Alfonso Cuarón’s dystopic thriller Children of Men is set in a world in the near future (2027) in which the entire human race has become sterile. The film begins with a report of the murder of an 18 year old, nicknamed Baby Diego, whose claim to fame is that he was the world’s youngest human—the last human to be born before the infertility pandemic inexplicably brought a halt to all human births. The main plot of the film itself, meanwhile revolves around a young refugee (a “fugee”) named Kee (Claire-Hope Ashitey) who is found to be pregnant, and the efforts of the film’s protagonist, Theo (Clive Owen), a former activist cum bureaucrat who has been recruited to escort Kee to ship called the Tomorrow run by a group called the Human Project devoted to preserving humanity.
At one point near the beginning of the film, Theo visits his cousin Nigel (Danny Huston), a powerful government official who also collects art works to prevent them from being destroyed by the rampaging masses. Nigel’s collection includes such priceless and eclectic works as Picasso’s Guernica and a giant floating pig inspired by Pink Floyd. The most memorable image from his collection, however, is that of Michelangelo’s David— which been damaged in some of the recent violence, resulting in the statue’s left leg being broken off below the knee (this is probably inspired by a well-known incident in 1991, in which a vandal attacked the statue's left foot with a hammer). Nigel has restored the priceless work with a steel bar connecting the statue’s lower leg to the foot—suggesting the sort of prosthetic a soldier might receive after losing a limb in battle. While a prosthetic lower leg made out a light-weight metallic bar might offer considerable functional advantages for an actual person, in the case of a famous statue it serves as an explicit and poignant reminder of the violence that the work has undergone in the recent past.
The The Children of Men's use of David’s metallic prosthesis as an indexical trace of the past, however, stands in stark contrast with the film’s parallel fascination with the symbolic erasure of the recent past in favor of preserving (or recuperating) some sort of ideal origin. For instance, this amnesic erasure of the recent past can be seen in the figure of Baby Diego. Although, by the time of this death, “Baby” Diego is already an 18 year old adult, he is nevertheless symbolically frozen in time as a result of being consistently identified as the last human baby to be born. Not only is this identity responsible for his ultimate death (as a result of a fight with an over-enthusiastic autograph seeker), but furthermore the blanket media coverage of his death focuses almost exclusively on images of Diego’s infancy and early childhood—thereby eliding the significance of the adult individual which Diego had subsequently become.