‘On the Menu’ is a 2022 black comedy starring Ralph Fiennes and Ana Taylor-Joy. It dishes up a labyrinthine plot with no light at the end of the tunnel. However a glimmer of enlightenment emerges – even though death may be on the menu, you can make a different selection. No matter how creatively death is presented, it will still lead to an unpalatable outcome. Much like the course of ‘bread with no bread’ of which most of the guests disapproved, one should leave a restaurant feeling full and satisfied, not empty and disgruntled. All but one of the dinner guests chose death. The sole survivor at the outcome of the film was Margot – the one restaurant owner who fought back by challenging her oppressor, chef Julian. He quoted Martin Luther King, Jr to justify holding his patrons hostage – “Freedom will not be given by the oppressor; it must be demanded. She followed through and demanded hers.
Chef Julian, used mind control to get inside the minds of his specially selected guest patrons. They eventually reached a point where they felt it was useless to fight back. They feared they would lose their lives, yet their very lives were at stake so they literally had nothing to lose.
What unravelled was carnage served up alongside several courses of nouveau cuisine with a twist. The location was an exotic restaurant located on a remote island. From the start, the staff of Julian, the executive chef, seemed to demonstrate cult-like obedience.
Tyler is Margot’s dinner companion – the sole guest who was not supposed to be there as she was a last-minute replacement to Tyler’s intended companion. This seemed to throw Julian off-script and from then on, he is in defensive mode not quite knowing what to expect from her. all the other guests seem privileged or pretentious; and it is the fear of looking bad or weak in front of the other guests which finally lead to their downfall. It was as if they had all colluded in their own passivity, expecting that at any moment someone would come to save them. But getting the outcomes we want, always requires a fight because it means not going with the flow.
Tyler covets, not so much the exclusive dining experience or to impress Margot, but to win the approval of chef Julian whom he regards with sycophantic adulation. When he fails to get this approval, he succumbs to the power of suggestion that his life is not worth living and hangs himself. We must always set our own standards; to do otherwise is to risk being gaslit and manipulated for nefarious ends. Oblivious to the fact that he is already destined to die [ “no-one will leave the island alive” – Julian prognosticates], he hastens his death instead of fighting for his life or at the very least savouring his remaining life. This illustrates the ugly and avoidable outcomes of hopelessness. Tyler could have challenged the label placed on him by the chef. For example, he could have conceded that he was a temperamental cook, and he was having an off day as all chefs do. He could have apologised for his disastrous la dish and shrugged it off as an example of how not to cook. Perhaps this would have lightened the atmosphere, and burst the bubble of inhumane frostiness which prevailed. It was clear that Julian’s standards were unreasonably high, hence his own slide into self-destruction.
Life serves us up an array of options, but we never need to choose death.