Children of Men vs. Singularity

Ever since the dawn of human history, art and science has been radically different in their imagination of the future. Running the risk of being over-simplistic, we may conclude that science is always optimistic, looking forward to greater achievements, whereas art tends to be pessimistic, nostalgic to the good old primitive days.

Recently I had the pleasure to watch one of the “contenders for Oscar” film called the Children of Men. Its plot basically revolves around a mysterious infertility problem which plagues human species in the year of 2027. The film starts with a news broadcast of the tragic death of the “youngest man on earth”, aged 18, where everyone is stunned and some, mostly women, cry. Understandably human being is never completely out of hope. A black woman, illegal immigrant as they call it, is miraculously (what a depiction of Virgin Mary) pregnant. Political parties, as you would expect, want to grab the chance to their own benefit. It raises naturally the humanistic response of rescue, which, alas, inevitably falls onto the shoulders of our protagonist Theo, played by Clive Owen. So much for the story.

I am not familiar with the Mexican director Alfonso Cuaron. But apparently he has done a good job in this film. The overall atmosphere is carefully contained, without excessive sentimentality. Performances of the actors are great, especially Michael Caine. And there is one marvelous pseudo-docuemtary style six-minutes-long-shot towards the end of the film. In terms of masterful mise-en-scene, I believe it is comparable to the opening of Touch of Evil. So much for the film.

It strikes me that the film is set in 2027. Interestingly, I was reading only a week ago a very informative and audacious book written by Ray Kurzweil, Singularity is Near. As a fanatic believer of strong AI, Kurzweil’s book is a treat for me. If his previous book, The Age of Spiritual Machine, kind of confirms my perspective of the field, this new book, published in 2005, reveals vast area of scientific research to which I have yet to gain some knowledge. In brief, Kurzweil predicts, and overwhelmingly substantiates, that by 2030 human being will be possessing revolutionary breakthrough in nanotechnology, genetic engineering and robotics.

In Children of Men, although it seems that we do possess some advanced technologies, such as the jukebox in Caine’s home, elegant LCDs, the world we would be living in is stylistically “retrogressive”. To use its own words, “The world is collapsing, only Britain soldiers on.” The statement is clear: science could be powerful, but problems will persist and human won’t be happy. In retrospective, this is probably true. Kurzweil’s world eliminates too many indispensable aspects of human society—it is strictly scientific and technological. Five hundreds years ago, if Leonardo da Vinci were to write a book about future, he would most probably depict it as an ideal world where all the problems he witnessed in his time miraculously vanish. We do have helicopters now. So what? It only makes massive destruction easier.

I must say that watching the film discourages me a lot. Reading Kurzweil makes one almost impatient to arrive at the future, to enjoy its massive benefits, to have your body renewed, to pursuit your creativity effortlessly, but in Cuaron’s world, it seems that I need to find a shelter first in case I am an illegal immigrant and face the danger of being evacuated.


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