Do not eat.
Amuse-bouche. Construct your expectations. Lithe and simple, familiar yet distinct. It won’t spoil your appetite, and if you treat it right you might just glean an idea of what’s still to come. Here, you buy in. Either the absurdity of its presentation reveals the thinly veiled pretension, or the impeccable craft of the introduction opens a world of savory euphoria. Whose side are you on?
First course. Refined ideology prepares the palate for the journey to come. The outer shell has been cracked, and more is slowly becoming discernable. It’s a whole experience, and this is just the beginning. It won’t come together until the very end, but that’s the thrill of it all, the unexpected deconstruction to come. There’s enough here to still feel knowable, these formal building blocks and austere framings. Desperately it begs you to try and put together the disparate puzzle pieces into a whole picture but all you can do is savor each morsel and ponder the possibilities.
Second course. Bold and unexpected, a radical shift in direction. It seems like a joke, but it’s unclear at whom it aims. The air of novel mystery begins to subside. Wake up to what’s really here. Do not eat. Savor. Taste. Appreciate. What’s really going on here in between this hauntingly choreographed dance of decadence? The flavors are enticing, a delectable distraction, but they can only accomplish so much before it all begins to seem out of place. Maybe that was the intent all along.
Third course. Back to basics, a classic of form and function engineered to precise perfection, a lingering memory plated for the rest to ingest. What was supposed to be comforting and familiar has been twisted into pointed, furious intent. It’s beginning to crumble and corrode, the cracks splintering as Mark Mylod’s malevolent game starts to shatter its own prerequisite elegance in favor of something far more aggressively focused in its mania. Delightfully or frustratingly recursive in form, a clever or obnoxious mess in presentation, an over the top cavalcade of effectively stilted absurdity or an overbearing slog of tiring contrivances. Maybe closer to all of the above – but The Menu couldn’t be having more fun getting there.
Fourth course. Expectations splattered across the marble floor. Anymore it doesn’t seem worth trying to make sense of the intricacies. Sit back and let the experience take hold. There’s no sense leaving. At this point the only thing that seems plainly comprehendible is that The Menu is a bizarre ethereal construct, an experience as coyly reflective as Chef Slowik’s (Ralph Fiennes carrying the film’s fascinating and impossible thrust with perfectly tuned mystique) own tailored self-destruction. As we gather with Chef and his tiny guest list of the wealthy and the elite, the exercise becomes more about racing to catch up with his diabolically ostentatious dining experience than it is about any single narrative thread. Everyone is here for a purpose, little morsels to be added to the main dish after we watch them all simmer in the chaos. Everyone but one, the eminently enigmatic Margot (Anya Taylor-Joy playing the polar opposite of everyone else in her staunch refusal to buy into Slowik’s sick gastro-infused games).
Fifth course. The wrench thrown into the gears, disrupting the carefully charted path of the meal, but what is any artist without the ability to improvise, twisting the film into a surreal and psychotic cat and mouse game between Slowik and Margot, abandoning all that it once positioned itself to be about as it casts a new line into a sea of artistic pursuit’s crushing pressure in a world so hyperfocused on novelty and escalation that only the unrelenting ideal of perfection will be accepted.
Bullshit. It’s what it all is. Bullshit pretense from artists contorted into the absurd as they climb towards gilded mountaintops and bullshit pretense from those below who imbibe in all the lavish conceptual ideology and internalize it until it becomes all they are, for they would be meaningless without something to build their own identity off of. The culpable and their tangible guilt, awaiting their sentence and punishment because somewhere in the recesses of it all it makes a whole lot of sense to be a part of this. Maybe it’s just that only one of them has the foresight to act on any of the flammable impulses, to deign self-obliteration and to let it explode outwards, shrapnel catching everyone in the vicinity.
Dessert. Wrap it up and take it home, the lingering delicacy and the clever layering of it all. Now that it’s all come together the holistic experience feels cohesively worthwhile, a wild ride with no reservations about its frequently inconceivable concepts and utter dedication to absurdity. Savor the destructive split of the givers and the takers and appreciate the notes of dedication to character. Or sit back, watch it all light up the night sky, and take a greasy bite of the most brilliantly ideal cheeseburger you could ask for. The Menu is both.