Edible Entertainment: Exceptional Food Moments in FilmFebruary 28, 2016
What makes a memorable movie? Maybe it’s a line that lasts a lifetime (“You can’t handle the truth!” or “I’ll have what she’s having,” and, “You had me at hello.”) Maybe it’s an image ingrained in the mind. (Oldboy’s hallway fight, the last shootout in Road to Perdition.) It could even be makeup and costume that cements a character’s identity. (The Joker’s grunge makeup, Alex and the Droogs’ bowlers and canes.) Very rarely though do we ever bring up food in the conversation on fine films. The Academy has doled out awards for direction, acting, cinematography, production design, special effects, and so on, but never have they bestowed honor upon screen cuisine.
More than just props for dinner scenes, food has proven itself plenty of times as essential for establishing character, advancing the plot, and at times, heightening the tension. Despite all this, the contributions of food in the history of cinema have been mostly overlooked. In this year’s The Revenant, after more than two hours of watching Leo trudging through snow as white as his fellow nominees, people will keep going back to the part where he munches on raw bison liver. In that one bite of Pawnee-style sashimi, we witnessed Hugh Glass’s literal hunger, as well as his metaphorical thirst for blood.
Moments like this are sprinkled all across Hollywood’s gallery of greats. Think of Annie Hall and the lobsters or The Big Lebowski and the White Russian. This isn’t an official top 10 list of the best film food of all, but it is instead a reflection on the times that a scene has made a permanent impression thanks to food.
(For this list, I’ve excluded culinary films like Chef, Burnt, Julia & Julia. I’ve also disqualified animated movies like Lady & The Tramp to focus on real tangible meals. Keeping it organic is the in thing now, right? Ratatouille is a double offender, so don’t expect Remy’s grapes in cheese to make the cut.)
Corn – Nacho Libre
From the Lord’s chips to eagle eggs, Nacho Libre had its fair share of food-related gags, but none quite stood out as much as the corn. Fresh off the grill then drizzled with butter and garlic, those golden cobs were part of the life of goodies that Nacho longed for.
After getting kicked out of Ramses’s party, Nacho and his sidekick Esqueleto stumble upon two knife-wielding street thugs about to jack their trike. Out of nowhere, Esqueleto lobs the cob of corn and spears his foe right in the eye. The scene cuts immediately after to the next day with our protagonists in one piece. Did we just witness death via grain-related impalement? We’ll never really know.
Also, “Get that corn out of my face!” is, in my opinion, one of the best lines Jack Black as ever spoken.
Fifty Hardboiled Eggs – Cool Hand Luke
Having boasted a belly that could never burst, Luke accepted his fellow inmates’ challenge to eat 50 eggs in under an hour. That’s 3,900 calories, 300 grams of protein, and 9,325 milligrams of all-American cholesterol. Nearly everyone bet that he couldn’t do it, but one egg at a time, with the help of his best mate peeling them for him, Luke gobbled up the gargantuan task. Every few minutes, he would get up, walk around and drink water from the tap. In the final seconds, with a stomach on the brink of eruption, Luke lays on the table surrounded by enough shells for a whole fourth grade art class. His friend Drag forces the last egg down his mouth. The time ends, Luke sticks his tongue out to prove every bit of yolk has made its way down his digestive system. As he passes out like Jesus on the cross, he earns not just his doubters’ dollars but also their respect.
Jell-O – Jurassic Park
We think the kids are safe from harm. They’re indoors. They’re snacking on dessert. Then in the middle of this little celebration, everything freezes. Well, everything except for a spoonful of green Jell-O. In one of Spielberg’s finest moments as a director, he gives the audience a highly concentrated dose of terror in one gelatinous jiggle.
Steak – The Matrix
Having chosen the red pill, Cypher knew all about the miserable truth about the world we live in. His resentment towards Morpheus and his act of liberation might have been brewing for nine years, but it was that slice of medium rare steak that served as the tipping point. Seeing that on screen, we might have chosen ignorance, too.
Chocolate Cake – Matilda
As punishment for gobbling up the headmistress Miss Trunchbull’s dessert, Bruce Bogtrotter is forced to finish a giant slice of chocolate cake in front of the whole class. Using just his bare hands, he scarfs it down. With a clean plate and a mouth smothered in icing, he thinks he’s in the clear. To his surprise, the cafeteria lady walks in carrying the rest of the country-sized confection. He stuffs his face one handful at a time. It was a task that seemed as monumental as Andy Dufresne chipping away at his prison escape. Alas, Bruce, with his belly at the brink of bursting, triumphs. The children applaud his effort, Trunchbull smashes the plate over his head, and everyone in the audience feels sudden gluten intolerance.
Milk – Inglourious Basterds
Before having his men gun down a family of Jews in hiding, Colonel Hans Landa prefers to guzzle a tall glass of farm fresh milk courtesy of the LaPadite family. Albeit odd, it seems like a harmless character detail. That is, until years later when he has a chance encounter at a restaurant with the Shosanna, the lone survivor of the Dreyfus massacre. As if tension was not high enough, Landa then calls the waiter to order a glass of—you guessed it—milk.
As a side note, Tarantino has a real knack for using food as a means of intimidation. See also: Pulp Fiction and the Big Kahuna Burger.
Octopus – Oldboy
In his first meal after 15 years of imprisonment, Dae-su heads to a Japanese restaurant and orders live octopus. To the server’s (and our) shock, he grabs it with his fist and chomps on its head. The poor thing’s tentacles wriggle in protest but within seconds, the cephalopod slides down Dae-su’s throat, while the audience keeps their dinner from sliding up theirs.
On an interesting note, apparently when the film won the Grand Prix at Cannes, director Chan-wook Park thanked the four octopi that were consumed.
Raw Eggs – Rocky
It was a scene that launched training rituals across the globe. At four in the morning, Rocky wobbles his way towards the fridge, takes out an egg, and cracks it over a glass. He doesn’t stop there. He does the same with four more. Instead of scrambling the raw mess on a pan, he gulps them down, leaving a trickle of yolk on his chin. In that one scene, these eggs reveal so much about this character—his poverty, his discipline, and his ability to take punishment. All this was achieved without even throwing one punch.