Mexican director Alfonso Cuaron took home a golden statue for a tiny little picture called “Gravity” back in 2013. The film was, to say the least, divisive here in the States. For some, it expanded the collective perception of what cinema could be, while others felt it was an indulgent doodle that disguised a hokey, contrived Hollywood narrative with groundbreaking technical prowess. Truth be told, I find myself a bit in the middle on that particular film, but if there’s one project of Cuaron’s that will surely stand the test of time, it is his shattering, awe-inspiring 2006 dystopian drama “Children of Men”.
That film managed to successfully marry Cuaron’s artistic and commercial sensibilities (lest we forget, this is the man who contributed to the lucrative “Harry Potter” franchise AND made the startling “Y Tu Mama Tambien”). It is both a crackerjack apocalyptic thriller and also a devastating and damning condemnation of unchecked capitalism at its absolute worst. The film is also a rich, tactile visual experience, with Cuaron filling every inch of the frame with telling and important details. In a new supercut called “Don’t Ignore the Background” from The Nerd Writer, the viewer is invited to take a deeper peek into Cuaron’s beautifully constructed look at the end of times, in hopes that we, the passive audience member, are able to examine the well of reference and homage that gives the director’s work heft and a sort of grim, real-life immediacy.
“Children of Men” unfolds in a bleak, colorless Britain where a brutal winter seems to have eradicated all other seasons entirely. It is a terrible, angry reflection of the world that we currently inhabit, and certainly not one without resonance. Indeed, the video’s narrator goes so far as to include Donald Trump’s now-infamous slur against Mexican immigrants — you know, the one where he refers to the group as a whole as being a bunch of “rapists” and “criminals.” If anything, it’s a distressing sign of how far we haven’t come. Turns out, Cuaron’s disturbing vision of our future isn’t quite as far-fetched as one might initially think. “Don’t Ignore the Background” also thoughtfully examines the film’s juxtaposition of background and foreground, and how Cuaron expertly sketches the world in which his story takes place while never taking his focus off Clive Owen’s spiritually broken government bureaucrat Theo and the fundamental human drama at the center of the narrative.
“Children of Men” is also loaded with references to both high and low culture — there’s a sly nod to Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus” when the film’s big twist is revealed, as well as passing mention of Picasso’s “Guernica,” and even an outré reference to the cover of Pink Floyd’s seminal record “Animals” in the form of that big, ghastly pink pig that looms over what’s left of Britain in a crucial segment. The inclusion of subversive music picks like Radiohead’s chilling “Life in a Glass House,” and the great, subversive anti-authority anthem “The Court of the Crimson King” by, you guessed it, King Crimson, lend texture and resonance to Cuaron’s stirring portrait of a society running itself into the ground. There’s a whole lot to dig into here, even if the video isn’t particularly long.
Watch the whole thing below. And please, please, go watch “Children of Men” if you haven’t already.