The best movies about food are those where there is none
Let’s talk about film food. And no, it’s not another rant about how much we all hate popcorn. It’s about what’s on the screen. What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think about food in movies.
For me it’s THAT scene at the restaurant in Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life. I don’t think you want me to talk about it, so we’re stop there.
Number two to pop up in my mind is La Grande Bouffe, where Marcello Mastroianni and his friends purposely and as far as I recall successfully eat themselves to death.
And then my mind drifts off to the futuristic cannibalism of Delicatessen. And cannibalism in turn opens up to a field of choices, ranging from The Silence of the Lambs to Alive!
Yes, I’m a sick, sick person.
In an attempt to appear as a normal person, I should obviously speak about good, uncontroversial food related movies, such as Sideways, Dinner Rush or Babette’s Feast.
I’m not going to do that though. It doesn’t raise my appetite to watch people helping themselves at lavish dinner tables such as the one in Marie Antoinette. If anything it makes me disgusted. But show me someone who is hungry for real, someone who is on the verge of starving to death – and I’ll think about food in a new way. After watching such a movie, a meal that I’d normally consider trivial, like having an apple or a sandwich, turns into a luxury.
The best movies about food are those where you don’t see much of it. It’s present as a dream. In this post I’m going to talk about one of them, The Road from 2009, which I recently paid a revisit. Do you remember it? If you’ve seen it, I bet you do. The image of the man-without-a-name and his son, walking through a world in ruins after an undefined disaster, with all their possessions in a shopping cart, doesn’t go away anytime soon. They’re sick, they’re freezing, they fear for their lives every second, afraid to become victims to cannibals.
I didn’t read movie blogs when it came out, so it was only later that I found out that it wasn’t overly well received. The film is based on a praised novel, and those who have read it claim that the adaption is inferior. To me it’s a non issue, since I’ve only seen the movie.
Some people accused it of being too much of a crowd pleaser, not dark enough, out of fear of scaring away the audience. Then there were others who claimed the opposite, thinking it was unbearably gloomy.
Unaware of the criticism, I loved it without any reservations when it came out and on my rewatch I found that it was just as good as I remembered it. It’s the harshest – and at the same time most believable – picture of the final days of mankind I’ve seen. And it’s so much more than just a survival story set in the future. It brings up all those questions – about ethics, about what it means to be human, about where our boundaries go and what makes life worth living at all. Would we or wouldn’t we eat other people if our survival depended on it? Even if we consider ourselves “good” people, is there a point where the survival instinct will take the overhand and lead us in a different direction? Is suicide ever justifiable? Each one of us will have a different answer to those questions, but in the end it’s all just speculation. We don’t know where we really stand until we’ve been in those shoes ourselves.
The Coke can scene
Back to the food again. While we don’t see much of it, it’s right there in the middle of The Road. When you strip your life from everything non-essential, it’s what it’s all about. Bread and water. Or a can of Coke. One day the father finds it, stuck in a vending machine and he insists on his son to have it. Judging from his reaction it might be the first he’s ever had, being born after the point when the world fell apart. The shared soda becomes a bubble of, if not happiness, at least temporary relief from everything that plagues them. Living in a world where people buy soft drinks in two liter bottles, I can’t help wondering if this abundance has made our senses numb. We don’t feel the taste from the drink anymore. We just drink it anyway, not enjoying it particularly much and aware of that it doesn’t do us any good.
Another memorable scene is when they find a shelter full of canned food. For the first time in the movie they have a real meal. It’s food that we normally would sneer at, but in this context it becomes an extraordinary dinner.
Put in that light, today’s dinner of macaroni and some fried sausages doesn’t appear all that bad.
And that’s why I watch movies in the first place: to challenge my perspective on life. It’s like with a snow globe. It needs a little shake-up once in a while to remain beautiful.
This post is a part of a blogathon run by the Swedish film blogging network Filmspanarna. The theme was “food”. Here’s a list of links to the other participants.