And now one for all the nostalgics out there. Christmas Day, 2006, and immediately announced itself as the best and bleakest sci-fi movie of the 21st Century. It has also proven to be the most prescient, anticipating a time when Britain has closed its borders, hateful isolationism has taken root, and xenophobia spores out of walled garden across the world. When I woke social adaptation of children of early age last Wednesday morning, I willed myself out of bed, walked across the street to my local coffee shop, and gawped at the television above the bar.
Hillary Clinton was delivering her concession speech. A young woman could be seen crying into the soft of her partner’s chest. Whether you like Hillary Clinton or not, it’s hard for those of us disappointed by the outcome of her campaign to shake the feeling that she was our last best chance against the bulwark of ignorance and the bigotry of fear — hers was a defeat for anyone who’s been made to feel as though their lives didn’t matter, and for everyone who’s rejected the thinking that makes it possible to marginalize people by the millions. It feels like a referendum on empathy, itself.
The darker things get, the film reminds us, the easier it is to find the light. Cuarón’s masterpiece tells the story of a future without a future, immersing us in a grim tomorrow where women have been inexplicably rendered infertile, and society has responded to the crisis by hoarding power, normalizing catastrophe, and dehumanizing the disenfranchised. When the film begins, most people have become so afraid of the future that they no longer bother fighting for it. Standing in that coffee shop reminded me of the film’s opening scene, in which Theo’s indifference is all that spares him from the bomb that rips through the café where he buys his morning cup. A crowd of people is glued to the television, thunderstruck by the news that Baby Diego, the world’s youngest person, has been killed. But Theo always thought the guy was a wanker. It’s a movie about a world — this world — in which everyone already knows they’re doomed, and the only remaining struggle is what people ought to do with that information.
They’re tossing around theories about the ultimate mystery: why are all the women infertile? Why can’t we make babies anymore? So, some say it’s genetic experiments, gamma rays, pollution, same ol’, same ol’. I’ve read dozens of post-mortem pieces about how Trump won the election, or how the Democrats lost it, and that punchline has come to mind every time. This stork is quite tasty isn’t he? In the face of disaster, how do we get the taste of helplessness out of our mouths? For a fortunate few, the easiest option is simply to embrace it.
The fertility crisis wasn’t new, it was just a period on a sentence that civilization had been writing for several generations. But people like Nigel always had the luxury of ignoring it. Everything looks peaceful from a penthouse apartment. It’s also why Cuarón lines his frames with images of despair, hiding all sorts of human tragedy in the fringes where they can be ignored just as easily as they’re seen. And yet so much of its power is rooted in what we don’t see, or what we’re not instructed to focus on. There’s no follow-up, no shot of her body — she’s just gone. And we have to make sense of it.