In this section of the Colossus Movie Guide for The Menu, we look at important motifs that help us understand the film.
Important motifs in The Menu
The Menu’s most obvious motif is, of course, food. Julian Slowik uses cooking as storytelling. The initial dishes are creative and harmless. Then slowly become more symbolic and complicated. By the very end, the customers themselves have become part of the dish, leaning into the idea that we are what we eat (and maybe the inverse: we eat what we are).
There’s a dichotomy within this motif, as Slowik comes to hate the fancy food he makes. It’s loveless and soulless. And he uses it to punish his guests. The only dish he enjoys cooking is the cheeseburger for Margot. While the others paid $1250 for their food, she paid $9.95. So the cheaper, simpler food is presented as something superior. Not just because of its price, but because it calls back to when Slowik was a young man who worked at a burger shop and loved what he did. The cheeseburger and Margot are both outside of the fancier world Slowik has come to despise.
The Menu isn’t very kind to its characters. Slowik has gripes about each of the customers and is punishing each of them for unique reasons that all fall under the umbrella of “you miss the point of it all”. But then members of the kitchen staff also have issues. Whether it’s inferiority or gender-based frustrations or jealousy. We see how complicated and disappointing people often are.
This is in contrast to the natural elements. Hawthorne is on a remote island. Every ingredient is created there or locally sourced or caught straight from the water. Nature is ever-present. And the humans feel small in comparison. Like when the men run through the forest, trying to hide from the Hawthorne staff. The landscape dominates. Or when Slowik drops his main investor into the water, and we see the man swallowed.
This dynamic seems most expressed in the early course chef calls “The Island”. It’s plants from around the island, with rocks found on the island, sea water, and scallops fished from right off shore. Slowik then says, “Here’s what you must remember about this dish. We, the people on this island, are not important. The island and the nutrients it provides exist in their most perfect state. Without us gathering them or manipulating them or digesting them. What happens inside this room is meaningless compared to what happens outside, in nature, in the soil, in the water, in the air. We are but a frightened nanosecond. Nature is timeless. Enjoy.”
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