Children Of Men Is The Closest We'll Get To Michael Caine Playing John Lennon

Alfonso Cuarón's "Children of Men" was poorly marketed and almost too dystopian for audiences when it first debuted in theaters in 2006. Based on the 1992 novel by P.D. James, the world of "Men" is slowly crumbling and turning to chaos because of a mysterious affliction causing the act of child birth to become obsolete. Women can no longer conceive. Knowing that the human civilization now has a finite amount of time blankets the world, specifically London in the year 2021 (!), in a deep malaise and cultural depression. 

In the first scene of Cuarón's near masterpiece, the youngest person in the world, who has become a mega-celebrity, is suddenly killed. Hearing the news, most people begin to mourn in much the same way they did when John Lennon passed away in 1980. The ghost of Lennon and his legacy as a political activist is channeled by Michael Caine's laid back character Jasper Palmer later on in the film when a despondent Theo (Clive Owen) arrives at Jasper's protected enclave to find some quiet respite from the horrors outside. 

Jasper is a warm beacon of hope in "Children of Men" and something of a radical, a far cry from Michael Caine's actual political leanings in real life. Caine is actually quite conservative and served in the British Army in the 1950's. Luckily, Caine saw something in Jasper and gifted us with one of his most memorable roles, largely because Caine wanted to play Jasper as if he was an extension of John Lennon.  

Michael Caine as John Lennon

In a 2017 interview with Vulture, Cuarón reflected on the newfound acclaim that "Children of Men" has received over the years and touched on working with Caine, even if they happened to be on opposite sides of the political spectrum. Ten years on at that point, right-wing populism was on the rise in the age of Trump and Brexit, and Cuarón commented on how "Children of Men" felt like it may have been making predictions about our future. "A very sad fact is that people, they've been talking about the stuff that's been happening. People have been warning about it." The director went on to say that, for all its prescient social commentary, "'Children of Men' is a product of that. 'Children of Men is not a prophetic piece." 

Perhaps that humble perspective is one of the reasons why Cuarón and Caine worked so well together. Cuarón never claimed to be a soothsayer, and as a result, "Children of Men" is more a tale of survival. Theo meets Jasper at the beginning of his journey and then embarks on an almost Odyssean adventure. When they were filming that first pot-smoking scene, Cuarón didn't even know that Caine was a conservative. They just bonded over John Lennon. The director recalled:

"When we met, I guess we connected because he met John Lennon, and he said, 'Can I play as if I was John?' I said, 'That's fantastic.' But then we're doing the pot-smoking scene, and at some moment, Michael started to get that I wasn't very conservative. I can tell that for a second, Michael thinks, Why am I sitting here?"

Parallel realities

The knowledge that Michael Caine was essentially pretending to be John Lennon in those sequences gives an entirely new lens to watch his character Jasper through. The sci-fi dystopia presented in "Children of Men" takes place in an alternate timeline from ours, and it's somewhat comforting to imagine (pun intended) a world where Lennon is still alive, even if it's a world that is in danger of falling into despair and total extinction. Thanks to this small snippet of info from Cuarón, Lennon exists in that version of London and his spirit is preserved. Throughout "Children of Men" there's a ghostly remembrance for the artists of yesteryear. Theo's rich cousin Nigel (Danny Huston) collects pop art and classical sculpture to make him sleep better at night, and songs like "Ruby Tuesday" by the Rolling Stones create a longing for the important artists of our time.  

"Children of Men" could be looked at as another "What If...?" example of what the world would look like if John Lennon was still with us. If he was, would he resolve himself to a dark fate like Jasper or would he be fighting with the cause until his last days on Earth? Personally, I can't see Lennon taking the suicide pill Quietus and ending it all. Danny Boyle's "Yesterday" also comes to mind when Jack (Himesh Patel), the only person on the planet who remembers The Beatles, visits an older John Lennon, who is now just a quiet fisherman. In this alternate reality, Lennon was never shot by Mark David Chapman that fateful night at The Dakota on 72nd street. That's a beautiful idea, and now "Children of Men" can perhaps be another reality where Lennon's spirit still soars.