included in our film, supposedly 21 years down the line. But, I don’t want to give people any ideas or easy answers to any questions…rather, I want to raise some questions for people to think about. So really, the movie is as hopeful about the future as you are.”