4 Weirdly Specific Things Movies Believe About Food
Humans have been making movies for 130 years, and in that time we've pretty much exhausted every story or character that could appear on film, inevitably leading to the overuse of cliched protagonists and plots that we've seen a million times. And when everyone got tired of those, we started taking the most minute, seemingly insignificant elements of movies and TV shows and turning them into cliches without anyone noticing it's happened, or that the new cliches are all about food. For example ...
In the Future, All Tough Guys Eat Noodles
I love noodles, which is why I fear for a future where I may no longer have access to some of my favorite dishes. Why? Because judging by plenty of sci-fi movies and TV shows, future noodles are things reserved primarily for badass action heroes.
"Waiter, there's a scorpion in my food. There should be two."
The entire trend can probably be traced back to Blade Runner (1982), where we're first introduced to Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) as he's getting noodles from a dingy Japanese street diner. The scene -- which isn't from the original Philip K. Dick novel -- is obviously there to quickly establish that in 2019, Asian cooking has become so commonplace that it's being enjoyed by down-to-earth badasses like Deckard, a professional bounty hunter of homicidal robots. (In any other movie, we'd probably first see him sitting down to discount pizza or frozen tacos that legally can't be referred to as "food" anywhere on the packaging.)
It, of course, all made perfect sense in the early '80s, because back then Asian food wasn't as common as it is today, which unfortunately cannot be said about Almost Human.
Almost Human is a TV series starring Karl "Judge Dredd, Bones, and Eomer -- aka Nerd Trifecta" Urban as the gruff, noodle-obsessed detective John Kennex, who has a robot partner and literally starts talking about eating noodles during the first six minutes of Episode 1. Still, even though Almost Human premiered in 2013, Kennex's eating habits can be explained by -- to put it mildly -- the series taking a lot of cues from Blade Runner. And to put it crudely: Almost Human is so in love with Blade Runner's themes of what it means to be human that it's taped the movie's DVD case to a body pillow with a hole cut in the middle.
Interestingly, another TV show that borrows heavily from Blade Runner is the 2004 reboot of Battlestar Galactica, which also centers on the blurred lines between man and machine, and even stars Edward James Olmos as Commander William Adama, an ass-kicking, name-taking military commander of a space warship. You might remember Mr. Olmos from a role we could have mentioned a few paragraphs up: You can see him recruiting Deckard at the beginning of Blade Runner. Oh, and here he is eating noodles in the BSG miniseries.
"All this has happened before and will happen again."
You could, of course, always make the argument that because Battlestar Galactica primarily takes place on isolated spaceships, their crews must resort to the most basic foodstuff and thus list noodles under "breakfast," "lunch," "dinner," and "cause of suicide." So maybe you can look at noodles as the food of necessity, both for people stuck in deep space and those unable to afford anything better, like with Spike Spiegel, the eternally broke space bounty hunter from the Cowboy Bebop anime:
And yet, none of the above, already very shaky justifications for futuristic malnutrition, explain why in the flying fuck Korben Dallas, Bruce Willis' flying-taxi-driver character, is shown eating noodles from a flying restaurant in The Fifth Element (1997).
In the future everything must be flying: cars, restaurants, fucks ...
Going by that scene alone, you almost don't need to be told that Korben used to be a major in the Special Forces, and that by the end of the movie he saves the universe from a being literally called the Great Evil. The fact that he's eating noodles in the future gives away his badass status. And speaking of food giving away key plot information ...
Chinese Food Signals That Some Serious Shit Is About to Go Down
Living close to one of the biggest Chinatowns in the world, I've become very familiar with Chinese food and can tell you for a fact that it's very rarely a prelude to an important event in people's lives (unless you put a lot of hot sauce on yours and are nowhere near a toilet). Then again, maybe Chinese food only predicts huge plot developments in fiction, like it did in the 1979 movie Manhattan.
You know, the one where Woody Allen plays a neurotic.
