27/07/2017

Ratatouille - Change & Nature

Thoughts On: Ratatouille (2007)


A rat with an acute sense of smell and taste aspires to be a great chef.


Toy Story, A Bug's Life, Monsters Inc., Finding Nemo, The Incredibles and Cars. Up until 2007, Pixar had made some all right films and a handful of lasting classics. However, whilst they passed into to the realm of greatness once with Monsters, Inc, it wasn't until Ratatouille was released that, in my opinion, Pixar ventured into this place again and emerged with another masterpiece. Whilst many have ranked and compared the body of Pixar's work, most do this with a one or two-dimensional approach to their narratives. In such, many look to the aesthetics and the emotions which the Pixar films capture and project. And if we are to judge them on these factors alone, the likes of Toy Story, Finding Nemo and Monsters, Inc overshadow everything that Pixar has made. But, if you really study these narratives instead of just experiencing them (which is a side of these movies not to be overlooked), I believe the hierarchy shifts. In such, when you judge every facet of the Pixar movies, the likes of Ratatouille truly pronounces itself as a tremendous movie and maybe one of Pixar's best.

So, to get the obvious out of the way, Ratatouille is a entirely endearing movie with rich animation, wonderful characters, brilliant moments of comedy and an ingenious script. And it is probably that ingeniousness embedded into Ratatouille's screenplay that had me fall in love with this movie on the first watch. However, with more repeat viewings, the core ingeniousness of this narrative's concept slowly flourished into something far more profound than I initially recognised. In such, Ratatouille initially seemed to be about talent coming out of unexpected places; talent that needs to be nurtured and supported by society. However, whilst this is a significant part of this narrative, we could push much deeper into the nuances of this film's ideas.

The primary level at which to understand Ratatouille would then be its depiction of exploration and the 'nature' of organisms and their societies. We see these themes funnelled through our main character, Remy...


Remy is a rat born with a gift that is entirely antithetical to the concept his nature. In such, he is, oxymoronically, a rat with good taste. This divide within himself leads him to explore the world beyond the confines of his nature and his family group, which in turn leads him to distance himself from his family and nature. We then see Remy as a rat who wants to transcend his being as it has been given to him by the world around himself. In such, the distance that grows from his exploration of what makes him different to his family not only signals a change within himself, but rats in general. However, Remy being different to all of the rats around him doesn't instantaneously make him the new pack leader, instead, just poison checker...


It is then at this point that we should discuss the role that food plays in this film. As we have all heard before, and as is said in this film, "you are what you eat". This is a literal statement with implications that stretch beyond what we would usually think. "You are what you eat" is tantamount to saying that you are all that you come into contact with; you are your environment. This is because everything that you put into your body and mind, everything that you surround yourself with, defines you to varying degrees--and whether you like it or not. When Remy then says, "if you are what you eat, then I only want to eat the good stuff", he is not just saying that he wants to eat good food to live a better life, but that he wants to change the manner in which he exists. We see this extend into the idea of theft; Remy does not want to steal food - and this will become an integral part of his relationship later on with Linguini. However, in opposition to all that Remy aspires to stand for is his father.


His father, Django, only wants what is good for his family; that which is grounded in sense, safety and the path of least resistance. As a result, Remy's father is fixed to an idea of compromise; it's ok to take what humans do not want even if it is not the best produce because, firstly, humans do not want it, and, secondly, it can't get us into much trouble. Aspiration and exploration, the abandonment of nature, then seem to be very 'human' traits that are only reserved for those with the power and given privileged to risk things without fear of losing everything to Django. Because Remy and his father cannot come to agreement on whose interpretation of food's (which in turn means the environment that the rats construct and maintain) role is in their society, Remy is left with his brother, Emile...


Emile is an interesting figure as he is not defined by aspiration or comprise, like his brother and father are, rather, plain consumption and pleasure. This leaves Emile impressionable, but loyal, and always hungry. He then represents the average person in the rat colony; he is not the comprising leader, nor is he the outlying, aspirational son. What he will then come to represent, in part, is the nature of all rats. He then understands and is willing to oblige the change that his brother presents if he can prove it is for the greater good. However, when Remy tries to teach Emile this, they're lead into the kitchen...


As is foreshadowed by Remy's initial experiment in which he tried to teach Emile about the art of cooking...


