Do Films Like ‘Children of Men’ Warn Us Of Alternative Futures?
Last year, while watching Children of Men in the theatre, I remember feeling a slight twinge of deja vu.
It wasn’t the personal type that makes you wonder if you’ve dreamt a certain experience that actually came true. Rather, it was the unshakable dread that here, on screen, was a bleak vision of a future that may be.
David Roberts, reviewing the film for Gristmill, agrees with me. He writes:
“[Children of Men] It puts some flesh and feeling on the warnings of the doomers: the peak-oil doomers, climate-change doomers, nuclear-terrorism doomers, global-virus doomers, general-malaise doomers.
The techno-optimist response to, say, peak oil, is hey, when oil starts to get expensive we’ll respond in an orderly fashion and shift to something else, right? It’s not like there’ll be riots in the streets. Right?
But one thing Children of Men shows to visceral effect is just how shallow civilization is. Just how quickly the veneer can be ripped away and the lawlessness and brutality let loose. They’re always closer than we know.”
Walking out of the theatre that night, I wondered about my feeling of dread. Is it possible that the film was meant to serve as a warning to the very real possibility of it coming true?
Confirmation, in a roundabout way, for my question came more recently in a passage from Carl Sagan’s book Broca’s Brain. In praise of science fiction, to which he owes his childhood interest in science, he writes:
“The greatest human significance of science fiction may be as experiments on the future, as explorations of alternative destinies, as attempts to minimize future shock. This is part of the reason that science fiction has so wide an appeal among young people: it is they who will live the future.
It is my firm view that society on Earth today is well adapted to the Earth of one or two hundred years from now (if we are wise enough or lucky enough to survive that long). We desperately need an exploration of alternative futures, both experimental and conceptual.”
Viewed in this light, Children of Men is certainly an exploration of an alternative future. One that will come to pass if we do not remain vigilant in the ever-creeping erosion of our personal freedom, and collective control over the fate of our civilization.
As the list of films/books speaking to this future grows, we can’t pretend we didn’t see it coming.