Now, in 2016, Children of Men is having a remarkable resurgence — not just because of its tenth anniversary but because of its unsettling relevance at the conclusion of this annus horribilis. There have been glowing reappraisals on grounds both sociopolitical (Children of Men is “obviously something that should be on people’s minds after Brexit and after the rise of Donald Trump,” political scientist Francis Fukuyama declared in September) and artistic (“Children of Men, like no other film this century, and perhaps no other movie ever, solves the meaning of life,” wrote Vanity Fair columnist Richard Lawson in August). It’s getting the kind of online attention it sorely lacked ten years ago, generating recent headlines like “The Syrian Refugee Crisis Is Our Children of Men Moment” and “Are We Living in the Dawning of Alfonso Cuarón’s Children of Men?” As critic David Ehrlich put it in November, “Children of Men may be set in 2027,” but in 2016, “it suddenly became clear that its time had come.”
Cuarón, however, is not feeling like taking an overdue victory lap. Curled over a table in an upscale Mexico City restaurant recently, the 55-year-old director gets a little irritated when I laud the film’s imaginative prescience. “This thing was not imagination,” he says, jabbing his index finger into the tablecloth. By Cuarón’s estimation, anyone surprised at the accuracy of his movie’s predictions was either uninformed or willfully ignorant about the way the world already was by 2006. “People were talking about those things, just not in the mainstream!” he says. He was reading about refugees, know-nothing reactionaries, and eerie disruptions in biological processes during the early '00s. If Children of Men can be said to have a message, Cuarón encapsulates it: “What’s really relevant now,” he tells me, “is to stop being complacent.”
I recently spent a long weekend collaborating with friends on a narrative outline for a point-and-click adventure video game. Relying less on twitchy button-mashing and more on logic puzzles, conversation, and critical thinking, the adventure game genre is a good project for a writer, and I found it provided a whole new set of challenges that I had never encountered in fiction. How do you tell a story when the action is determined by the player? How do you write enough dialogue so that the player doesn’t read the same few lines too many times? How do you plant clues to an ending twist that can play out three different ways, depending on the player’s choices throughout the game?
It was the most satisfying weekend of writing I’d had in months, and when the project stalled because we couldn’t align our schedules, I decided I’d start work on a solo project and teach myself how to write—and code—a video game.
Yes, children's books are bastions of fantasy, the rightful homes of dragons and magic crayons and talking cheese. But as kids spend less time outdoors, and more time learning about nature through screens, some experts are taking a closer look at how well the lessons translate. The answer is often a resounding "Needs Improvement." And fixing up picture books—those colorful gateway drugs to further education—might be a good first step.
No, if you really want to get lost in a movie — and have an aesthetic experience that will be yours and yours alone — the only way to see a movie is by yourself.