... this exploration may lead to trouble. However, before it does, Remy comes into contact with two significant details - both on the television.


The first detail is given by Gusteau and the idea that "anybody can cook... but, only the fearless can be great". This is what defines and motivates Remy's aspiration to eat better food and explore; he is searching for greatness and knows he must be bold to achieve it. However, after being re-affirmed of this, Remy discovers that Gusteau died after descending from greatness, and that his death contributed greater to this descent. As a result, his restaurant now only has 3 stars, not 5. We will delve deeper into this idea later, but, firstly, despite Remy's aspirations for greatness, his exploration leads to disaster...


All that his father predicted and preached comes true; the humans reject Remy despite his being different and this turns out to be disastrous for the family. As a result, Remy's extreme act of rebellion leads to the distance between himself and his family being stretched to its extreme; his is left alone and with nothing:


Here, left with nothing but his cook book, all of Remy's aspirations turn sour; the great food in his book only intensify his hunger pains.

It's at this point that we'll take a step back and begin to consider the roles of the fathers in this narrative. As can be seen in many great stories, Remy, our protagonist, has two fathers. There is his literal, worldly father...



And then there is his idol, the father of his dreams who is great and powerful...


However, Remy has just learnt that Gusteau died a failure. Why? It seems that he gave the world all he had and couldn't provide anymore; his talent and skill hit their peak. It is here at the end of the first act, at the first major turn of this narrative, that Remy realises that the, to refer to an archetypal character, old king is not so great anymore. This leaves his dreams exposed to reality, hence, his real father is proven right; exploration, risk and dreams fail Remy and conservative, cautionary compromise saved his family:


With his identity questioned in the most pressing of manners, Remy is left shook to his core - much like Gusteau was after a star was stripped from him. However...


... Remy does not just lay down and die. He turns in on himself, which is represented by Gusteau, a figment of his imagination, coming to life, and finds hope.


It's here that Gusteau then recognises that Remy has lost everything, but nonetheless urges him to go and look for food...


... however, Gusteau doesn't just want Remy to steal. After all, he does not want him to become his father (or at least, he does not want him to betray himself to become his father). This is why he says "a cook makes, a thief takes". What he re-affirms in Remy here is then the idea that the goodness he seeks in life...


... must not only be strived after, but it should be manifested; Remy should cook. But, in holding onto these higher ideals, Remy is still left hungry. It is here that Gusteau assures one of the most poignant ideas in this narrative: "food always comes to those who love to cook". Now, this is a very old idea, one that could best be explained by a look at a biblical quote. However, before I show you this, what I will largely be drawing upon here is an interpretation of an idea taken from a talk of Dr. Jordan Peterson's. You can follow this link, or watch this clip here, paying attention to the first 2 minutes...


"Food always comes to those who love to cook" is very much so a reflection of:

"Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and these things shall be added unto you.
Take thereof no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself"

What is being said by Gusteau, just as it is in the Bible, is not that people should just do what they love, but that they should seek righteousness. Gusteau posits this idea within Remy with the idea that he shouldn't just steal, but should cook; he should not take from the world, but make something to add to it. What Remy is then fuelled by here is the idea that, to quote Peterson, "If you dare to do the most difficult thing that you can conceptualise, your life will work out better than it will if you do anything else".

This powerful idea pervades the entirety of Ratatouille. Not only is Remy confronted by it here...


... but so is Linguini here...


... Colette here...


... and Ego here in the end...


Ratatouille is then a classical story about doing the right thing and daring risk everything for that; it is about faith in goodness and striving for better.

However, whilst I could wrap things up here, there's quite a bit more to this narrative than this. Whilst the narrative of Ratatouille is motivated by this idea of righteousness and a trust in dreams, all of these themes and ideas catalyse its initial implications of a rat changing its nature...


And these ideas, as said, are heavily linked to father figures. In Ratatouille, father figures, Gusteau and Remy's dad, Django, do not just imply a righteous path. In such, Django doesn't just provide Remy with ideas of family and loyalty and Gusteau doesn't just give him the ideas of dreams and change, but, both father figures provide Remy lessons through their own faults. Django then lives a safe life with a certain degree of security, but he is also happy to sustain his family in destitute conditions. Moreover, whilst Gusteau was great, he couldn't sustain this. However, to fully understand Gusteau's faults, we have to realise the significance of Linguini...


