Sunday, September 7, 2014

Ratatouille and The Hundred-Foot Journey Briefly Compared

I went to see The Hundred-Foot Journey the other day and was struck at how much it resembles Ratatouille, which, though a (mere) cartoon, is a better film. Both films center on food and on the art of cooking. Both involve the intersection of two social worlds, the French and the Indians in Hundred-Foot and humans and rats in Ratatouille. Yes, in Ratatouille the humans are also French, but the world of that film is French, so the contrast is between humans and animals, that is, rats. Whereas Hundred-Foot starts in Mumbai and then moves to France, thus establishing the contrast as being between two groups of ethnically and nationally different humans.

The crucial point, it seems to me, is that the protagonist is a male from the outsider group and he falls in love with, and wins, a female from the insider group. The outsider male is a better cook than the insider female he wins. This female helps him out. Because the protagonist in Ratatouille is in fact a rat, we have to have the elaborate business whereby Remy is fronted by a human, Linguini.

It is Remy’s frontman who falls in love with the woman, Collette, just as the Indian chef, Hassan Kadam, falls in love with the woman, Maguerite. When that happen, Colette learns that it is not Linguini who is the superior cook; it is Remy the rat. So in this case the woman is marrying her inferior, with Remy being superior to both in cooking.

This table lays out some of the parallels in how the films are set up:

Ratatouille Hundred-Foot Journey
Hassan Kadam?
Love Interest
Colette, a cook in Skinner’s kitchen
Marguerite, a sous chef in Madam Mallory’s kitchen
Dead eminence
Madam Mallory’s husband
Gastronomic Threat
Skinner’s frozen food ala Gasteau
molecular gastronomy

There are more parallels, but they’d require a bit of comparative discussion, which is more than I want to do. Two points: 1) In both films the moment of triumph comes with a meal prepared by the protagonist, a male chef from the outsider group, for the presiding genius of the insider group. In Ratatouille that genius is a critic, Anton Ego; in Hundred-Foot that genius is Madam Mallory, who is not herself a chef; and so she plays the role of critic in her kitchen. 2) The climax comes at a meal prepared by the protagonist for the critic. The moment of triumph is signaled by the same gesture of gustatory satisfaction on the part of both critics.

The parallels are really quite striking. The films share the same underlying myth logic.

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