With its beautifully provocative name, We Ate the Children Last is a fluid bit of satire, not content to focus its biting imagery on any one concept or group. Probably because “society” is a big target and man is a fragile, flawed thing.
Based on the short story from Yann Martel, who wrote “Life of Pi,” the short film glides through the intensifying history of a medical procedure meant to remove stomach cancer (and the stomach) which has the unfortunate side effect of making patients crave trash. Just right there, you can see how the satirical teeth have a lot of soft spots to focus on. Here’s an excerpt from the original:
Little was made at the time of a report by the Société protectrice des animaux on the surprising drop in the number of stray cats and dogs. Garbage became a sought-after commodity. Unscrupulous racketeers began selling it. Dumps became dangerous places. Garbage collectors were assaulted. The less fortunate resorted to eating grass.
Director Andrew Cividino’s version uses the skeleton and fills out the muscles with grotesque visuals to further illustrate the result of societal backlash. Posh people digging into garbage in a fine dining atmosphere, protests against a newly crafted subsect, and empty streets strewn with broken glass and a busted world.
There’s a mixture of tones here that works really well. From cheery, incongruous scenes to the standard grubbiness of Dystopian cities, it all confuses the central worth of the sci-fi conceit in a sharp way. Here’s this medical solution to a tragic problem, and it has side effects like almost all medical solutions. The patients are saved, then they’re monsters, then they’re a subjugated class.
The only thing missing from the short film is Martel’s direct, Swiftian suggestion that giving poor people a hunger for trash would be a social good because, you know, the poor would be fed and there would be less garbage. Still, it’s a striking, often uncomfortably funny short with a vein of Black Mirror running through it.