Both 1984 (W.H Auden) and Children of Men (Alfonso Cuaron) explore the nature of dystopian societies. While Children of Men revolves around propaganda and warfare in an infertile world, it is 1984 focusing on an individual’s rebellion against a totalitarian government which conveys a future at its bleakest. Government control and its impact on citizens is a theme used to portray the dystopian future of both texts. “Children of Men” conveys a future where the government controls the state of society and the actions of its citizens through the use of propaganda in whatever way they see fit.
Obvious from the beginning of the film, the audience is introduced to a city of urban squalor. Through dull lighting and the mise-en-scene, the city takes on a third-world appearance with rubbish-strewn streets, primitive transportation and a thick polluted atmosphere as if it were set in the past rather than the future. However, as the film progresses, a complete contrast to the city in the form of advanced advertising becomes present in the shot; it is through such advertising that many of the government’s priorities are revealed throughout the film, even for them to go so far as to have their citizens wake up to an advertisement for suicide kits on the television. This presents the audience with the views and priorities of the government. Rather than spare funds towards helping its society, the government chooses to advertise suicide kits for citizens who are unhappy with the state of the world the government has created.
1984 establishes its dystopian view of the future within the first few sentences of the novel, with Auden using sensory visualization “vile wind,” “smelt of boiled cabbages,” “gritty dust” to convey a dilapidated outlook of the world. 1984 also presents a totalitarian outlook of the world through its government (Party), who are “solely interested in the quest for power. Not wealth or luxury or long life or happiness: only power, pure power.” The Party employs coercive methods to create obedient and apathetic citizens such as newspeak, the destruction of the English language literally stripping it down to the bone. Hence if there are no words for a society to express their feelings, the Party can abolish such feelings altogether, ensuring that its citizens only feel what the Party wants them to feel. Auden highlights the extent of government control through the surveillance placed upon every citizen of Oceania society, from posters that “are so contrived that the eyes follow you about when you move” to “telescreens” that serve as viewing windows into the lives of every individual.
This constant surveillance ensures obedience from every citizen, regardless of whether it is out of fear or love. Another method used is “doublethink,” which allows the Party to alter reality upon desire. If the Party requires 2+2 to qual 5, doublethink makes it so, coercively forcing its citizens into submission. Through Auden’s portrayal of the extreme measures the Party performs in its incessant quest for power is a clear indication that 1984 portrays a much sinister government than that of Children of Men. Another theme present in both texts is the possibility of hope for the future. Both texts convey this theme through the thoughts and actions of their main character. While in Children of Men, the main character “Theo” prevails in his journey to prevent the impending extinction of humanity, 1984, in complete contrast, has its main character “Winston” tortured and manipulated, leaving no hope for society.
Hope is best demonstrated in Children of Men during the film’s final scene as Theo and Kee are floating out of the darkness of the sewers and into the light of the ocean, where they are united with the “Human Project.” The transition from dark to light as Theo and Kee leave the sewers symbolizes this event is what will ultimately lead to the transition of the future from darkness to light. This is further represented by the Human Projects boat “Tomorrow,” indicating the past is over, tomorrow is the new beginning. Finally, as the last scene fades to the credits, the sound of children’s laughter can be heard in the background, presenting the audience with perhaps a glimpse of the future of the world.
In 1984 however, Auden has Winston, along with any hope for the future, completely stamped out. The “Brotherhood” said to be the organization leading the rebellion against the Party turns out to be nothing more than a fictitious ploy set up by the Party itself. Winston is captured, tortured and left “waiting for the bullet.” Indeed, the book’s last words are Winston confessing his love for the head figure of the party (Big Brother), “He had won a victory over himself. He loved Big Brother”. It is through Auden’s demise of Winston, along with all that he represented, that 1984 creates a dystopian world for which there is no hope for humanity. Through themes such as government control, the exploration and annihilation of hope, Auden creates a truly dystopian vision of the future in 1984, a future much bleaker the that of Children of Men, which, although coveys a dystopian society, presents a possibility of change for the future, a possibility of hope.