Monday, August 13, 2007

Ratatouille: Thoughts

At some point the etymological root of the word “consume” (to eat/drink) evolved to include the desire accumulate (absorb) items; as if the catalyst to horde relics of our monetary means had somehow become a carnivorous task, an impulse as base and as intrinsic as our desire for sustenance, and a word, sprouting offspring with additional appendages, became “consumerism”. It is within this history that the geniuses of Pixar, and the heartfelt and fertile mind of animator Brad Bird, provide us with a perfect parable of our day.

Remy (Patton Oswalt) is a rat. More importantly, Remy is a rat with a refined pallet and who can hardly, like a good rat should, stomach the indiscriminate consumption of the traditional garbage and refuse, and would rather, using his unique abilities, create elaborate dishes, a problem that naturally results in a unique omnivore’s dilemma. It is a tribute to Brad Bird that Ratatouille is as much about food as it isn’t. The metaphor of the individual artist’s struggle amid the economic entity of his upbringing easily stretches beyond the most populist kitchen in Paris. The rat’s (lead by Remy’s father) goals are, as a plague, to feed and live—the more they eat the better their quality of life. The guilt Remy experiences, as his desire to create consumes him, is felt by any who have wished to express their own artistic impulses in something as simple as a peasant dish, or book, or painting, or song. Remy, as the boss’s son and inheritor of his system, has a responsibility to contribute to his society, like using his talent in less pedantry ways by sniffing out the poisoned bits of garbage. In Remy’s economic social system this is an essential task, one that ensures the safety and livelihood of not only his family (including his lumbering doofus brother) but his community. But it is Remy’s continued desire to engage in the art of gastronomy that makes him a pariah, and, for those of us who have tried to explain to parents and family why we’ve chosen to be nearer to poverty than a 401k in the pointless fantasy pursuit of art, Remy’s discussions with his father are eerily pertinent. I myself have had many discussions with my own father regarding the method in which I approach my desire to discuss film, books, and politics (he thinks I’m a bit long-winded and snotty). Of course, he is right. But, sadly, to do so in a different manner would betray my own refined (or mangled, depending) pallet. A sin if I ever believed in one.

Ratatouille is another triumph for Pixar, the latest link in an amazing chain, and I nervously fret over the day when I will go to the theater and not be moved. In Ratatouille, is was during vampiric-critic Anton Ego’s (the superb Peter O’Toole) review of the (Remy) revived Gusteau’s, and his sublime acceptance of his role as a responsible critic, obligated to truly reexamine, in every event, how one truly evaluates art, for what purpose, and how this purpose must be inextricably tied to the willingness to accept that great art can come from anywhere (for instance, a kiddie film with rats), that I was most shaken. Whether it was simply the old knight O’Toole’s voice—aged and serene like the most eloquent requiem—or Bird’s words concerning said art, I found myself wistful and melancholy at the notion that, assuming one maintains their principles and strives for artistic perfection in all things, even the most stringent classicist or hardened parent can be moved to acknowledge the wonderment of it all. New York Times film critic A.O. Scott claimed that Ratatouille was “…a nearly flawless piece of popular art, as well as one of the most persuasive portraits of an artist ever committed to film.” And, seeing as I cannot find fault with such a claim and would indeed applaud it, I would simply add that Ratatouille is, by far, a truly exquisite and wholly satisfying emotional experience. In short: a work of art of the most excellent flavour.

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