December 9, 2022 | CULTURE | By Frances Thyer | Illustration by Liz White
For a film set at an exclusive offshore restaurant, “The Menu”provides a seat at the table for a range of audiences; the film is equally about the headspaces of the chef and staff as it is about the restaurant patrons. Additionally, the film is duly about the food itself and what it represents. Where comedy meets horror, you’ll find qualities of both the blockbuster and alternative genres, with something for the cooking connoisseur and those with no interest in the world of food.
Director Mark Mylod, known for his contributions to series such as “Game of Thrones”, “Shameless”, and “Succession”, creates an ecosystem of characters with predation and competition clearly at play.
The film opens as a small group of privileged restaurant-goers boards a boat headed to the highly exclusive Hawthorne, located on a private island. The invite list includes a movie star, businessmen, and a food critic, embodying the uneven distribution of societal wealth.
Margot Mills, played by Anya Taylor-Joy, is a last-minute addition to the event due to an invitation that ends up causing concerns to her own safety (not to mention a moral debate for the chef himself). Taylor-Joy plays a fierce female lead, especially seated alongside her particularly obnoxious dinner date Tyler, played by Nicholas Hoult.
Mylod creates multidimensional characters who go beyond the divisions of class, where the weak and the brave are defined by action instead of their situation. Much of the humor of the film ultimately comes from Tyler’s character, where ignorance and indulgence seem to continuously override common sense. The film lends itself to two main questions: where would you fit in, and how would you react?
“The Menu”speaks to socioeconomic divisions on macro and micro scales, from the cooking industry specifically to larger issues of capitalist greed. A particularly telling scene entails chef Julian Slowik, played by Ralph Fiennes, asking Tyler to cook a meal in front of the kitchen staff; the climax of a series of irksome and egotistic comments about his knowledge of food, the sequence speaks to the divide between the talented yet unseen and those with the wealth and power to put up the façade of brilliance.
The food itself in the film speaks to the unavoidable issue of wealth, from the incredibly rich being denied bread because they are not “common people” to an iconic final emphasis on the power of the simple cheeseburger. Despite the gruesome violence and ridiculous dinner table conversation, at its core “The Menu”investigates the tolls of attempting to please the insatiable and the irrelevance of money to core human nature.
The elegant descriptions of dishes, no matter how crude or cruel they may be, resemble a page in a fancy cookbook, a fitting garnish to a film committed to its satirical moments. The decisions of the patrons, as well as the staff, lend themselves to the deadly sins; their pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, anger, and sloth are ultimately the cause of their demise.
“The Menu”is now playing in theaters.