By Sam Vine
The Menu is directed by Mark Mylod and stars Anya Taylor-Joy and Ralph Fiennes. Although The Menu is technically in the horror/thriller genre, it truly is a deep satire about the wealthy and the way we consume media.
The movie focuses on a group of ultra-wealthy people who are traveling to a secluded island where they are planning to dine at Chef Slowik’s (Ralph Fiennes) legendary culinary temple, Hawthorne.
Everything at Hawthorne is planned out and functions like a well-oiled machine. With the creative genius of Chef Slowik, whom everyone reveres as a god, they have been able to push the limits of taste and fine dining for decades.
However, the chef has a very special and meticulously planned “menu” for the night. Each dish is used as a way of mocking the patrons and dealing out condemnation for their sins so that Slowik’s own sins, by perpetuating this broken system, can be redeemed.
While a masterclass in satire, The Menu also contains some career-defining performances by the supporting cast, especially Hong Chau, who assists Ralph Fiennes’s character and clashes with the protagonist played by Anya Taylor-Joy.
Ralph Fiennes, however, delivers the best performance of the year and easily steals every scene he is in. The way he is able to terrify the audience while making us feel for him as he shows us the extreme pain and mental suffering he is experiencing as a result of the bitter world he inhabits is truly astounding.
There are six unique groups of people seated at different tables, and even though most of these characters may be one-dimensional and are almost comically satirized, it actually helps represent the groups of people that this movie is condemning. In our culture, we are constantly consuming media, but, as this movie shows, we are consuming it all wrong.
John Leguizamo plays a washed-up movie star, George Diaz. With him at his table is his assistant, Felicity Lynn, played by Aimee Carrero. Diaz is an old star who has lost his passion for his craft. He no longer makes movies for the people or because he loves them, but simply for the money and attention they bring him. Diaz also lies, saying that he is good friends with Chef Slowik just so people will think of him as important. He is guilty of having the wrong motive for what he does and not caring for his fans.
Felicity Lynn is someone who has been feeding off people her entire life. She didn’t have to pay for any student debt even though she attended an Ivy League school; someone else paid for it. She has been stealing money from George Diaz for years, even though he knew it.
This is a condemnation of creators who aren’t passionate about what they do. Many people feel like the movie stars of the past, like Marlon Brando, Humphrey Bogart, or James Stewart, who carried such charisma and passion in every role they played, no longer exist in Hollywood. The director is condemning the stars for no longer caring about the art but rather about the paycheck and fame, even if the fame is superficial and only given by someone who is looking to benefit themselves.
Richard and Anne Leibrandt are a wealthy couple that regularly visit Hawthorne yet do not appreciate the art that they are consuming or the people who are so dedicated to preparing it. Late in the dinner, Chef Slowik asks them to remember one of the dishes that they ate in all the many visits to this restaurant, and they cannot name a single item. They are guilty of not appreciating the chef and his menu and simply going to Hawthorne as a way to try to spend their excessive wealth.
This is simply a condemnation of how easy access to art has made us numb to it. Going to the theater is no longer a special event that everyone would dress up for. We put on movies as we fall asleep, not to enjoy the art.
The Business Partners
Soren, Dave, and Bryce are all stereotypical corrupt business bros. All they care about is their money, at the obvious expense of all their relationships. They flaunt their wealth and think it means they can do anything they want. Since they work with the angel investor who funded Chef Stowik when he was starting Hawthorne, they think they are entitled to whatever they want. Their crime is thinking that their position as executives should give them control over the art that is being created.
This table of businessmen is representing all the producers at large companies that have so much control over the art that the directors are trying to create. They think that since they have money, they know what would be best, rather than leaving the creative ideas to the artist.
Lilian Bloom, played by Janet McTeer, is a food critic who is responsible for closing hundreds of restaurants with her scathing reviews. However, we learn that she simply doesn’t know what she is talking about. She doesn’t have a complicated palate or any special gifts that make her qualified to critique the food, but she does it anyway, leading to the destruction of many struggling culinary artists. She is accompanied by her assistant, Ted, who agrees to everything she says and is essentially a “yes man.” Their sin is critiquing art that they have no business judging.
The critic represents exactly that: the critic. It is people who are looking for reasons to hate the art that people create, even though they simply don’t understand what they are talking about. Art isn’t always perfect at the beginning, but the critic is responsible for destroying the opportunity for it to flourish.
Anya Taylor-Joy plays Margot, who is not like the other people and is actually a service worker. She was brought along by Tyler only because he needed a plus one to attend the restaurant, which screwed up the chef’s plan because she isn’t like everyone else and she is actually honest with him and simply just wants some normal “commoner” food, like a cheeseburger. She has not committed any sin and has simply done what it takes to survive. Chef Slowik relates to her struggles and finally shows her mercy. Being the only one that is exempt from his judgment, she changes up Chef Slowik’s intricate menu several times.
Margot is who the director wants the viewers to be. The director wants us as audience members to simply enjoy when there is good food (media to consume), but when there isn’t, we need to call the chef (creators) out. We need to hold creators to a high standard, but when art is made, we need to enjoy it for what it is.
Tyler, played by Nicholas Hoult, is the typical food enthusiast who worships Chef Slowik as a god. He has watched every episode of the chef’s show and knows all the tools that the sous-chefs are using. Even though he sees himself as a knowledgeable foodie, he has zero ability to cook. He wants to be thought of as a highly successful chef, but he has no skill and isn’t an artist, which is necessary for a chef to have. As Chef Slowik says at the end, Tyler’s problem is that he is the embodiment of what has ruined the magic of making food and the secrecy of how the chefs are able to create their art.
Tyler represents the type of person who might know all the techniques that the creators use, but they really don’t have any talent. These types of people bring down the artistry by claiming they are experts even though they don’t have any ability to make movies or any other type of media that is being consumed.
This is what I am currently guilty of doing in this article, and that’s why this movie is so brilliant. I may not know much about movies, and I definitely don’t have the ability to create art like that, so I recommend you don’t listen to what I am saying in this article and rather go watch The Menu for yourself and enjoy it for what it is: art.
The Menu is simply an enjoyable movie that will have you glued to the screen, whether you are grinning at the dark humor or shaking at the chef’s disturbingly intricate courses.