A colourful dish with subtle notes of irony and an aromatic sauce of feminist fightback. Keep ’em coming!
Spoiler Alert: The review contains descriptions of scenes and hints to the ending.
If you are still trying to decide whether you are going to watch Mylod’s new film, ‘The Menu’, let us assure you that if you do, you will be making a prime reservation.
Obviously, Ralph Fiennes and Ana Taylor-Joy are guaranteed to make it worthy of your time. However, this is not to say that the film is a 10/10 but believe us when we say that this is not a bad thing.
How come, you ask?
The film flows very pleasantly and does not fail to capture your attention even though it is not a thriller in the classical sense of building suspense as the movie progresses. You will like it for the dominant atmosphere, you will love it for the ever present irony and you will smirk while listening to those cocky, pretentious but utterly realistic dialogues of the restaurant customers to a point that you’ll think that you actually happen to know someone who talks and walks and acts like them.
What makes the film incredible though is the mastery of concealing so many symbolisms into seemingly unrelated scenes that pass momentarily before our eyes. So it doesn’t really matter if we didn’t give a standing ovation for a grand ending or if the plot had a couple minor predictable turns, because the body of the film was giving out all kinds of secret flavours (we will stop with the food metaphors now!).
The plot is easy to follow. A bunch of rich, posh, anyone who is anyone visits a private island to enjoy an evening of fine cuisine, an exclusive dinner prepared by a renown chef (Fiennes) and his team. Along with them, a woman of no means, just a lady going on a date with an annoying foodie who lives for the experience. To this entitled crowd everything is about the experience. It is a chance to casually say ‘I was there’. The evening takes a bad turn when the chef and his soldier like team announce that after this night nobody will actually survive to brag about this to another dinner party. And so it begins.
Already since the beginning there are a few obvious things. The way these people talk and carry themselves, the enraging way they don’t appreciate the rare ingredients harvested solely for their palates, the fact that they have paid a month’s rent and yet the food is the last thing they care about. The sustainability argument is evident from the very first scenes. We consume more than we can sustainably produce, we are irresponsibly greedy while other people starve and nature suffers. And then it continues to show the attitudes of people who are used to having everything from their bad manners to their cowardly obedience when they realise they will be punished for being exactly that.
Where is the novelty in that? Is it the same old story of how the bad rich people exploit the working class? We dare say it isn’t. Or at least it’s a lot more than a war between the classes. It includes the realisation that in capitalism we are all-in one way or the other-victims and perpetrators at the same time. You can despise the system alright but you will find it really difficult to break free from it. This is not a new message either though; It is however a useful and honest starting point for what is to follow.
What is refreshingly new is how the film moves beyond ideas of the typical class war that ends in a bloodbath and with the usual suspect being on the loser’s side. Instead, it presents not only an alternative outcome but an alternative art of war altogether.
Margot, represents the feminist response of the working class by redefining the rules of the battle. It is not reformism, it is clever survival.
There is a a series of scenes filled with meaning that point to this conclusion. Here is our interpretation of them (yes, maybe Mylod was thinking something completely different than this but we’ll tell you anyway).
One scene is when the entrées are served without bread, a move which actually causes several heated reactions around the tables. It is irrational to taste dips and sauces without bread, the chef’s bread is popular and after all people have paid to be served the best, n’est-ce pas? The scene revolves so much around the scarcity of bread, that it has to be a symbolism. The bread – an absolute essential among the otherwise fancy dishes- is the first thing to be taken away from those wealthy guests, the same way it has been deprived from the working people by the ruling classes. Τhis automatically leads us to think, almost of nothing else than the famous phrase Bread and Roses. It is about survival and meaningful life and the loss of them. So this seemingly irrelevant scene, is exactly where we pinpoint the beginning of everything, a clear message that all privileges have been lost and soon life will be too.
Another example is when the sous chef commits suicide in front of the customers. His shuttered dream of achieving excellence is brought to a close in the form of a spectacle. You will not see the struggle of the lonely man as he contemplates his life in a dark bridge or miserable room. This man is in the hospitality business and these people in front of him are paying customers. His death is part of the experience. If this isn’t Society of the Spectacle at its best, then what is? But there is more to it. In the film, we see a kitchen staff behaving like soldiers knowing very well that crying and questioning of the superior is simply not allowed. In real life, we are bombarded with content about productivity and wellness lost in a narrative of neoliberalism, which stipulates that becoming the best version of yourself implies achieving the highest level of performance through an individual(ised) improvement routine. And while on a very superficial reading personal growth does not sound necessarily like a bad thing, to equate one’s value with performance, does, Because it does not allow room for more radical forms of care to emerge. Care which does not prioritise productivity and results but happiness and serenity. Care as a collective and communal process of achieving happiness and well-being.
A third scene is that of Margot anxiously trying to find a way out of this dreadful situation by sneaking to the chef’s room. There she has to face the chef’s most loyal employee, who instead of realising the absurdity of the plan, actually puts up a fight out of fear that she will no longer be the favourite. And we can see the division of the working class plain as day but we can also see how it is two women fighting within a nexus of survival and acceptance from the chef, the great artist, the decision maker for everyone’s fate in the film (and let us remind you at this point that the original idea of the death actually came by a female in the kitchen who only revealed it when in the private company of the other female guests).
In the end, Margot lived. She surely fought, but her battle didn’t result into a bloodbath of her making, she didn’t cause any more losses than already where bound to happen, she didn’t try to prevent them either, one could say. She won because – to quote Harvey Specter from Suits- she played the man, not the case.
What about the fellow workers and everyone else she left behind, you might ask. The way we understand it there did not seem to be much connection with them in the first place. Margot abandoned qualities, ethics and attitudes that were problematic, unsustainable and intolerable. She abandoned a corrupt group of entitled brats, some bootlicking kitchen staff and a chef. And while the chef was not the leading person in the film, his figure holds plenty of meaning too. The chef is the person who has orchestrated this game of revenge, an appearance of justice but what kind of justice are we really talking about when at the same time he is not only a perpetrator of sexual harassment but a person with authoritative tendencies clearly in a state of distress?
While the chef distributed a dirty and torn apart laminated menu advertising revenge as a soothing dish to appease the anger of the exploited working classes, Margot introduces a signature dish made of pure revolution. And as you know, the revolution will be feminist or it will not happen at all!