How ‘The Menu’ Explores Ego and Exploitation in Fine Dining – The Hollywood Reporter

[This story contains spoilers from Searchlight’s .]

in menuThe special experience presented by the remote, destination restaurant Hawthorne is as much about the attendees as the meticulously crafted plates.

As Ralph Fiennes’ chef Julian Slovic eventually reveals, the curated tasting menu is due to explore: the erosion of appetites – for power, relevance, money, love and more – in all its diners converged on a single, final night.

“We turn them around. They’ve had a pretty rough night,” director Mark Mylod said of the film’s peeling, which lured guests into Hawthorne’s deadly trap. “But to be honest, I never intended to eat the rich.” For me, the story was a true character study of flawed people. Is it really a genuine exploration of why they are behaving the way they are? Why are they there? What choices did they make? How did their egos and entitlement lead us to this place and they take this bait in terms of their own doctrines?

Hand-picked for the event and each representing a different version of moral decadence and (abrasive) privilege, the diners include a wealthy couple, a food critic and their publisher, a foodie and a sex worker, three tech bros and the washed-up. Actor as well as his assistant.

Hawthorne’s dinner guests menu

Images courtesy of Searchlight

“We talked about, ‘What are the archetypes of people in a restaurant like Hawthorne? It’s rich tech guys, food world elite,'” said producer Betsy Koch. The Hollywood Reporter At the New York premiere. “We had the idea because Will Tracy – the writer of this film along with Seth Reese – Big foodie. They go to these restaurants. He’s like you’re literally conspiring with different people around.

As actress Hong Chow notes, it’s not limited to a group where Hollywood has traditionally talked about “haves and have-nots” in a “black and white way.”

“It’s not just an old white guy wagging the finger because it’s a little simplistic and understated. There are so many people of all walks of life occupying a space of privilege,” he said. May be individuals.”

Throughout the night, the people in this group each have to face their own “sins,” as the director describes them—says Mylod of the chef’s “mea culpa” six months ago.

“It’s when we find him completely engulfed in self-esteem and trying to come out with some kind of pomp, but on a moral level, paradoxically, to atone for his own eroded ego and for his own abuse of power,” said the director. “He’s trying to atone for his sins as much as possible. Obviously, he can’t, but the least he can do is own them.

Ralph Fiennes

Ralph Fiennes Inn menu

Images courtesy of Searchlight

According to Fiennes, the journey is about the tension between an “obsessive-compulsive narcissist” who craves perfection and moral clarity, for his chef, who has surrendered to feeding his own ego.

“He’s a guy who started out with very pure aspirations about how you make food or deliver your food to people, and he hates himself because he’s obviously a genius, but he’s allowed himself to become so remote,” the actor explained. “What I liked was the complication. He doesn’t like what he’s doing. He doesn’t like where he’s gone. There’s a real contradiction within him, he wants power and control, but at a deep level, he hates himself for it.

It wasn’t just a desire for praise and power that brought him and his guests to this moment. As viewers learn, a sous chef named Catherine (Cristina Brucato), who reveals that she conjured up the night’s twisted concept and explosive ending, engaged in harassing a female subordinate.

“In addition to the gender dynamic in the kitchen, we wanted Catherine to talk about what it’s like to be a young woman trying to navigate an incredibly male-dominated industry. How tough it is day-to-day to perform at that level and have so much pressure on yourself,” Koch explained.

This thread is one of the most direct connections to diners and a great exploration of the image of gender in fine dining. A wealthy, elderly man whose dark secret is the nature of his infidelity, Reid Birney’s Richard has previously harmed another of the night’s attendees through his sexual behavior.

Both men are responsible for their misdeeds but in markedly different ways, with the latter eventually losing his wedding ring finger. For Birney, Julian’s decision to take over Richard’s role goes beyond the chef’s connection to low-wage service workers. “When guys of my generation misbehave, they get away with it for a long time,” he said. “The first impulse is denial, and perhaps the younger generation is somehow conditioned to be pure.”

John Leguizamo

John Leguizamo menu

Images courtesy of Searchlight

John Leguizamo’s George is an aging action star inspired by Steven Seagal who has lost his artistic authenticity amid industry interest and diminishing control over his career. It’s something both current and future Julian can relate to — and fear.

“They all have a toxic element about them and one of their worst qualities is narcissism. He’s vain and that’s part of his downfall. One of the reasons he’s there is to show off. He’s there to suck up oxygen,” Leguizamo said, noting that his character’s “sins” are a little different from the other men in the room. first. “Other guys are really despicable, but this guy – you feel a little pity because he’s a failure. There’s something so sad and tragic about a washed-up action star and someone who was at the top of their game and isn’t anymore.

Although the film has plenty of bad men, it does not limit its critical gaze to the privilege and abuses of one gender. The film also features several women, all of whom earn their place at the table. Judith Light, who plays Richard’s wife Anne, sees her character as a woman desperately clinging to her “self-esteem, her place in the world, her merits, her wealth and the kind of lifestyle she thinks she should have.”

“We were allowing ourselves not to talk, not to say anything,” Light said of all but one of the female diners. “[Anya Taylor-Joy’s Margot] Many other women took back what they had given up but they wanted what they wanted.

Light notes that a connection and camaraderie develops between these women despite class and other differences. For Annie, this leads to the realization that she sees herself as “taking back her power in some ways.” But ultimately, just like men, these women’s entitlement and inability to lift their fingers leads to their downfall.

“They do behaviors Think about it They get what they want,” Light said. “But everyone in the film, as Anya says, is hungry. They can’t address wants, needs, hungers the way they’re always trying to address them.

Judith Light

Judith Light In menu

Images courtesy of Searchlight

That hunger lives literally and metaphorically on Hawthorne’s home front, menu Also interested in exploring appetite and energy through the back of the house. As Catherine’s storyline reveals, it’s a place full of toxicity fueled by powerful figures like Slovic and those willing to work in a place that consumes them in more ways than one.

“We all have a tremendous anxiety about perfection, and I think the industries that publish the best of perfection are because people forget themselves, because it’s full of irony and horror,” said Ethan Tobman. menu’Production Designer. “All they want is for the chef to promote them, to notice them — and they resent him when he takes their ideas and makes them his own.”

This passion and desperation to gain power in the culinary world at great personal cost manifests itself in several shocking moments involving Hawthorne’s kitchen staff. In one sequence, Slovic’s second, Elsa (Chow), literally fights Taylor-Joyce’s Margot, as actress Chow calls the chef a “ride or die.”

“I wanted to make sure that my character, Elsa, is incredibly smart and capable and proud of what she’s done. I saw her as a campaign manager for a political candidate. She was very proud of what they had accomplished and achieved together and wouldn’t let anything get in the way of it,” he said. There’s a lot of depth to it – even if it’s a fight scene and an entertaining action scene.”

For menu team, one of its ultimate goals was to explore the hunger and erosion that pervades the entire culinary ecosystem.

“The toxicity in the kitchen that you hear from the industry hierarchy is a response to the toxicity of parents and how they react to food,” Tobman points out.

Ralph Fiennes and Hong Chow

Ralph Fiennes and Hong Chow In menu

Images courtesy of Searchlight

“One thing we want people to understand when they see this film is the various levels of slavery and exploitation and what it’s like in this kind of industry — to see people who give their body and soul to this kind of work,” producer Koch added. “We wanted to suggest that the audience take a closer look at their own behavior.”

menu Now in theaters.

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