Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Ratatouille 3: Mommy ex Machina

And another thing.

In watching Ratatouille this time around, after I’d just been through a major examination of Dumbo, I was struck by how Bird staged Ego’s reaction to the ratatouille served up at the climax of the film. He  has Ego regress to his childhood.


Well, the film itself gives us a reason for that; his beloved mother had fed him ratatouille when he was but a boy.

But why’d Bird do that? All he needed to do in order to get his happy ending was to have Ego like the dish. Why the regression?

I’m suggesting that there’s a dramatic reason for the regression, but one that doesn’t follow directly from the story. Bird wants to invoke sentimentality about idyllic childhood moments. Whether he really needs to do so is another matter. That he does so is obvious. Note that the moment is elaborately staged, an indication that Bird REALLY REALLY meant it.

Here we see Ego putting a bite into his mouth:

Ratatouille 9 in mouth

Food in mouth, got it.

Of course, food goes in the mouth. Everyone knows that. But the close-up forces us to attend to that ordinary event, to note it and think about it. And, we all know that in psychoanalytic thinking orality is associated with mother, through her breast, the infant’s source of food. And that’s where Bird is taking us—well, to mommy, though not to her breast (this is, after all, a family film)—and with spectacular visual effects.

First we get a frontal view of Ego as pleasure begins to register in his mind. Notice that he’s holding his pen in his right hand, and it’s pressed against a note pad. He’s ready to go to work, which, of course, is writing about food, not eating it. However, it tastes so good:

Ratatouille 10 wow!

And then we zoom away from him:

Ratatouille 11 zoom!

Now the zoom appears in an eye:

Ratatouille 12 zoom eye

And that eye turns out to be that of a young boy, whom we assume is young Anton. He’s just been called in for a meal:

Ratatouille 13 child

We see his mother at the stove:

Ratatouille 14 mom

She sets a dish of ratatouille in from of him:

Ratatouille 15 food

Touches him affectionately under his chin:

Ratatouille 16 mom&son

He eats and it is good:

Ratatouille 18 yum1

Now we get another zoom:

Ratatouille 19 rezoom

Which puts us back with Ego, this time in Gusteau’s eating Remy’s ratatouille. Notice that he’s still got pen in hand.

Ratatouille 20 back

His pleasure is so great that he drops his pen:

Ratatouille 21 drop pen

And now he gives in to the pleasure of eating. Pure sensual pleasure.

Ratatouille 22 yum2

From here to the end the film’s basically a montage as plot points get wrapped up. First we have voice-over from Remy as he explains how the evening ended as they showed Ego who the chef was. Then we have Ego’s voice-over as he reads his review, which is a panegyric to the unusual and unexpected, but nonetheless excellent. More voiceover from Remy and then we conclude the montage without voiceover. We see that Ego is happily eating away in a bistro fronted by Linguini and Collette, with Remy as chef, and Ego himself as the angel investor.

Why the return to mother? I suspect it’s for the same reason that Dumbo ends with his return to his mother. But that film was built around Dumbo’s relation to his mother. Mothers play a peculiar role in Ratatouille. Remy’s mother is never mentioned.

Linguini’s mother is dead. We have no sense of the quality of his relationship with her, nor any sense that he’s still mourning her death. She’s dead, and he’s got this letter to present to the current owner of Gusteau’s. That is, he wouldn’t be here if his mother hadn’t died. And without him, there’d be no movie. Remy couldn’t carry it alone. He needs a human to front for him.

And then, at the end, Bird pulls Ego’s mother out of a nowhere. SHAZAM!

Surely he’s after the sentiment attendant upon fond memories of childhood and mom, as though he needs it to ‘sell’ Ego’s subsequent praise of the meal and encomium on finding excellence in odd places. Or, if not to sell it so much as to cement it in place. In the afterglow of sentiment about mom and happy childhood those words have a chance to ‘trickle down’ to the deepest layers of the psyche.

Early in the film, Dumbo gave us a scene in which Dumbo frolicked in the bath with his mother. What in effect happens in Ratatouille is that such as childhood scene scene become highly compressed and appears in Ratatouille in the flashback, where mom affectionately strokes young Anton under his chin.

I’ve argued that Dumbo stages the reunion in such a way that it resonates back over the modern technology—Dumbombers for defense—attendant upon Dumbo’s success. Bird’s doing the same thing, but without the preparation of a story built on separation from mother. The implication, of course, is that Ego’s career as critic is fueled by separation, which is why he dropped his pen when overcome with pleasure in the meal.

I’m thus reminded of another movie that opened the same year as Dumbo, 1941: Citizen Kane. The film ends with Kane’s childhood sled burning in a fire, the sled he was taken from early in life when he was sent East to boarding school.

Dumbo was a child. Ego and Kane were mature men. What’s with these films in which mature men long for childhood?

* * * * *

Hmmm...As I recall, as Citizen Kane opens on Kane’s dying moments when a snow glob slips from his hand (as he utters “Rosebud”). That shot where the pen slips from Ego’s hand, could that actually be an homage to Citizen Kane

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