In this creepily prophetic comedy-drama, Woody Allen plays Isaac, a 42-year-old writer going out with the 17-year-old Tracy, played by Mariel Hemingway, who thank God isn't Allen's stepdaughter in this scenario. The two have fun together; they hang around, watch movies, and one time share Chinese takeout in bed. In the next scene, Isaac decides to break up with Tracy and to pursue another girl, named Mary, marking the start of the third act of the movie.
But as crazy as it may sound that a Jewish director would include Chinese food in his film for no special reason, let's be objective and say that it was all just a big coincidence. Fair enough. But what about True Romance?
"What about it?" - Audiences everywhere.
In this 1993 crime film, Clarence Worley falls in love with and marries a prostitute named Alabama, but before they can live happily ever after, Clarence must "free" Alabama from her pimp, Drexl Spivey, which he achieves by shooting the pimp in the dick. The entire sequence is so violent and chaotic that most people probably don't pay attention to what random thing Drexl is eating before Clarence comes in and performs an impromptu penisectomy on him, kicking off the movie's main plot. Incidentally, it's Chinese takeout.
The same year, a series of violent interactions was similarly signaled by Asian cuisine in the movie The Firm, which stars Tom Cruise as Mitch McDeere, a promising lawyer who gets involved with a dangerous organization with some sinister secrets. Only, instead of Scientology, here it's just a mob-controlled law firm, the acceptance to which Mitch and his wife celebrate by ordering Chinese food.
A deleted scene shows the place they order from is controlled by the Triads.
But True Romance and The Firm were hardly the first movies to prelude senseless violence with fried rice and spring rolls, having been beaten to the punch by The Fisher King, a 1991 movie where Robin Williams gets beat up a lot, which naturally earned him an Oscar nomination.
In The Fisher King, Williams plays Parry, a deranged homeless man haunted by visions of an illusionary "Red Knight." Early in the movie, he saves the life of Jeff Bridges' character, who eventually sets Parry up on a double date that, of course, takes place in a Chinese restaurant. Soon after that, Parry suddenly gets the Red Knight vision again and is almost beaten to death by street thugs, which wouldn't have happened if they'd all just went for fucking sushi.
Or trout. Or fish tacos. It's right there in the title of your movie!
Going back even further, we have Tim Burton's Beetlejuice, a film about a psychopathic ghost with ADHD who makes his first appearance shortly after a scene featuring Cantonese takeout.
Lastly, in That Thing You Do! a band called The Wonders is set down the path of disillusionment and misery after coming to an agreement with Tom Hanks' record company in a Chinese restaurant.
Unfortunately, they felt like making the wrong life decision again an hour later.
Have you noticed, though, that none of the folks enjoying all that Chinese food or the noodles from earlier were what you'd call "strong female characters"? That's because in movies ...
Strong Female Characters Must Have Bizarre Eating Habits
Movies have long taught us that if a woman can kill a man on the battlefield, she can also do it in the kitchen. Remember Eowyn from The Two Towers, the Rohan noblewoman who goes up to the Witch-king of Angmar (the Lord of the Nazgul) and stabs him in the face? Yeah, earlier in the extended edition of the movie, she actually tries to seduce Aragorn with a bowl of stew so disgusting, he waits but two seconds before trying to throw it away, and this is a man who has effectively been homeless most of his life.
Making him the only hobo in history to turn down free soup.
But to be fair, in the last couple of decades writers have been steering away from the "strong women can't cook" stereotype ... while at the same time replacing it with an even stupider one. The new cliche suggests that tough ladies are like some bizarre, unclassified species beyond the understanding of normal humans, and the best way to show it is by giving those women some crazy cravings.
The cliche seems to have first started in 1976 with Laverne & Shirley, a spinoff of Happy Days about what would happen if Richie and Fonzie were female roommates with smoldering sexual tension between them. Laverne De Fazio is the tough tomboy of the duo, which you can tell not by her cynicism or implied promiscuity, but by the fact that she loves drinking a mixture of milk and Pepsi.
