November 11th 2006

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Articles from this issue:

EDITORIAL: Iraq after the U.S. elections

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Beazley relishes coming fight for workers' rights

ECONOMIC AFFAIRS: A clear lack of joined-up government

BUSHFIRES: Comprehensive approach needed to fight fires

WESTERN AUSTRALIA: Political identities probed by corruption body

VICTORIA: The ALP's abortion agenda

STRAWS IN THE WIND: The nuclear horror house / The return of religions / Arrogant Muslims / The hit-man society

SPECIAL FEATURE: 'I can never forget them': a memoir of the 1956 Hungarian uprising

OPINION: Ethics needed in science, medicine and politics

Water trading: the consequences (letter)

Country people left to choke on the dust (letter)

Chris Masters' grab for cash and fame (letter)

CINEMA: A future world without children

BOOKS: LOST! Australia's Catholics Today, by Michael Gilchrist

BOOKS: THE BABY BUSINESS: How money, science, and politics drive the commerce of conception, by Debora L. Spar

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A future world without children

by Damien Wyld

News Weekly, November 11, 2006
A haunting new film Children of Men, based on the P.D. James novel, depicts a bleak future world without children. Reviewed by Damian Wyld.
Theo Faron (Clive Owen) and ex-flame
Julian Taylor (Julianne Moore)

No children. No future. No hope. This is the central message of the recently released film Children of Men, adapted from P.D. James's 1992 novel of the same name.

This film shows a world much like our own, with 2027 not boasting the usual futuristic staple of flying cars and the like. The only difference in the world portrayed from our own is the complete and utter absence of children.

"Baby Diego", a major celebrity by virtue of being the last human born, has just been accidentally killed at the age of 18. The public outpouring of grief in the opening scenes shows the depth of despair evident in a world splintering and dying.

Putting together the pieces, we learn that civil wars are commonplace, countries such as Kazakhstan have been nuked, several U.S. cities have been inexplicably wiped out, and Seattle has been suffering a siege for three years. "Only Britain", its government's propaganda says, "soldiers on".

Police state

Indeed it does, though the country is being swamped by "Foogies" (refugees), mainly elderly Europeans. Britain has become a police state, packed with detention camps and watched by a brutal paramilitary force, whose duty is to maintain order and seek out Foogies and "Fishes", a terrorist group bent on overthrowing the government.

Even among Britons, the sense of hopelessness is everywhere. Graffiti, such as "Last one to die, please turn off the light", couples well with TV adverts for an ominously named euthanasia drug called "Quietus" - "It's your life. It's your choice."

In this sad environment lives Theo Faron (Clive Owen), a nine-to-five, world-weary bachelor. He correctly points out that the human race has 50 years, then "it's all over".

Tempering his gloomy outlook are his discussions with friend Jasper (Sir Michael Caine), an ageing hippie with a fairly laid-back view of the situation. While the rest of the world falls apart, Jasper smokes dope and amuses himself with cynical jokes.

Theo's world is soon turned upside down when he is asked to smuggle a young Foogie to the coast. He later discovers that, miraculously, she is pregnant and he has been entrusted the task of getting her safely to "The Human Project". This semi-mythical group of the world's greatest scientists is working to save mankind from extinction.

It should be pointed out that this film is not for the faint-heated. Even if one overlooks the coarse language, blasphemy and regular violence, the film imparts to the viewer an overwhelming sense of hopelessness and despair.

This is no doubt accentuated because, unlike the dystopias of 1984 or Brave New World, the scenario presented by Children of Men is not only possible, but has already begun.

Birth rates in most of the developed world, including Australia, have long been below replacement level, populations being propped up by immigration programs. In all of Europe, only Ireland and Malta are above replacement level, while countries such as Japan have already begun to contract in size, ahead of projections.

This predicament confronts us with some hard questions:

Just for starters, who will be left to man the defence forces? What will happen to government revenue (and, hence, all services, pensions, government wages, etc.) when the taxable income starts to dry up? Will all the schools and universities simply close? Will property prices crash and investments become worthless? Will euthanasia be advocated as a public duty?

What Children of Men does is accelerate the process by which these issues come to a head. Killing off an entire generation brings on the breakdown of society in less than 18 years, as opposed to the 50–100 years if present trends continue.

Even the dire predictions made by American political commentator and former White House communications director under President Reagan, Patrick J. Buchanan, in his book The Death of the West (2001), pale in comparison beside the dark world of Children of Men.

This film is quite unsettling because it leaves the viewer wondering whether, in fact, such a situation could actually occur.

While factors could be suggested for declining birth-rates in the real world (e.g., the prevalence of abortion and contraception, economic pressures and the deferral of marriage and children until later in life), the film doesn't spoil the tension by revealing the reason. One of the few clues is given by Theo when he observes that "it all went wrong before the infertility thing happened".

The great value of this film lies in its ability to demonstrate vividly the horrible consequences of a world where the schools lie in ruins, the playgrounds all silent. Children are the future, offering both joy and hope to an otherwise old, and cold, world.

- Film reviewed for News Weekly by Damian Wyld.

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