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Review: ‘The Menu’ had me asking for the next dish

Graphic by Sarah Irwin

Whether it’s addressed in TV shows, books or movies, class division has become a compelling subject in modern media. Released last November, Mark Mylod’s film “The Menu” tackles this topic with a creepy twist.

The movie is set in an upscale restaurant on a secluded island. The renowned head chef Julian Slowik, played by Ralph Fiennes, specially selects 12 affluent guests to experience his thousand-dollar menu.

The first dish is seemingly normal, but things take a dark turn as the food and Chef Slowik’s messages become more personal for the guests. They soon realize that they’ve been invited for nefarious reasons. His plan is interrupted when he notices that he did not invite the main character, Margot (played by Anya Taylor Joy). When Margot uncovers his plot, it becomes her mission to escape the restaurant.

What I found interesting was how many of the guests completely ignored the warning signs at the beginning of the film. They are oblivious to Chef Slowik’s message because they are more concerned with the material aspects of the experience. Even as he reveals his true motivation, the guests shift their focus to escaping, rather than understanding, why he invited them.

In contrast, Chef Slowik is shocked to find out that Margot differs from the others. Although her focus is also on escaping, she is still able to hear his message for what it is. She relates to him and his staff on a personal level and this made her interactions with them fascinating. Margot is faced with a dilemma because she resonates with the message, but she also pities the other guests. When Chef Slowik gives her the decision to choose between the two sides, she is reasonably torn.

This movie had a variety of meanings, but I think disrespect within the service industry and ungratefulness are two key themes. When Chef Slowik’s resentment towards his guests is revealed, it becomes apparent that he is motivated by his negative experiences as a chef. Over the years, he grew tired of wealthy people taking advantage of him and his art.

One memorable scene is when Chef Slowik asks a guest who has eaten there 11 times to name a dish from the latest meal and she couldn’t. This is an example of the difference between consumers and tasters. Chef Slowik lost the joy he once found in cooking because people didn’t appreciate his work. At the beginning of the film, he tells the guests “Do not eat. Taste, savor, relish.” The guests were not tasting his food, or any food, because they were accustomed to always having whatever they desired.

Ultimately, each course of Chef Slowik’s dinner has an intricate message that makes viewers think deeply and consider new perspectives. For those who love think pieces, “The Menu” is a great pick and is available to watch on HBO Max.

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