As a teenager, I thought about getting married one day, but I never thought about having children. Having a family was not on my radar screen. Then when I began to study Torah in earnest when I was an undergraduate at Yeshiva University, I started to see things differently. When we studied Genesis and the first commandment in the Bible, I learned that being fruitful and multiplying, having children, was a big deal.
The Talmud tells us that when we reach the next world, one of the seminal questions we will be asked is whether we tried to have kids. If we did not even try, there are consequences in the next world, but I cannot tell you exactly what they are. I just understand that God knows all and sees all, and that there is accountability for that we do and don’t do in this world.
The supreme importance of having children so that society can continue is the topic of Children of Men, a dystopian vision of the world in 2027 in which there is a fertility crisis. For the last 18 years, there have been no births. Exactly what caused this is a matter of speculation, but, regardless of cause, the world’s future is now in jeopardy.
The film begins on November 16th, 2027, with a newscast informing us that women have become infertile, most nations have collapsed, and illegal immigrants are coming to England seeking asylum to escape the chaos in their own countries. To control this flood of immigrants, England is rounding them up for deportation.
Theo Faron, a former activist and now a cynical bureaucrat, barely escapes harm from a bomb that detonates several feet away from him. Who planted the bomb is unknown, but it is attributed to a clandestine revolutionary group known as the Fishes.
For some moments of solace away from the mayhem, Theo visits his old friend Jasper at his remote country home; but the next day, Theo is picked up by the Fishes and reunited with his former wife Julian, who is the leader of the group. Julian and Theo separated when their son Dylan died in a flu epidemic twenty years earlier.
Knowing that Theo has a cousin who has influence in government matters, Julian asks Theo to obtain transit papers for a refugee. The identity of the refugee is not revealed, but it is clear that it is of the utmost importance to transfer the refugee to a safe place. Things take a turn for the worse when Julian is killed in a terrorist ambush.
Theo now learns that he must accompany the refugee if the transit papers are to be efficacious. Knowing that his ex-wife wanted to secure safe passage for the refugee, he accepts responsibility when he learns that the asylum seeker is Kee, an African woman immigrant who is eight months pregnant. Theo understands that the future of civilization may depend on whether Kee reaches a safe haven.
Their journey to a protected place known as the Human Project is fraught with peril, but it is critical to reach the scientists based there who are looking for answers to the fertility crisis facing civilization. The title of the film places this crisis in a cosmic, spiritual context since the phrase “children of men” is taken from Psalm 90. The Psalm deals with the fragility of life and man’s obligation to use his time on earth properly and productively.
Isaiah, the prophet, declares that God did not want the world to be barren. He created it to be settled (45:18). Although the specific commandment to have children is only mandatory for men according to Jewish law, when a woman has a child, she not only enables her husband to fulfill the Biblical commandment, but she participates in the prophetic commandment to create children to populate the world.
In Jewish tradition, the most important legacy is children. Theo Faron, whose only child perished in a plague, expresses the wondrous miracle of children as he tries heroically to bring Kee to a safe place: “I can’t really remember when I last had any hope, and I certainly can’t remember when anyone else did either. Because really, since women stopped being able to have babies, what’s left to hope for?”
Children of Men is a powerful reminder of the importance of children for individuals and for the continuity of generations. With every birth, the world is born anew.