The Menu’s Political Symbolism and the Dangers of Seeking Destruction
The Menu, released mid-November in 2022, is a deft black comedy film. I have seen many reviews that speak about its symbolism for left-wing politics, the wide margins between the rich and the poor. Those who consume for the sake of it with little regard for the effort that goes into ensuring their ability to mindlessly consume. The pitiful reality of the service industry and being underappreciated and overworked. I enjoyed the film, it is brilliantly acted by both its leads Anya Taylor-Joy and Ralph Fiennes. Fiennes portrayal of Chef Slowik is intense as we get to witness the sky-high standards he applies to his employees.
When I was watching the film, it brought to mind the dangers of political obsession. If the film is to be characterised into this thinly-veiled critique of greedy capitalists and their effect on the art world, I will engage with it as such. A literal message many have taken from the film is similar to left-wing semi-satirical statement of “eat the rich”, other reviews have mentioned this. Chef Slowik rises up from the childlike joy of flipping burgers at his first job to a one of a kind chef tailoring dishes to the elites of the world, more so selling an experience to them. Along the way he delights many, gaining praise from the esteemed food critic who “discovered” him and befriending his politician regulars.
Whether it is intentional or not, a unique message on political obsession can be pulled from the film, one that is not exclusive to any political ideology. That is an obsession over destroying those we deem to be destroying our culture. In The Menu’s most defining scenes, Slowik relishes telling his patrons that they are responsible for the destruction of his “art”. He holds each of them personally accountable and each person or pair has a unique fault that is contributing to the destruction of Slowik’s work. In relation to the political and cultural reality, there is a tendency to “cancel” people. While not as destructive or fatal as Slowik’s mission, this premise of “cancel culture” ties in closely with the irreversible faults of many of the film's characters. The patrons of the restaurant, aside from Margot, are irredeemable, their mistakes unforgettable. They must be punished for this fact. Slowik obsesses over the instances that he feels have slighted him personally. He has a derision for the effect these people have on the culinary world. It is this personal angle and the lack of satisfaction for his “art”, that drives him to act the way he does. He is being denied the enjoyment of his livelihood.
When the film is related to societal reality, there are many parallels that can be drawn. Irrespective of where you sit on the political spectrum there are always disappointments. The loss of a political candidate, the failure of a particular bill you would have liked to see pass or judicial decisions not being voted on the way you would have wanted. These are not unique to any specific political ideology. However, when things do not go our way we have a tendency to overly victimise ourselves or those it affects. Therefore, the political then becomes intertwined with the personal; the result is an attack on our being, our livelihood. We feel a restriction in our ability to enjoy our lives as a direct consequence of someone else’s actions. As a result we react to those we feel were complicit in our political wishes stalling and this reaction stays with many like a grudge that they just cannot get over.
In The Menu, Slowik showcases this unshakeable grudge. He finds it impossible to forgive those responsible for damaging his livelihood and as such they must be destroyed. In real life, this obsession for destruction manifests itself in many layers of our lives no matter how trivial. We only have to look back on the political realities of the past seven years to see this pattern. When Donald Trump won the election in 2016, we had pages and pages of articles dedicated to the fact that Trump was helped by the Russians or the fact that he stole the election somehow. Fast forward to 2020 we have the same but from the other side, ballot-tampering and Ukrainian corruption helped Joe Biden steal the election. The political results of both events felt personally across the spectrum. Bi-partisanship is impossible, there are no compromises to be worked out because neither side wants to compromise. As in The Menu, history is irrelevant unless it can be used as a reason to destroy your opposition. An individual's successes are ignored in favour of emphasising their failures.
However, the reality of these kinds of obsessions is they rarely reach past many peoples social media apps. They are digital phenomena, a way to silence people from the platform human beings have become most intertwined with, their phones. Henceforth, we have allowed people to create a museum of their enemies' failures. Slowik obsesses over the slights he has experienced, bitterly replaying events in his life that have brought him to his murderous conclusion. Social media allows an identical situation and nothing is ever gone on social media. Just as Slowik replays his events in his mind, those who feel personally affected by political failures will seldom let them go. They can just remind themselves and others of their existence by perpetually resharing and retweeting them, burning the faces of those they hold personally accountable in their memory.
Business Insider highlighted this exact situation today. At the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), conservative leaders were advised against using their newfound House Judiciary powers to seek “revenge”. Righting old wrongs will lead us round in circles or worse lead to a universal demise. A demise where everyone loses because no-one endeavoured to build anything new.
Regardless of your political orientation, obsessing over petty partisanship and revenge fantasies is often a waste of the opportunities one is afforded. Anyone looking at the political landscape of the last eight years can see that the tarmac on this roundabout is worn thin. Maybe it is time to take an exit and work towards the future; leave the spiral of political obsession and work with what you have to build something new. The emergence of one-issue parties bent on revenge is a sad development. All in all complete and utter tunnel vision for this cause will create nothing, it will destroy not only its intended targets but the unintended targets too.
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