Eat the Rich: 'The Menu' Delivers a Clever Satire in the Age of Mass Consumption
Updated: Jan 7
"Tonight, you get no bread."
After months in the theater, director Mark Mloyds critically acclaimed dark comedy, The Menu, is available to stream on HBO Max. Absurd and poignant, at it’s core, it’s just a clever play on the classic phrase, “Eat the rich.”
Warning: Spoilers Below
When presumed couple Tyler (Nicholas Holt) and Margot (Ana Taylor-Joy) board a boat to the luxurious Hawthorne restaurant, and their relationship is unclear. Unbalanced. Inauthentic. Tyler craves the food he is about to indulge in, and the respect of the renowned Chef Julian Slowik (Ralph Fiennes). Margot remains a mystery. Why is she here? Unphased by the gimmicks or the prestigious guests on the boat with her, her presence is a challenge to the “experience.”
They arrive on the island; an isolated location made only for them, the staff, and Hawthorne. There are five tables for five parties, and an older woman sits drunk in the corner. The staff are busy at their stations, plating dishes and piping unknown sauces like an assembly line in a 20th century factory. The gears of labor in play, while the wealthy sit and watch from their seats.
Meanwhile, the diners continue their discussions over carefully curated appetizers and glasses of wine that will total $1,250 a head. The heads: The woman responsible for Hawthorne’s first rave review, food critic, Lillian (Janet McTeer), and her editor Ted (Paul Adelstein). Longtime guests of the restaurant, married couple Anne (Judith Light) and Richard (Reed Birney). An unnamed award-winning actor, played by John Leguizmo, and his (presumed) girlfriend, played by Aimee Carrero. Three businessmen who work for the proprietor of Hawthorne (played by Arturo Castro, Rob Yang, and Mark St. Cyr). In their own world of earned success and ego, the menu is but a buffer between conversations and tension.
A loud clap. The room falls silent. Julian emerges, and the speech commences. He commands respect, the creator of the space.
“I have to beg of you one thing. Do not eat,” Julian explains. “Taste. Savor. Relish. Here we are, one this island. Accept. And forgive.”
Bask in the moment. The island, an ecosystem of its own that the guests reap the benefits of, as they oft do to get to where they are. The multi-course meal tells a story of survival - and of vengeance, too. Food from the land, from the sea, and no food at all.
“For me, chef Slowik is not inspired by nature,” The Menu’s production designer Ethan Tobman told Thrillist. “He’s haunted by nature, because nature is perfect, and he’ll never be able to approximate that perfection. He’s destroying nature in the process of creating a perfect restaurant experience.”
It doesn’t take long before tensions rise, as the second course is served: “Breadless Bread.” Julian goes on to tell the history of grains and water, that bread is for the “common man” and “peasants,” and has been for 12,000 years. Of course, these guests are not the common man (again, the meal cost $1,250). Oh, the irony. “Let them eat cake,” Marie Antoinette once said. The poor can indulge, not only in the measly stale bread that they could not afford, but in the sweets of the riches to which they will never know. Or in another interpretation - they deserve the charred, moldy bread as it’s all they have. Either way, the French Revolution came soon after.
There is no bread. Lillien treats the breadless plate as a critic would; emulsion in the dips (how could they??), and the colors are off. The businessmen beg for bread, the others are confused. Tyler, of course, enjoys every bite of the dollops of nothing, it is part of the chef’s genius after all. Margot forgoes the meal entirely, there is more food to come, afterall. Julian doesn’t like that.
As the evening goes on, the menu grows more deranged. The staff become part of the menu in a manner that can only be described as harrowing. The cracks in the guest’s psyche are clear; the threat of entrapment and death at the hands of a vengeance-seeking chef are enough to break down their veil of entitlement. But not Margot. She has nothing to lose. A diner, invited by Tyler at the last minute. A service worker herself - though not in restaurants - she is now immersed in the two facets of a society that is made up of thos who take orders, and those who give. Perhaps she is neither…
More death. More chases. No one is getting out. Margot must save herself. What is the one thing that Julian craves? Why has he chosen this group, a seemingly random ensemble of the worst people he has served, to end his life of service at an establishment that has provided him a legacy?
“I’ve allowed my work to reach the price point where only the class of people in this room can access it,” Julian says. “And I’ve been fooled in trying to satisfy people who could never be satisfied.”
When the experience becomes more than the purpose, it is easy to lose hope. The food is less important than the concept, and the passion becomes an investment. Julian must return to his roots, remember why he became a chef in the first place. It’s up to Margot to remind him, a server and a guest, she goes “off menu” and orders a burger. And in a scene that would be beautiful if not for the rising threat of the group’s death, Julian carefully grills the meat and slices tomatoes; he crafts a burger that is both worthy of a Michelin Star and a backyard barbeque. A million memories of regret, of success gone sour, of his fleeting joy for food - washed away by the action of simply cooking. Margot takes a bite, and leaves with a to-go box and gift bag.
In the distance, Hawthorne goes up in flames; the guests and the staff are the dessert, aflamed like human smores. It’s a rather humiliating way to go out. Julian fulfilled his promise; this would be the final meal he ever served. And as Margot sails away into the distance, the same path she took to the island, she sits for awhile and eats her burger. Or, not eat. She tastes it. Savors it. Relishes in its flavor and the level of care that went into making it. And she wipes her mouth with a copy of the menu. It’s just a piece of paper. It really has no value.