The Menu is a critical darling at the moment, with critics and audiences raving about the dark satire film starring Anya Taylor-Joy and Nicholas Hoult, but it seems a lot of people are kind of missing the point. The story is so much more than a dining experience from hell and a cheeseburger.
Social commentary is rampant throughout the film, giving a critique on everything from the stagnation and gentrification of art to the detachment of the wealthy. There’s a scathing critique about our investment in people who don’t give a damn about us, yet we’ll grovel before them seeking approval. Might as well call it a f*cking Cheesecake Factory for how stacked The Menu is.
This is going to contain spoilers, so if you haven’t seen the movie then why are you even here? Go, watch it. This will still be here when you get back.
Please Love Me
This is the most obvious one right off the bat, with Tyler’s obsession over Chef Julian being creepy even before the revelations about him being in on the plan. Someone so detached from reality and hyper-fixated on one person, hoping to rise to even a fraction of their level without practicing any sort of skill.
We see this all the time when it comes to celebrities, influencers, musicians, and almost any kind of art form when fans make one person their entire personality. They hold these people in such high regard, they’ll do anything for approval, no matter the cost.
Tyler knew he wouldn’t survive the night yet he was so overly desperate to show the world he met his idol, and try to gain that idol’s approval, that he went all in with a smile on his face, Instagramming the entire bloody affair.
While it’s not audible for us to hear as the audience when Julian whispered something to Tyler, it was something so soul-crushing it broke him. Sure, “Tyler’s Bullshit” wasn’t close to a passing meal, but he also isn’t a professional chef under pressure. Hypothesis as to what was said? Something along the lines of “You are nothing and always will be” is my guess. The knowledge that he will never gain approval from his god leads Tyler to suicide.
The Person/Brand Line
Julian worked so hard for so long as a chef, building his name from small-time reviews as he worked his way up the ladder. Over time though, he slipped into his persona as a brand and out of being a living, breathing human. It’s like Dwayne Johnson, who started as this eager, charismatic man with a love for entertainment to a worn-out shell of himself now.
Despite his best intentions, instead of becoming his thriving garden of culinary delight, Hawthorne became a prison where Julian was forced to churn out meaningless, bland shadows of his former passions. After pumping out meal after meal he burnt out, now just going through the motions instead of the fires that drove him originally.
It echoes a lot of modern Americans and humans in general as commercialization takes over their lives. You become bored in one spot, doing the same thing over and over with no innovation and nothing to show for it except long hours, no free time, and emptiness as all you do is bow to the whims of a clientele who don’t give a shit.
Gentrification Kills Originality
If art is selling for some insanely high price that only the super-wealthy can afford, I’m assuming it’s either an ancient cursed artifact or pretentious as all hell. This isn’t even a satire at this point as The Menu shows people paying thousands for this meal that would satisfy maybe a five-year-old that isn’t picky about food.
The thing is, none of these people are paying to eat. They don’t give a damn about the food, that’s evident by their reaction to the breadless bread plate and the discourse surrounding it. No, they all went because they have money to throw around, and they want to use it on this esteemed restaurant that all the other rich assholes they know talk about.
It’s a bragging right, a status symbol. Like the Kardashians renting an island at the height of a pandemic to “just get away” as if it’s a normal weekend trip. These people just want to show others how much excess they have.
When your art becomes a generic millhouse of money it ceases to be meaningful or something inspiring, instead becoming a restaurant where half the food isn’t edible.
The Service Industry is Hell
This is a matter of the brand again. Every day some celebrity endorses a new product they don’t really give a damn about but get a million dollars to say it changed their lives. Meanwhile, some underpaid and harassed assistants working just slightly above the bar of human rights violations churn out the product for pennies.
Despite the mad amount of money the restaurant was bringing in, the workers were all forced to share communal living spaces and bathrooms, with no privacy at any time. Their schedule allowed for four hours of sleep before prep and service begin, seven days a week. All these people do is work and slave away as the chef oversees and criticizes.
While it’s obviously an exaggeration, it’s not off base when it comes to the long hours and sacrifice of personal time service workers put in, especially lately. Top that with how the workers are treated by the diners in the film, with the rich individuals either indifferent or downright contemptuous of the people serving them.
Almost like in real life, there’s no shortage of abuses workers in these industries suffer, whether it be from management or customers. I’ve worked a range of service jobs from call centers to kitchens and can easily confirm everyday customers are some of the worst, most self-centered, and detached people you can meet, even if you do things to the letter of what they say.
“It’s a banana, how much could it cost?”
Notice how Margot was the only one that showed any kind of compassion or empathy when that chef blew his brains out? Yeah, that’s a normal interaction for most people. Not when you become so wealthy you don’t have to worry about these things though. Nope, you have enough money that you can see a man die and a guy get stabbed without batting an eye and go home fine.
It’s a detachment that happens the more someone reaches the top of society. They begin to only socialize with those within their bracket, making a game of everything to move up. They’re desensitized to the violence because they can’t see it happening to them or believe that someone would be that way. It’s like main character syndrome where they believe everything is just done for their entertainment.
These people don’t consider that Julian will kill them because why would he? They can just pay him, obviously. They’ve paid away any problems they had before, after all. Except that’s not the way reality works. Margot knows this, Julian knows this, but the rest of them are too detached in their insular bubble of cash they don’t realize someone is trying to actually burn them alive.
“Awe, he made her a cheeseburger.”
It’s not about her eating the cheeseburger. The cheeseburger was an analogy for reclaiming the simple joy that started your art, but the cheeseburger isn’t why Julian let Margot live. It’s clear when Julian asks Felicity (the movie star’s assistant) where she went to school and if she had student loans. She was a young person, but why did that matter?
He knew Margot came from a poor background, having to make ends meet in any way she could. For a lot of people, that turns into sex work and it’s revealed she’s an escort. Julian knows Margot has had to live not knowing when she’ll have money to survive again, while Felicity said she went to Harvard and had no student loan debt. That’s a miracle in today’s world.
It’s another criticism of the class divide and the wealthy, with Felicity not knowing what it is to struggle like all those that she’s being served by. Julian lets Margot loose because of her struggles, knowing that she’s different than the assholes in the room.
Look, this movie has more layers than an ogre, and I could write a book about all the satire. All I’m saying is, with these little details in mind go back and see if there’s something different you notice on a rewatch. Pay attention to the little details, the difference in how the characters act according to their status or position. It’s like a lunchroom sorting of American class divides, and something that needs to be seen by more.