Linguini is, of course, Gusteau's illegitimate son. He had an affair, but he never provided himself a chance to continue his lineage. This is why, after Gusteau loses one star and dies, he loses another. It is not so much a final slap in the face, but an affirmation that Gusteau's legacy had be tarnished and will likely stay that way. If he had a son or daughter to step in his place, the loss of the second star would then provide them with a chance to save that legacy, but not without a true challenge; they wouldn't just be able to ride with the sails of their father's success, but would have to build that ship back up again. So, this is the significance of Linguini and is what justifies this image here...


Linguini is an encapsulation of one of his father's greatest faults and, just like Remy has to overcome his father's downfalls, so must Linguini overcome his. This, to jump ahead in the narrative, is why there is a romantic element to Ratatouille...


It is largely Linguini's task to do better than his father in regards to the way he managed (or refused to) his family. This is certainly an element of this story that could have been explored to greater depth, but the implication that, with Remy's help, Linguini could not only live up to his father's legacy, but also surpass it, is a pretty profound idea.

So, what adds another layer to this narrative is then its depiction of figures not just following a path of righteousness that their fathers paved, but also reaching the end of that path and continuing to build it towards greater places. Whilst we see this with Linguini establishing a relationship with Colette and Remy becoming a chef that later supports his family, the fact that the two are paired implies that the spirit of Gusteau, the idea that 'anybody can cook, if...', that anybody has the potential to change, which Remy embodies, not only furthers Gusteau's own legacy, but has the potential to better both humanity and rats as a species.

This is then where our initial ideas of nature and change come back into the picture; Ratatouille is all about the idea, which is explicitly stated in the film, that nature is not something that you can't change, rather "nature is change". Thus, we see the two layers of this narrative giving birth to one. When our main characters strive for righteousness and then strive to surpass their father's legacies, we see them attempting to alter the manner in which their societies function. The fact that they attempt to do this through food reinforces the idea that "you are what you eat". Food is a fundamental aspect of living, and so to change its quality and the perspective people hold on it, is to deeply affect a society. Thus, there are two enemies in this narrative; rubbish...


... and goodness...


Change, as a theme, interacts with these two forces with our main characters trying to positively change the world in spite of their fathers, who do not want (or did not) change, and figures such as Skinner and Ego who either oppose their actions or are attempting to negatively change the world. Thus, the fight between rubbish and goodness becomes a fight against this rubbish...


... and this goodness...


The ultimate fight that both Remy and Linguini fight together is then a complex, abstract one; a mesh of overcoming their fathers, but simultaneously supporting and bettering their legacy, then again, also keeping things the same, but changing in a positive direction; all by altering the make-up of their society - as represented by food. Whilst this is difficult to articulate cleanly, it has to be so because what our main characters are doing is not simple. They are managing themselves and their families in relation and in opposition to one another - and all simultaneously. And I think this messy activity is symbolised perfectly with the hectic nature of a kitchen and cooking with a multitude of ingredients, tools and machines. But, what unites and solidifies all of the numerous parts in this movie into one cohesive and tangible idea is this...


... is the idea of perspective. What Remy does with his final dish is pretty spectacular; he directly effects the manner in which a person perceives the world. This is a very rare event, one that happens far less then we would like to think as people do not have revelations very often - and certainly not consciously guided by another person. In reminding Ego why he loves food and also where he came from, Remy then shows him how "nature is change". Ego's past is brought to the present and he is made to realise that he is still the same peasant boy who loves food as a comfort his mother would present him. A similar thing happens with Remy's father...


He is made to see that his son is simply an incarnation of himself; both are fixated with food and caring for people, Remy just has higher ideals that, as opposed to what Django would imagine, are attainable. What we thus see here is a reconciliation with two seemingly conflicting concepts: nature and change.

The beauty of this film is then found in the fact that, though all characters present have this enlightening moment, the world around them isn't quite ready to change.


The last statement of this narrative is then a not a utopian one, instead, a recognition that people can change, groups of people can evolve and dreams can sometimes come true - all in their own humble way.


It is this tremendous sense of realistic resolution that leaves Ratatouille a masterpiece in my opinion. So, having outlined a lot of what makes this film great, I hope your re-watches reveal greater depth and nuance to this narrative. But, with that said, what are your thoughts on all we've covered today?

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