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The Menu

When I recently sat down to watch The Menu, I watched it with my partner Josh - who really does not like 'artsy' films. We watched 'The Platform' a few days later, and I tell you... that was an 'artsy' film, even more so than even I like. But that is for a different day.




So, The Menu.


I really enjoyed the casting. I liked seeing Nicholas Hoult (fond memories of About A Boy come to mind) and Ralph Fiennes. I also really liked seeing John Leguizamo in this (being an English teacher, Romeo and Juliet is just one of my favourite films). I know that Anya Taylor-Joy has been in lots of newer TV shows, but I haven't actually seen her in anything else yet, so I thought she was quite good in this. I think they made up part of a really well-put-together cast that worked with the film.


I've heard a few people hype about this film, being a Disney+ title with some very well-known faces, I could see why. But the storyline also matched up to the hype (in my opinion!) Josh didn't like it too much as you had to think about the character's motives a little bit, which means not being fed every detail (no pun intended). However, I really enjoy this element of a film, so I prefer it when I need to think a little harder to get the meaning behind everything.




Obviously: spoiler alert! So, please don't continue if you haven't seen it and still wish to. We have a story about an artist who spends their life trying to become the best in their craft and realising they have wasted their time once they get there. Chef Slowik (Ralph Fiennes) started off small cooking cheeseburgers and ended up being the head chef at one of the most prestige, sought-after restaurants ever. With an expensive, exclusive and exceptional night ahead, Tyler (Nicholas Hoult) brings Margot (Anya Taylor-Joy) as his unexpected plus-one for a night he's been longing for.



Margot seems unimpressed by the whole show and does not understand the high-end necessity for the pretentious experience. Tyler tries to explain his reasons for loving the whole experience, but when Jeremy (one of the other cooks) shoots himself for the course names 'The Mess', we start to see how the evening may not be as high-end as the guests had hoped. With meaning behind every course, Chef Slowik explains how Jeremy has also been working his whole career to try to be as good as Slowik. However, Slowik describes 'The Mess' of his life - how working to be the best has left him without friends or companions, only employees. He asks Jeremy if he wants his life - not his job or his title, but his life - and Jeremy does not. He realises that to be like Slowik, he must have everything, not just the title, but his whole life. As he does not want this, but also does not see a purpose to his life if he is not working towards his career goals, he shoots himself for the guests to see and is dragged away by the other cooks.




Not long after this happens, we have the course 'Palate Cleanser', where Slowik speaks to a few different parties, one being his regulars. We find out they have visited Hawthorne 11 times over the years. The husband cannot name a single dish that he has been served before, even though Slowik introduces every single dish with every single course and explains the complexities and the art behind everything he serves - and he cannot remember a single thing. His wife naively tries to suggest 'cod' to he husband to spare embarrassment, but - quite hilariously - Slowik replies "It wasn't cod, you donkey. It was halibut.' I especially liked this film because it wonderfully wound humour through the irony and cynicism of the film. This is one of the most important parts of the film to understand the underlying message. Chef Slowik dreamed to be at the top of his art - serving customers of the highest end that can pay and appreciate what he does. However, he has come to realise that the more privileged his customer, the less they actually care about the meaning behind the menu - not even remembering what they have eaten. He puts his heart and soul into his work for no one to ever appreciate or even notice what they are shoving into their faces.



Margot becomes an interest to Chef Slowik as he always wants to know about their guests. However, as Margot was a last-minute addition to the guest list, he does not understand her and asks if she should be with the guests or the employees. Trying to work out whether she is someone who provides for others or takes, he sets her to a task to help him. A few things go wrong whilst she is completing this errand for Slowik, including Margot killing the head server and attempting to call for help (only to find out that the coast guard is also in on the plan).



However, one thing that does go right (at least, for Margot) is discovering Slowik's past - a photograph of him looking very happy being a lowly cook (albeit Employee of the Month) making cheeseburgers at 'Hamburger Howie's. As Slowik has told Margot that everyone will die by the end of the night, she must think of a way back home.


