Report Card: Children of Men

Read all Children of Men reviews in chronological order.

Depending on how you count, there are only 9 interfaces in Children of Men. This makes sense because it’s not one of those Gee-Whiz-Can-You-Believe-the-Future technofests like Forbidden Planet or Minority Report. Children of Men is a social story about the hopelessness of a world without children, so the small number of interfaces—and even the way they are underplayed—is wholly appropriate to the theme. Given such a small number, you would not expect them to be as spectacular as they are. Or maybe you would. I don’t know how you roll.


Sci: A (4 of 4) How believable are the interfaces?

The interfaces are wholly believable, given the diegesis. Technology is focused on security, transportation, and distracting entertainment, which is exactly what you’d expect. Nothing breaks physics or reason.

The only ding is that Quietus could have included some nod to its reimbursement promise, and that’s so minor it only reveals itself as a problem after deep consideration. It doesn’t break the flow of the film.

Fi: A (4 of 4) How well do the interfaces inform the narrative of the story?

All of the interfaces point back in some way to the world that created them and help move the story along. Security is everywhere. Jasper cobbles together technology to help his resistance. Suicide is a government-sanctioned option.

Interfaces: A- (4 of 4)
How well do the interfaces equip the characters to achieve their goals?

  • Luke’s HUD is a little slow, considering that its job is to help avoid collisions.
  • Jasper’s Home Alarm could do more to help its occupants respond effectively to the alarm.
  • The Music Player isn’t very readable at a distance.

These are the main three issues that mar an otherwise very well-considered set of interfaces and technologies.

Final Grade A (12 of 12), Blockbuster.

It’s rare that a film’s interfaces get a full blockbuster rating on this site. The only other one at the time of publication is The Fifth Element. And while I take pains to rate the interfaces as distinct from the movie, I’m pleased when such a brilliant (yet, ironically, dark) film includes brilliant interfaces as well.

Report Card: The Fifth Element


In full disclosure, The Fifth Element may be one of my favorite sci-fi films of all time. So I had to be extra vigilant about the reviews so as not to come off as a fanboy. Even with all that due diligence, Besson’s movie fared really well on a close examination of its interfaces.

Sci: A- (4 of 4)
How believable are the interfaces?

I’m giving the Ultimate Weapon a giant pass, since it’s the MacGuffin and more mystical than scientific. Other than that, there’s only three bits that really made me roll my eyes.

  1. The sleep regulator
  2. The nucleolab
  3. The Eeepholes.

That’s so few—out of dozens and dozens of interfaces—that it makes for a very believable technological universe in which the story can play out.

Fi: A (4 of 4)

How well do the interfaces inform the narrative of the story?

The technology brilliantly brings this world to life. Korben’s taxi and apartment interfaces (the cigarette dispenser, the nanny state slideaway bed, the pneumatic mail by which he’s fired) help us understand the dire circumstances in which he begins the story. The police interfaces (lockdown tools, compliance circles, on-car displays) tell of a police state that has gone off the deep end. Zorg’s little vacuum robots, weapons, and bombs, tell of a corporatist who’s lost his soul.

Interfaces: A (4 of 4)
How well do the interfaces equip the characters to achieve their goals?

Again, brilliantly. There are some missteps: The roach cam might have triggered less of a disgust reaction. Rhod’s rod might have been a little more performative. The police lights kind of work against their intentions. Whoever designed those evacuation beacons needs to be jailed for gross negligence. And the 5E-opedia could have been actually encyclopedic rather than random.

But there’s so much awesomeness to balance it out. The makeup tech fits fashionistas. The military communications fits soliders. The second bomb fits Mangalores. And of course the Ultimate Weapon fits multiple races across eons with its brilliant affordances and constraints.

For the sheer number of interfaces and the thought given to the aesthetic and interaction details, I’m proud that The Fifth Element has scored top marks, and just squeaked past another favorite, The Cabin in the Woods, for the top spot on the site so far. Here’s hoping more movies and television shows bring to life such a well-designed, personal vision of speculative technology, and grand adventures taking place amongst it.

Final Grade A (12 of 12), BLOCKBUSTER

Related lessons from the book

  • Lots of these interfaces could use a dose of lower case (Otherwise, AVOID ALL CAPS, page 34) but help confirm that Sans-Serif is the Typeface of the Future (page 37).
  • Korben’s alarm clock Uses Sound for Urgent Attention (page 208).
  • Korben’s taxi might have avoided pissing him off, Zorg’s desk might have saved its owner from a cherry, and Ruby’s staff might have allowed him to perform his playbacks had each Handled Emotional Inputs (page 214)
  • The multipass should have Required multifactor authentication (page 118)
  • The 5E-opedia could have Added Meaning to Information Through Organization (page 239) rather than use an alphabetical list.

New lessons

  • The military headsets remind us to Signal Dual-Presence, and additionally to Avoid Pushing into Wearables.
  • Korben’s alarm clock reminds us that Pain is an (Anti-)Affordance.
  • The Modoshawan flight controls want us to Map the Inputs to the Outputs.
  • The Mondoshawan un-disguising taught us to Use the Available Body Part in designing gestures.
  • The yellow circle compliance technique implies that we should Make Crisis Instructions Simple, Simple, Simple.
  • The terrible police chest lights should get agentive and Adjust Like a Good Valet.
  • The Ultimate Weapon reminds us to Keep Objects Orientationless if at all possible.