‘The Menu’ and its twisted ending, explained

As The menu, director Mark Mylod’s terrifying venture into the world of exclusive fine dining, raced towards its dramatic conclusion, something in my brain snapped. After being terrified for nearly two hours — Ralph Fiennes is cold and cold as chef Julian Slowik, an egomaniac driven to violence at his Hawthorne restaurant by his obsession with culinary perfection — I started laughing uncontrollably. (Note: Big spoilers for the ending ahead.)

Eventually, after torturing his guests and getting his leg stabbed by the woman he molested, Chef Julian’s vision becomes painfully comical. While his diners look on in horror, kitchen staff artfully sprinkle the restaurant’s dining room with graham cracker crumbs and assorted sauces. And then Julian sets the restaurant on fire while the patrons turn into human s’mores. Yes, s’mores. you willingly put on marshmallows and pour chocolate over their heads and the whole thing bursts into flames. When I first realized what was happening, I felt like I finally understood what The menu was over. And now I’ll try to unzip the twist ending of The menu and why it actually somehow actually is working.

Why do the guests in the film do this voluntarily?

The sheer mayhem of this scene — who wouldn’t want to watch John Leguizamo and Judith Light turn into s’mores — is coupled with the absurdity that the guests are all but willing to participate in their own deaths. Collectively, the guests trapped in Hawthorne never really attempt to fight back against Chef Julian or flee the island. After a few quiet protests early in the meal, mostly of “Do you know who I am?” for a change, they accept their fate.

It seems as if the characters – all rich people who have rarely experienced hardships in their lives – only play because they just can’t understand what is happening to them. They’re automatons that move from one plush experience to the next, and Chef Julian’s storyline essentially caused them to fail.

What is the movie trying to say by turning everyone into human s’mores?

After years of serving wealthy, privileged people, Julian would want to get back at them in a particularly humiliating way: and is there anything more humiliating than being forced to prepare your body for consumption? After observing how these characters behave inside the restaurant and learning about their indiscretions outside of the restaurant, The menu encourages us to cheer for their downfall. While you’re thinking, “Wow, he’s really turning these assholes into s’mores,” you’re also kind of excited to see what happens next. That seems a pretty obvious consequence of living in a world where a few people can pay $1,000 for dinner at a restaurant like Hawthorne, while countless others wonder if they’ll even have dinner.

Where the hell did an idea like that come from?

According to Mylod, the dish itself is a recreation of chef Grant Achatz’s legendary tabletop dessert at Alinea (which, for the record, doesn’t involve self-immolation). “When I got into the project, one of the big things I wanted to change about the script was to have this more operatic ending,” Mylod told Eater. “We wanted to end this meal with a bang, so we did a lot of research on how to make the specifics of the dessert elements work.”

Okay, but why s’mores and not like a baked Alaska?

This seems to be an expressly practical choice. Covering people in ice cream and meringue seems a lot harder than simply asking them to put on marshmallow suits and pour chocolates over their heads. Realistically, though, it’s probably an announcement by food snobs who think s’mores suck.

Does this twist actually work…?

It is certainly unexpected!!! For a full two hours, you really have no idea how this dinner is going to end. At some points you almost get the feeling that Margot – who turns out to be a sex worker and not upper class like the rest of the guests – could be the heroine and figure out how to save everyone. In a more traditional horror film, one might expect each diner to be murdered in some way directly related to their bad behavior — perhaps the tech brothers being killed by a computer, or the philandering politician insulted by a mistress. But chef Julian’s decision to host a giant human bonfire feels both appropriately cinematic and appropriately restaurant-y. Doesn’t every cook want to end the evening with a perfect dessert?

What’s up with Margot’s Burger?

Before escaping the island in a boat, Margot asks chef Julian to make her a cheeseburger, giving the audience a tiny glimpse of the human behind the monster. Julian smiles and lets Margot go. She enters the boat with a doggie bag containing half of that cheeseburger, and the last thing we see is Margot taking a big bite out of the burger while watching Hawthorne burn to the ground from a safe distance. But she hears a soft smack, just like Chef Julian’s, as she bites into the burger, which could indicate he’s done something sinister with her survival snack.

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