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Meals on Reels: Food As Metaphor in Film



But there is a dark side to the human creature as well, and food imagery has also been used to symbolize the chilling horror of a perverse mind. Decades of film vampires have survived on liquid diets of warm blood. In "Whatever Happened To Baby Jane?" Bette Davis serves Joan Crawford a roasted pet parakeet and a limp dead rat. In "Silence of the Lambs" Hannibal the Cannibal's preference for human liver epitomizes the twisted depravity of a pathologically insane serial murderer.

Food is such a pervasive cinematic device it even has a place in science fiction. In the fifties classic "Forbidden Planet", Robbie the Robot wows a stranded Starfleet crew by popping full course dinners from an electronic matter converter located in his bionic belly. When "Starman" Jeff Bridges experiences a pain in his mid-section and learns it's caused by a sensation known as hunger, he pulls into a truck stop diner and becomes an instant apple pie addict. And in "E.T." we all learned that while off-planet visitors are pushovers for Reese's Pieces, Coca-Cola and potato chips, even extraterrestrials do dumb things when they've imbibed a bit too much beer.

As a motif that encapsulates and demonstrates every level of human experience, food has no equal in the filmic medium. Food binds us and defines us, as individuals and as a species. It symbolizes ecstasy and despair, all that we hold sacred and all that is profane. That food is the quintessential metaphor for existence comes across loud and clear in "Auntie Mame" when Rosalind Russell proclaims, "Life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death. So live, live, live!" And let the cameras roll.


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