‘Children of Men’ (2006) and the Birth of Hope

As we follow Kee and Theo’s journey, Children of Men shows us what a little hope can do to a person’s whole outlook on life, and the extent that they will go to to keep that hope alive.

“I can’t really remember when I last had any hope, and I certainly can’t remember when anyone else did either” – Theo Faron, Children of Men

Children of Men (2006, dir. Alfonso Cuaron) is a dystopian vision of a future in which the human race has become infertile. Hope is dead. Society is falling apart as the inevitability of humanities extinction looms over the citizens of a crumbling London, one of the last ‘safe’ places on Earth. Absent the watching eyes of innocent children, civilization has become cruel. Religious and political groups fight amongst each other, and the oppressive government rounds up refugees looking for safety in the city to house them in inhumane conditions. The situation is so dire, a suicide drug named ‘Quietus’ is marketed to the citizens on billboards and the sides of buses.

The government is spreading the message that to protect London’s unique ‘safety’, strict border control must be adhered to. Propaganda is pumped into the city on billboards and television screens, reminding citizens to be on the watch for immigrants and to report any suspicions. Throughout the film we see refugees caged up, guarded by remorseless officers and their savage dogs. These people came to London because it symbolised hope for them, a safe place for themselves and their families to survive. Little did they know, the UK’s government would round them up and, at best, send them back to the collapsing countries they had escaped. Unfortunately, the images of refugees being mistreated is all too familiar. Brexit and the COVID-19 pandemic has further exacerbated misconceptions regarding migrants. The current British government’s stance on immigration feels only a few steps removed from the world of the film.

Julianne Moore as Julian in 'Children of Men' stands in front of a newspapered window. A yellow lamp illuminates her from behind.
Image courtesy of Universal Pictures

The film begins with the protagonist Theo Faron (Clive Owen) squeezing through a stunned crowd in a coffee shop. On a small television is the breaking news that the world’s youngest person, ‘Baby Diego,’ has been tragically killed at the age of eighteen. Theo grabs his coffee and steps back onto the highstreet. The surrounding billboards are showing home movie footage of Diego’s childhood, suggesting that the world has been following him since his birth. As Theo enters his workplace he sees his colleagues sitting at their desks, beside themselves as they watch the unfolding situation. Some of them have even created a makeshift memorial for Diego adorned with flowers and teddy bears. 

The mass grieving over ‘Baby Diego’ feels rather contradictory when compared to the atrocious way that refugees are being treated. Particularly when the same people are either turning a blind eye to the situation or actively turning in immigrants to the government’s capture. However, the way that the world followed ‘Baby Diego’ throughout his eighteen years, watching him grow into a man, allowed people to become attached to him. This is something they will never be able to experience first hand. After all, having children is a joyful experience; it grants the opportunity to see the world through more naive eyes. It also provides purpose in someone to provide for and to care about. Knowing that your child will succeed helps to give the motivation to try and leave the world a better place for the next generation. Watching Diego gave these people that happiness and partially filled that void, so his untimely death hits them as though he was their own son. Without that, there is no hope to have.

Theo isn’t affected by ‘Baby Diego’s’ death in the slightest. An ex-activist, he used to have the fighting spirit to push back against the corrupt government rule, but as we meet him he has given up that life. Theo is a realist, he has lost hope that anything can change for the better and doesn’t believe there is any use in being emotionally invested in an eighteen year old stranger. Compared to Theo, the rest of society seems to be acting irrationally to the sad news but this is what living in a hopeless world has done to them. Theo has accepted his fate and is numbed to the horror surrounding him. Cigarettes and alcohol are Theo’s vices; he is always seen nursing a bottle to get through the day. 

Theo’s outlook on life changes when he is kidnapped by his ex-lover Julian (Julianne Moore), the leader of a political activist group called ‘The Fishes’. He is asked to secure transit papers for a young refugee named Kee (Clare-Hope Ashitey), which he agrees to for a price. However he quickly becomes more involved than he would like in the woman’s journey when he finds out the true purpose of this mission. To earn Theo’s trust, Kee invites him to a quiet milking barn to reveal her secret. Stood amongst the animals, she removes her shirt to reveal her pregnant belly. The way the strip-lighting illuminates her skin, she appears almost biblical. Kee is the hope that all of the human race has been waiting for, and now Theo knows what is really at stake: a miracle. 

Everyone has been desperately hoping and waiting for a solution to humanity’s infertility, so when Kee’s pregnancy is revealed, some characters show their true colours.  Despite this being Kee’s baby, each person feels they have a claim to the child and have their own opinions as to what should be done about it. This is much like the way people clung on to ‘Baby Diego’ as if he was their own child. ‘The Fishes’ want to use Kee’s baby as a political tool, much to her dismay, who understandably does not want that kind of public life for her child. 

Clive Owen as Theo and Clare-Hope Ashitey as Kee in Children of Men make their way through a crowd of soldiers. Theo is bloodied and Kee holds her blanketed newborn.
Image courtesy of Universal Pictures

However, news of this child’s conception also brings out the best in some. When we first meet Theo he is a cynical alcoholic with nothing to live for, but when he learns of Kee’s pregnancy it’s like someone has flicked a switch inside of him. He has his fighting spirit back and will do anything in his power to deliver Kee and the baby to safety. This is demonstrated towards the end of the film when the two of them are in a perilous refugee camp, with Kee lying on Theo’s jacket, minutes away from giving birth. The room is filthy and the harsh conditions are no fit place for the baby to be born, but they do the best with what they have. Theo takes his whiskey, the one thing he clung onto for escapism from this dismal world, and tips it out to sterilise his hands before delivering the child. This miracle has completely changed Theo’s outlook on life and he no longer needs that vice. 

Once the child is born they need to escape the refugee camp and make their way to the dock where they are meeting ‘The Tomorrow’; a boat that promises to take Kee and the baby to safety. However, a war is raging in the camp and they have to dodge bullets while navigating a crumbling tower block, now with a newborn in tow. At first they hide the baby under Kee’s shawl, but find that by revealing her, people start to move aside. In a moment of incredible humanity, awestruck by the sight of the infant, soldiers on opposing sides all cease fire to allow the helpless child to proceed safely. 

Children of Men is a vision of how truly hopeless society can become when there is nothing to live for, no new generation to inherit what we leave behind. Theo embodies that hopelessness as he spends his days in a drunken depression, but his character evolves when he finds something to live for and the film transforms with him too. As we follow Kee and Theo’s journey, Children of Men shows us what a little hope can do to a person’s whole outlook on life, and the extent that they will go to to keep that hope alive. As the credits roll, we hear the delicate giggles of children playing, suggesting that Kee’s miracle was just the beginning.