'The Menu' Is About How Oppressive It Is To Create Things
(but with more food porn)
This post will contain major plot details about ‘The Menu,’ out in theaters right now, but it does not spoil the ending.
The Menu (2022, dir. Mark Mylod) is a thriller that takes place over the course of a single evening. In the movie, Ralph Fiennes plays Julian Slowik, a legendary chef who runs Hawthorne, an ultra-exclusive restaurant in the Pacific Northwest. Hawthorne is the type of restaurant that uses advanced cooking techniques like molecular gastronomy to deliver gorgeous, experimental and theatrical dishes for guests that pay upwards of $1K per sitting. Unfortunately for Hawthorne’s guests, Slowik is serving up more than just food tonight.
Slowik takes his art very seriously; every meal is a pure creative act that requires ingenuity and sacrifice. But making a meal can easily be read as any a metaphor for any kind of artistic endeavor. The Menu is ostensibly about chef serving dinner but its satire is relevant for any creator putting on a play, directing a movie, or creating an album.
What takes place over the course of the evening is a series of escalating torments. Slowik puts his dining guests through the wringer and it’s not clear who, if anyone, will make it out alive. The film creatively uses the multi-course structure of a high-end meal to mirror the punishments that Slowik metes out (and thus has vague hints of the perverse pleasures of a movie like Se7en).
But why would he do this? It turns out that Slowik has invited every guest to tonight’s seating for a specific reason: they’ve each wronged him in some way. There’s the pretentious food critic Lillian Bloom (Janet McTeer) whose words have brought down empires but who’s risked nothing herself. There are the repeat customers, Richard and Anne (Reed Birney and Judith Light), who consistently eat at Hawthorne but don’t appreciate the complexity of Slowik’s creations. The finance guys (Rob Yang, Arturo Castro, Mark St. Cyr) not only expect special treatment but their work consigns Slowik to a life of joyless servitude. (I won’t spoil what the others represent but suffice it to say there are some fun surprises)
Even the culture around Slowik himself is not spared. Slowik’s employees all revere him, hang on his every word, and move in intoxicating synchrony with each other. But their over-the-top behaviors and mannerisms feel to me as though they’re taking aim at how in our culture, film directors are often worshipped to an outsized degree.
The Menu has a sharp script that is overtly silly at times but always fun. Its direction and editing expertly amp up the tension as the evening continues (it’s no surprise that Mark Mylod, who’s one of the main creative voices behind Succession, would be so good at taking down foodie culture). But what lingers for me is Slowik’s contempt for everything and everyone around him. This is the man who’s at the top of his game in his particular field. If this is the best that one can hope for — the best of who he can surround himself with — what was it all for in the first place?
That good Elon content
Twitter’s fast-motion implosion has become a daily spectacle that is impossible to look away from. What I’d recommend you read this week to catch up:
From WaPo: Musk gave employees an ultimatum to either take severance or work “extremely hardcore” on a new Twitter 2.0.
From NYTimes: WAY more people than expected took the severance instead of accepting the terms of the ultimatum. An estimated 1,200 employees resigned, leaving Twitter with ~2,500 employees (it had 7,500 a month ago)
Twitter’s former Head of Trust and Safety explained why he left: “A Twitter whose policies are defined by edict has little need for a trust and safety function dedicated to its principled development.”
- sums up the situation thusly: “[A]s an expert on the subject, I believe that Elon Musk is currently in the process of ruining his life.”
Stuff I’ve made
[PAID ONLY] On the Filmcast Patreon page, I asked Devindra and Jeff to figure out the top 10 most influential movies of all time.
[PAID ONLY] On my personal Patreon page, I posted a video of the talk I gave at the Hawai’i International Film Festival this year: 11 Things I Learned from 11 Years of Podcasting.
If you enjoyed this issue, be sure to follow me on Letterboxd and Tiktok! I’ll plan to post reviews there as well.
For Decoding TV, my wife and I discussed the first three episodes of The Crown Season 5. They weren’t very good but the conversation about them was!
Also on Decoding TV, I recapped the penultimate episode of Andor with Patrick Willems. Listen to it here or watch it on YouTube below.