A concoction most befitting a grotesque monster sporting both self-esteem AND a vagina.
Next came The Breakfast Club (1985) with Allison Reynolds, the "basket case" of the group: Allison takes no shit from anyone, is confrontational, and even self-harms, so of course she must enjoy sandwiches with sugar and cereal instead of meat.
Meat is murder, but I still don't like it.
The trend was quickly picked up by Power Rangers in the 1993 episode The Rockstar, where the ass-kicking Yellow Ranger tries to feed the group her homemade brownies with snails baked into them. This isn't part of some comical misunderstanding, by the way. She knows exactly what those treats are but feels like giving them a chance anyway, because as a fictional female character that can kick your ass, she is a grotesque freak.
But if you want to see the "treating strong women like aliens" cliche taken to its most extreme conclusion, look no further than Starfire: an actual alien with the power of flight, super strength, and energy projections. Comic book fans may remember her as one of DC's most prominent fap fodder, but if you've watched the Teen Titans cartoon, you probably know Starfire as a caring, courageous young woman ... who enjoys drinking mustard and eating flies ...
Why do I know that a porn version of this exact scene already exists somewhere?
Now that I think about it, though, if the show really wanted to hammer in that Starfire is something other than human, they should have made her a vegetarian, seeing as ...
Vegetarians Are (Often Literal) Monsters
Can you imagine anything more horrific than eating human flesh? Actually, if you were a Hollywood scriptwriter, you'd probably answer "Yes! Eating plants!" while flailing your arms and making "Wooo-ooo!" noises.
It was most likely Mary Shelley who kick-started the cliche of mixing monsters and vegetables way back in 1818 with the publication of Frankenstein, where the famed monster is actually portrayed as being vegetarian. In Chapter 17 of the book, he outright says: "I do not destroy the lamb and the kid to glut my appetite; acorns and berries afford me sufficient nourishment." Movies eventually followed Shelley's example with Troll 2 (1990), a movie about goblins (and the importance of thinking your titles through) who eat people after first turning them into plants.
"Transformations" of sorts also play a major role with the monstrous and vegetable-crazy Were-Rabbit in Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, or in an episode of Dexter's Laboratory where Dexter turns into a vegetarian parody of the Hulk.
So ... who exactly decided that not slaughtering animals for nourishment was suddenly a monstrous/evil trait? Well, in some cases, it might have something to do with making the villain the total opposite of the protagonist. Movie heroes have often been unintentional parodies of "manliness," so it'd make sense for villains to be their exact opposite: fragile, brainy, and vegetarian.
In Demolition Man (1993), for example, one of the villains is Raymond Cocteau, an elderly man who has taken over the combined mega-city of L.A. and San Diego while outlawing the consumption of meat, smoking, drinking, and sex, ironically fucking over a large number of the population who happen to enjoy those things, often at the same time. He's also the one who releases Wesley Snipes' character from cryogenic sleep and has him wreak havoc on the city, looking for the leader of a resistance movement fighting against Cocteau.
Cocteau actually shares a lot of similarities with the deranged President of the United States in Escape from L.A. (1996), who also outlaws all vices -- including red meat -- and tries to take over the world by first sending a badass action hero (Snake Plissken) after the leader of a resistance movement. (I just realized that Escape from L.A. is a blatant rip-off of Demolition Man.) A more lighthearted example of this cliche might be Evil Ex #3 from Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, who has obtained otherworldly powers of telepathy and telekinesis thanks to his vegan diet.
Finally, seeing as today his primary diet consists of nothing but cookies and fruit, technically speaking, Sesame Street's Cookie MONSTER is vegetarian, so ... that's half a point maybe?
"C" is for "Cookie"! "D" is for "Deforestation of the Amazon"!
Cezary Jan Strusiewicz is a freelance Cracked columnist and editor. Check out his writing for The Huffington Post here.