“Over the next few hours, you will ingest fat, salt, sugar, protein, bacteria, fungi, various plants and animals. And at times, entire ecosystems.”
Last week I finally got to see what was probably my most anticipated movie of this fall. Watching it on the silver screen only added to what was a great viewing experience; the movie is a visual masterpiece and even though its tones and themes are reminiscent of some movies of the past, The Menu is unlike anything I have ever seen before.
The plot focuses on the characters of Tyler (played by Nicholas Hoult) and Margot (played by Anya Taylor-Joy, mostly known for Last Night in Soho and The Queen’s Gambit series, which I saw and recently reviewed on the blog). Tyler is passionate about food and haute cuisine and he’s happy to finally have the chance to dine at a prestigious restaurant located on a small Pacific island. The exclusive restaurant is run by kitchen guru Slowik (played by Ralph Fiennes in what is one of his best performances to date), along with his hard-working and efficient team, headed by the enigmatic Elsa (played by Hong Chau). Tyler and Margot arrive at the restaurant as a couple, along with other wealthy and privileged customers; they have no idea what the evening will turn out to be like, as Chef Slowik will unravel some shocking surprises along with his lavish menu.
This was one of the most unique movie-going experiences I have ever had in my life and so many moments in The Menu left me speechless. I also laughed multiple times throughout the movie because it could definitely be described as a dark comedy; there are some very funny scenes that are perfectly mixed with thriller and horror elements. The writing is superb and the characters are well-developed, which contributes to great performances by all the cast members. Different stories intertwine and reveal both the past of the characters and their personality traits.
The photography is absolutely amazing, especially the close-ups of the menu dishes; Peter Deming is an amazing director of photography who is known for his long-time collaboration with David Lynch (he was also director of photography in Mulholland Drive, one of my all-time favorite movies).
The Menu is a great satyrical movie that deals with many deep themes; it serves as a comment on capitalism and our society, focusing on the way we tend to obsess over prominent people who produce works of art, including food. It criticizes the idea of following trends no matter what and the majority of the scenes are really thought-provoking. The restaurant guests are all united by a sense of entitlement; for the wealthy, eating at a starred restaurant is just another way to spend their money and people who are already accustomed to luxury experiences will not be able to simply appreciate the act of eating, but instead they will turn it into a status symbol. These themes, along with the cult of personality, are deeply explored in OneTake’s video essay “What THE MENU Is Really About.”
The social observations in The Menu reminded me a lot of Parasite, which I plan to rewatch and review in the next future. Both these movies explore social inequalities, but The Menu is first and foremost about the concept of art. It is about the way art is commercialized and the fact that art can also be something that is created without passion and mostly serves to please viewers and consumers; this often ends up hurting the artist (in this case, the chef). Art without a real passion and appreciation does not make sense; it is degraded into mere content and it leaves behind a feeling of emptiness, mostly for the creator himself, whereas it should evoke a feeling and stir emotions from both sides. The movie also examines the pretentious ways of some artists and critics and the disingenuous behavior of people who like something because it’s cool to do so, without having real mastery of what they pretend to value. The element of suspense is maintained throughout the film; from the “bread-less bread” scene we begin to sense that we are going to witness something unique with disturbing implications. The Menu definitely gets darker with each passing moment and the way it was shot really makes the audience see food as art.
OTHER MOVIES TO WATCH: I already mentioned Parasite (2020), a South-Korean movie directed by Bong Joon Ho that deals with the consequences of social inequalities and the differences between the rich and the poor. It is a brilliant movie and one of the best I have ever watched. It deserves all the critical acclaim it kept receiving since it came out, as it is a truly amazing work of art; be sure to catch up with it if you haven’t seen it yet. I have recently been recommended The Invitation (2022) which includes a family gathering where the main character discovers some dark truths about their newfound relatives. It was cited among the best horror movies of 2022 so I hope to watch it soon! Get Out (2017) is another great horror movie directed by Jordan Peele and it is a commentary about race and class; watching it was a shocking experience and I kept thinking about the movie for days. High Rise (2015) is a very dystopian movie based on a novel by J.G. Ballard which explores the dark sides of capitalism and classism. It has also been compared to The Menu in some ways; as TheCinemaholic.com suggested, “While the amenities and exclusive parties in High Rise are indicators of a status symbol, The Menu represents the same concept through fine dining.”
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