In this section of the Colossus Movie Guide for The Menu, we talk about themes that help us understand the film.
The themes and meaning of The Menu
There are several key dichotomies in The Menu. The most important of which is classism. This theme manifests several ways, most notably in the character of Margot. While everyone else dining at Hawthorne is wealthy, Margot is an escort who Tyler paid to be there. Relatively speaking, she is financially average and represents a more salt of the earth view of Hawthorne and chef Julian Slowik. Her refusal to eat becomes metaphoric for a refusal to accept the system itself. She then inverts the system by requesting a cheeseburger, a very pedestrian American meal. Simple. Straightforward. Unpretentious. The $9.95 she pays for the burger contrasts the $1250 price tag of Hawthorne’s menu. In this way, The Menu attacks the idea of price being the signifier of quality. Of money being the signifier of happiness. Of prestige being the signifier of success.
Loss of Innocence and corruption
When Slowik introduces a dish called “The Island”, he says, quote, “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.”
Almost every character in the film has tipped from a “perfect state” into something far uglier. Richard and Anne Liebbrandt lost their daughter and now drift through life, with Richard even cheating on Anne with Margot. George Diaz is an actor who doesn’t care about his craft anymore. Diaz is there with his assistant and girlfriend, Felicity, but Felicity is trying to end their relationship. Tyler is an obsessive who has his self-perception shattered, resulting in his “checking out” early. Lilian Bloom is a food critic who has devolved into someone incapable of not being overly critical. Ted is Lilian’s sycophant. The tech business guys are all stealing. Even the other chefs are ruined. The one sous-chef dreamed of being great then ends himself because he isn’t. Another is the one who introduced the idea of death to the menu. Julian’s mother is an alcoholic who has never recovered from the abuse of her deceased husband.
And Julian went from someone who loved cooking to doing so without passion. He does it out of obsession. There’s no love. No heart. Which is why Margot breaks through to him. She saw the picture of Julian when he was young and working in a burger place and happy as can be. By demanding Julian cook her a cheeseburger, Margot appeals to that time of innocence. To memory and nostalgia. And that allows Slowik to discover a part of himself that’s yet corrupted by the world.
You can see the idea of this “natural” version of people that’s eventually lost due to the human experience. Everyone in that room was, at some point, full of potential and joy.
Passion and self-destruction
By the end of The Menu, everyone in the restaurant has given up on their will to live. They accept the fate Slowik has in store for them via the s’more. Slowik himself even chastises them for not fighting back harder, saying they probably could have gotten away had they all tried. But they don’t. There’s the idea that these people have all lost their passion for life. This aligns with Slowik’s own loss of passion regarding his craft. He no longer cooks because he loves it. Or even cooks to make others happy. As Margot points out, it’s mere obsession. When you lack passion, you almost seek out self-destruction just for the relief of whatever burden you bear.
Margot is the only one who wasn’t supposed to be there. Instead of accepting the menu as the others did, she rejected it. She sought a way out. Found it. And left. Then gets to enjoy the cheeseburger.
What are your thoughts?
Are there more themes you think should be part of the Colossus Movie Guide for The Menu? Leave your comments below and we’ll consider updating the guide.
I loved the Angel winged restaurant owner being bound and drowned. He thought he was their savior funding them to stay on the island during covid without any customers to serve. They felt suppressed and went crazy isolated from even time off out of the cult work environment. And his paid time accounted for how they were able to have time to come up with this crazy revenge menu.
One of the best visuals in the entire movie
How was the chef’s mother killed in The Menu?
She’s in the explosion with everyone else at the end. Just passed out from alcohol.