Recently I re-watched the movie Children of Men. It’s set in 2027, and is an intense, dystopian flick. No one has been able to have children for 18 years, and much of the world has fallen into fighting and chaos. My husband hadn’t seen it, so, remembering how intense it was and how much this stuff gets to me, I gathered a craft project to work on while we watched.
I first watched it 4 or 5 years ago. And much in the world has changed since then. There was much that seemed extreme a few years ago, that now seems much more believable. It was disturbing how much of it was plausible.
The movie is set in England, and refugees are pouring into the country, fleeing the chaos of their countries of origin. Over the speakers in buses and on the train, there is an announcement on repeat about it being illegal to house, employ, or even feed a refugee. Refugees are being rounded up and held in pens. They are being spat on, yelled at, and at points, beaten. They weep, and cry out to God in other languages.
Since I last saw the movie, I have seen these images in the news. I have seen people being held in pens. I have read these stories. I have seen the way we talk about immigrants and refugees change. I have met refugees who have been rounded up, spat on, yelled at, and beaten.
(Movie spoilers ahead–you’ve been warned.)
The story centers around the first pregnant woman in the world in 18 years. A refugee woman. An underground human rights organization is trying to get her out of the country and somewhere she can be safe. She has to be smuggled through a refugee camp, where she ends up going into labor early, and delivering the first new baby in the world in almost 2 decades. The day after she gives birth, the camp explodes into fighting, and there are some very violent, very severe scenes. At one point she is hiding in a building that is being shot at, stuck trying to flee with the man who is trying to keep her safe from the fighting and from those trying harm her.
Then, the baby starts to cry.
And a hush comes over the chaos. The people in the building, firing at the soldiers outside, stop shooting. Everyone is struck by silent wonder—hearing a baby cry for the first time in 18 years. The first soldiers who rush into the building hear the baby’s cry and they scream to their men, “Halt fire! Halt fire! Halt fire!” They watch, and let her pass, slowly, and safely out of the building. It is a quiet, powerful scene. Fighting coming to a screeching halt, if only for a few moments, in awe of new life.
I dropped the beading in my lap, I watched, and I started weeping. Because these exact scenes are being played out in the world right now. Tears rolled down my face as I thought to myself that it probably would take 18 years of no one having babies, for one child’s cry—one life—to be that important.
Because it certainly isn’t right now.
We drop bombs, let people languish away in camps. It seems that no life is valuable enough to preserve or make it stop—even if just for a few moments. Violence and destruction is met with more violence and destruction, and sold to us as the right thing to do. All the while, the notion of letting people fleeing the violence of which we are a part, into our safe countries, is deemed too much of a gamble. Things that seemed unbelievable even a few years ago, are now believable, or even happening, and my heart is heavily grieved.
We watch these movies, we look back on history, and we wonder how people got it so wrong. How do you let things get to that point? How do you keep excusing it? How do you not fight against those tides with all you have?
Part of it has to do with what we are led to believe, and also with personal survival.
In May 1940, the People’s Research Survey polled Americans and asked, “Would it be wiser for us to join the war if the allies seem to be losing, or stay out in the hope that we can live in peace with the new German empire if Hitler wins?”
And 62% of Americans answered that they’d prefer to stay out of it and take their chances with Hitler. (Source.)
62%! Can you imagine?!
How much of that had to do with what people didn’t know about what was actually going on? (And, oh God, how much of it even if they did?!) How much did they choose to ignore or not to believe? What was the limit to what they could excuse?
How much don’t we know? And how much do we choose to ignore?
How many people crying out will it take for life to be important enough to stop? How much of the unbelievable becoming believable will it take?
Will our excuses ever run out?
Untitled sketch; pen & ink, 2011.