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What is The Menu about?
The Menu is a critique of classism within cultures. In the film, it’s directly applied to the culinary world, pitting a $1250 multi-course dining experience against a $9.95 burger. What does the consumer prefer? What does the chef prefer? But the message extends to other arenas. The movie industry comes to mind. The fashion industry. A Danielle Steel book vs. a Virginia Woolf novel. Does more intellectual always equal better? Does more expensive always equal better?
But the critique isn’t just about the value of the content. The Menu takes aim at both creator and consumer. The issue isn’t necessarily price or headiness, rather the love and passion with which something is created and enjoyed. Each viewer should reflect on their own engagement with what you produce and what you consume. How mindless or mindful are you being?
Movie Guide table of contents
- Julian Slowik – Ralph Fiennes
- Margot Mills / Erin – Anya Taylor-Joy
- Tyler – Nicholas Hoult
- Elsa – Hong Chau
- George Diaz – John Leguizamo
- Felicity – Aimee Carrero
- Lillian Bloom – Janet McTeer
- Ted – Paul Adelstein
- Anne Liebbrandt – Judith Light
- Richard Liebbrandt – Reed Birney
- Bryce – Rob Yang
- Dave – Mark St. Cyr
- Soren – Arturo Castro
- Written by – Seth Reiss, Will Tracy
- Directed by – Mark Mylod
The ending of The Menu explained
The ending of The Menu begins when Margot challenges Chef Slowik to cook her a cheeseburger. He does and she agrees to pay $9.95 for the burger. After a single bite, she says she’d like to take it to go. Slowik acquiesces and Margot leaves Hawthorne, hurries to a boat, and departs the island.
Everyone else remains in the restaurant, resigned to whatever fate Slowik has in store for them. It turns out he has chosen to turn the entire restaurant and everyone in it into a s’more. After a bit of preparation, like strapping marshmallows to everyone, Slowik takes a hot coal, walks to the center of the room, drops it, and the whole thing combusts. The customers burn. The staff burn. Slowik burns. Then the restaurant explodes.
Meanwhile, on the boat, on the way to shore, Margot eats her cheeseburger. She uses her copy of the menu to wipe her mouth.
The main emphasis here is the juxtaposition between Hawthorne’s $1250 meal and the $9.95 cheeseburger. Those who came for the meal all end up ablaze, while the one character who was “innocent” ends up escaping. The Menu is very critical of this upper echelon dining experience while idolizing the simplistic. Which you can read as a commentary on classism and elitism and even intellectualism. When things become so rarefied, they lose their purity. And the people who experience these things are often no different, as their wealth robs them of their passion.
Each of the diners at Hawthorne, aside from Margot, is broken in some way. And it keeps them from really enjoying what they’re eating. The Liebbrandt’s drift through their days after the loss of their daughter. George Diaz is a popular actor who decided to cash in rather than maintain his craft. Lilian Bloom is a food critic become so pretentious she’s more of a caricature than an actual person. Tyler’s morality is completely broken and he brought nothing to the table. The business bros are crooks. They’ve all lost touch. And it keeps them from fighting for their lives. They don’t even have the passion to do that. So they sit idly by while being turned into s’mores.
And Slowik does give a speech where he connects the S’More to childhood. And talks about purification through fire. Cleansing through fire. So there’s a thematic emphasis on returning to roots. To a more pure and innocent time where everyone is closer to their true, basic nature, before they’ve been twisted by success or tragedy. This links to the cheeseburger, as a younger Slowik worked at a burger joint. This was the chef before he was Chef. When cooking was fun and exciting and simple. Margot’s request takes him back to that time. Letting him experience that nostalgia is why he allows her to leave. Because he understands she’s not ruined the way the rest of the people there are.
The reason Margot wipes her mouth with the Hawthorne menu is to show the value of that meal. This thing that was so coveted by so many becomes a napkin. Little better than toilet paper. Which is really a statement on these rarefied things and the price put on them. Was the menu really worth it? Is the pursuit of such wealth really worth it? Or is true joy found somewhere else?
The Menu is pretty punk, even though it’s presented in an artsy way. It’s more satire of the highbrow, while still being a bit highbrow. And you maybe get the sense that Slowik’s damnation of the culinary industry is applicable to other things. Like the film industry. Or, say, the current economic divide in America. It challenges viewers to not become like the people at Hawthorne. To pursue your passions. And not lose your humanity. And to not covet “the menu”, both literally and figuratively. What’s being fed to you isn’t necessarily good for you.
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.
Why is the movie called The Menu?