This photo becomes her last attempt at freedom. Something clicks at the very end of the meal, before the final course, Margot asks for a simple cheeseburger. Seeing the photo of a smiling and happy Slowik, she knows that she can most likely get him to make her a cheeseburger and - with the smallest chance she can reach his buried heart - convince him to let her leave. She has paid close attention to Slowik's motivations behind the evening and has seen his pain in the lack of appreciation for his art from these paying customers. She complains that his food is made with 'no love' and that she is 'still fucking hungry'. She asks Slowik for this cheeseburger to try and get him to remember his roots, the reasons why he became a chef and worked so hard to achieve his goals. He obliges and makes her a cheeseburger and she exclaims how much she loves it.




However, after her first bite, she says that she may have ordered this cheeseburger and is too full to now eat it - so she asks for it to go. Something like this would hearken back to his older chef days when people would not be able to afford to eat out all the time and, if they ordered something they were unable to finish, they would not be able to simply leave it and would ask for it to go - the true signs of appreciation as they have to take it home to finish it.



Slowik simply bags up the cheeseburger and allows Margot to leave. As she turns to face the other diners as she is exiting (minus Tyler as he eventually hung himself as he was such a disappointment to Chef), we see their solemn but accepting faces as they look to her for one last chance of hope. There is nothing Margot can do however, everything has been strategically planned by Slowik and his crew and they are at their final course. The wife of the elderly couple simply gestures her hand to say 'get out, while you still can' and Margot turns and finally gets away.




After she leaves, the final course - dessert - is a play on s'mores where the guests get covered in chocolate and marshmallows and get burned alive. A pretty gruesome way to go, but I get why Slowik chose this as their end. "It represents everything wrong with us and yet we associate it with innocence". But he goes on to say that fire transforms the s'more and makes it better. He says they need to 'embrace the flame' and be 'cleansed' by the fire. I believe it is his way to be reborn into a life where he does not make a 'mess' of it and it is not 'ruined' by others.




Before he begins the final course, Slowik announces, "Thank you again for dining with us tonight. You represent the ruin of my art and my life. And now, you get to be part of it. Part of what I hope is my masterpiece." This is his final attempt to be the best - the top of his art, forever. He will not simply be forgotten about like any other chef or artist, but he will be remembered for this final 'masterpiece'. Ironically, in the attempt to fix his life and the mess he has made of it by striving for greatness, he is still trying to be the best and be recognised - the very thing that led him to this violent end. It reminds us of Macbeth and his hunger for power and how he causes his own downfall in the acts he commits in his attempt to gain it. Slowik's hamartia becomes his desire to be the best in his art and it ultimately leads to his unhappiness, his undoing and his demise.




As we watch the customers and staff burn to death, we cut to Margot, now on board the boat she managed to escape on. She sits on the bow to watch the desperation of the restaurant and to finish her cheeseburger. Wiping her mouth with the copy of the night's menu is the final punchline. After everything Slowik did to be known... to be revered and admired, this now won't happen because of his actions in this evening's events. Margot was there first hand, had Tyler explaining the importance of fine dining, had Slowik introducing and explaining the meaning behind every dish and she still sees him as a madman who killed a handful of people because he wasn't happy with his life.




He may have worked his way up to be the best in his art but it still wasn't enough. His life wasn't enough, his success wasn't enough, the appreciation simply was not enough. How can anyone keep going and going knowing that they will never be enough? I like to think that the overall message behind 'The Menu' is that we should always accept where we are in life and be grateful and happy with just being sometimes. We may not be the best and people may not appreciate us in the way we wish, but that shouldn't matter. If we appreciate ourselves and know that we are trying our best to do good, then why shouldn't that be enough? Why do we have to be the best all the time?



I did really like 'The Menu' and would 100% recommend it. Let me know in the comments what you thought if it if you have seen it before!


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