Midnight Joke

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One of the Best Scenes in Cinema

This scene, and 30 seconds of "flashback" the movie Ratatouille are fantastic. I think few would argue that. I recently saw a video on why they were good, but thought I’d add to the discourse.

Indeed, the cinematography, pacing, sound design, facial expressions, use of color, etc are all great, as one can only expect from a powerhouse in movie making such as Pixar. I feel no need to point out anything specific here.

Moreover, this is the climax. We see Remi, by virtue of making a dish even Ego likes, become not only probably the best chef in Paris, but also complete the ark of the student becoming the master, as he has surpassed his teacher and inspiration Gusteau by achieving what even they couldn’t. This is fantastic, but pretty much what we’d expect in a movie like this.

There’s two points I want to write about though:

How did Remi cook the exact same Ratatouille as Ego’s mom?

He didn’t.

I personally don't think the flashback to the memory of Ego's mom signifies that the Ratatouille tastes exactly like the one she used to make, but just that it reminded him of the joy, the peace and the satisfaction of eating food.

One can imagine, as a man whose job is to be a critic, the joy of food is long gone and the novelty of tastes must be scarce. As he described in a previous scene, it's part of "a game" as so much so not something he does for satisfaction he doesn't even swallow if he dislikes it. When one's a kid, one isn't thinking about food from that point of view. If a dish were so good that it simply made him forget "the job", that'd be enough to remind him of simpler times, when he ate in peace and with enjoyment.

In other words, putting ourselves in the shoes of the filmmakers— how do you describe, in an audio/visual medium, the intricacies of taste? Pixar did it in a previous scene with bright color and music:

This definitely works for the smooth tanginess of a cheese or the sweet/sourness of a strawberry, but these are primitive “feelings” and “basic” tastes. How do you convey the taste of “the best food” though?

It’s easy to imagine an orchestra, some abstract tabulation of color, or some other abstract attempt at describing the experience in the mouth. But here, the filmmakers opted to describe the experience of the food in the heart. And here there’s little question. The best food is social— someone’s care for someone else, as are banquets and home-made meals. The best food is serene— it’s a moment to separate from stress, pain and problems and take a break. The best food is joyful. This scene, in 15 seconds without dialog, with minimal fanfare, and with only 2 cuts, describes the best food.

Why did Remy pick Ratatouille?

I mean, Collette says it: it’s a peasant’s dish!

The choice of Ratatouille IMO importantly revisits two themes of the movie in a pretty strong way:

  1. It's another angle on the idea that “greatness can come from anywhere”. And what a way to make the statement! Call it a victory lap, or call it an artistic discourse— there’s little doubt that an artist that understands its craft can see and evoke extraordinary out of the ordinary

  2. It re-states off of Remi's now complete character arcs. A very important one too that could otherwise perhaps fall to a second plane. He has come to accept, and even be proud of where he comes from and what he is. He is the humblest of chefs, and chooses to apex his work with a very "humble" meal.

The fact that it pays off, and the way in which it pays off, brings the movie within reach. It wraps up what could otherwise be interpreted as a snooty movie about the “high culinary world” with a nod to all of us, the people who aren’t chefs but cook and enjoy home meals. And I personally, think that’s one of the many things that make this movie beautiful.