This is an interesting one. On the most superficial level, the title refers simply to what’s being served at the Hawthorne restaurant that night. Specifically, it’s the chef’s tasting menu. So no one is ordering anything. Everyone gets exactly the same thing. This is pretty common in high-end restaurants. The Japanese have their style of this meal called an “omakase” that translates to “I leave it up to you.” As in: chef’s choice. Which makes sense, as The Menu focuses so much on chef Julian Slowik and what he’s ultimately trying to express through food. The menu is a translation of his anger, frustration, cynicism, and sadness. As the patrons “taste” what he’s offering them, they all kind of give over to the chef’s desire for death. To the point of not even fighting him at the end.
We can try to extrapolate this a little further. Through the menu, Julian makes a point about himself and his customers. Each of the customers represents something wrong with the culinary arts. The wealthy couple who don’t even appreciate or remember what they’re eating (Richard and Anne Liebbrandt). The obsessive who knows everything but contributes nothing (Tyler). The critics who are over the top and take the joy out of eating (Lillian Bloom). The money guys who value the price of what they’re eating more than the food itself (Soren, Bryce, Dave). Or the artist who has given up on and cashed in their craft (George Diaz).
We see that reflected in the courses. Like the bread course that doesn’t include bread because the customers don’t deserve it. That’s just the start of a string of dishes that punish the patrons for being there. Concluding, of course, with the s’more and everyone burning.
With that in mind, you can maybe read the title as less about the superficial aspect of eating in the restaurant and more about the menu being a commentary on the people who ruin art. Not just culinary arts. Every industry has their equivalents. I would imagine a lot of what’s being said in The Menu is actually about the movie industry. And the way in which these various archetypal people can steal the love an artist had for their craft.
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.
- Travel dish: Lemon caviar on raw oyster, with mignonette
- Welcome dish: Amuse Bouche
- First course: The Island
- Second course: Bread plate without bread
- Third course: Memory (chicken tacos + scissors)
- Fourth course: The Mess
- Palate Cleanser: Wild Bergamot and red clover tea
- Fifth course: Man’s Folly (Dungeness crab, umeboshi, yogurt whey, kelp)
- Sixth course: Passard egg
- Tyler’s attempt to cook
- Dessert: S’Mores
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.”
Questions & answers about The Menu
Why did Chef Julian Slowik do what he did?
Chef lost his passion. The love he had from cooking left him. Partly due to the types of people he invited to the restaurant for the final meal: critics, thoughtless guests, financiers, fanboys, and other artists who caved to the system. He blames them for the desecration of the art. They’ve all contributed to commodification of cuisine and have helped to rob the food of its pleasure.
Why did the people let themselves be burned/become a s’more?
The whole experience had broken their spirits. And everyone there was already on a self-destructive path. Whether from grief, shame, obsession, or age. Margot is the only one who really fights back and she’s the only one who escapes. She’s also the only one who wasn’t handpicked to be there. Many Slowik probably identified the others as people likely to subconsciously go along with what he was doing.
That’s the more literal view on it. Thematically, the diners represent various archetypes in an industry or culture that can be negative influences. Especially tied to the idea of the elite and bourgeois who become disconnected from aspects of their own humanity and joy. So their acceptance of their demise isn’t just a plot thing but a thematic statement.
Who was Margot? What was her real name?
Margot’s real name was Erin. We don’t learn much about her aside that she’s an escort who had previously been employed by fellow diner Richard Liebbrandt because she resembled his deceased daughter.
Was Margot dating Tyler?
No. The Menu wants us to think Margot and Tyler are a couple. But one twist is that he simply hired her to be his plus one at Hawthorne. They weren’t romantically connected at all.
Why did Tyler go to dinner, if he knew everyone was going to die?
Tyler seems symbolic of the “fanboy” archetype. Someone who is obsessive over a topic and gives their entire persona over to it. Of course, he’s an extreme example. But it’s reflective of a growing trend in pop culture where people base their identities off of their fandom. Or become radicalized in their support of a figure or topic. For him, the idea of death doesn’t matter. He cares more about being part of the group. Except the group ultimately rejects him.
What is The Menu about?
It’s about how elitism, intellectualism, and business can rob a craft of its joy. It’s about loss of passion and disappointment and the way these things spoil us. It’s about nature and purity. Essentially, The Menu is a reminder to live and to escape from influences that would otherwise break and demoralize you.
What does “the menu” represent?
Chef has a theme to each dish. The first dish is natural and about the land. It’s pure and beautiful. Then the rest relate to negative aspects of the human experience. So each dish represents this different aspect of what leads people to losing their passion and seeking self-destruction and rebirth.
There’s also an elitism to the meal and menu, since the cost is $1250. Margot using a menu to wipe her mouth as she happily eats her $9.95 hamburger—that’s a statement from the filmmakers.
Is Hawthorne real?
No. But it was filmed in Georgia. Specifically, Jekyll Island.
Now it’s your turn
Have more unanswered questions about The Menu? Are there themes or motifs we missed? Is there more to explain about the ending? Please post your questions and thoughts in the comments section! We’ll do our best to address every one of them. If we like what you have to say, you could become part of our movie guide!