The Menu's Writers Want You To Both Love And Hate Ralph Fiennes' Character [Exclusive]

This article contains minor spoilers for "The Menu."

"The Menu" is officially opening in theaters this weekend, and it's a delightfully dark comedy worth checking out between the Thanksgiving season crowd-pleasers and prestige films. Directed by Mark Mylod and co-written by Seth Reiss and Will Tracy, "The Menu" serves up a dynamic critique of the upper class, but it also knows exactly what kind of film it is, delivering on its promise to be a fun, twisty, good time at the movies.

The film is centered on Hawthorne, a highly exclusive restaurant located on a remote island. All the food there is nurtured and sustained on the island, and served to a select number of guests each night via a multi-course, artful tour through the mind of its legendary leader, Chef Slowik, played by the incomparable Ralph Fiennes .

When our working-class protagonist Margot (Anya Taylor-Joy) first arrives at Hawthorne, the over-the-top, pretentious atmosphere is extremely alienating — something her date, a rich, culinary fanboy named Tyler (Nicholas Hoult) is completely oblivious to. Things get even stranger when dinner time arrives, and Chef Slowik notices Margot has no interest in his food. He asks Margot to visit him in his office and cryptically asks, "are you one of them, or one of us?"

This week, /Film's Jack Giroux had the pleasure of speaking with Seth Reiss and Will Tracy about co-writing "The Menu," and in their enlightening conversation, Reiss expressed hope that audiences have enough space in the hearts to love Chef Slowik as much as they hate him.

A high class chef with a shocking agenda

When asked about the amount of empathy Reiss expresses for the film's central antagonist, Reiss had a lot to say about the nuances of the character:

"I mean, we think Chef Slowik is a genius. We love him and we also think he's full of s***. I think those two things can exist and also hopefully for the audience, make it an interesting watch because I think in some ways they agree with his evening and why he's doing what he's doing..."

In the opening acts of the multi-course meal, things quickly descend into chaos. Through his extravagant dishes, Chef Slowik reveals he knows a lot of particular details about his guests and the lives that they lead. He toasts images onto tortillas and gives them to the guests, reminding them of frightening ghosts they tried to leave in their pasts. He refuses bread service, remarking on the food's history as a peasant's meal. Soon, it escalates into something much more vicious and bloody. Recognizing a working-class spirit within Margot, he opens up to her about his dark endgame.

Fed up with the life he's led as a world-class culinary artist, Chef Slowik no longer finds pleasure in the act of cooking. So, he's seeking revenge on the only people that can afford his food but inherently will never appreciate it, the insatiable elite of society. This is not just a dinner, it's a saw trap, and everyone attending the meal is going to die. The guests, Chef Slowik himself, even his dedicated crew of chefs.

Comrade or vengeful artist?

The guests of the Hawthorne dinner are liars, cheaters, and white-collar scum. "The Menu" offers us plenty of reasons to despise them. As a person who's worked plenty of time in the food industry, it's especially satisfying to see these characters who hold little empathy for service workers suffer and get their just desserts. At the same time, it's difficult to see Chef Slowik as some hero of the common man. He didn't get to where he was in society by accident, he's been an active participant of this pretentious and gatekeeping food culture for decades. Does the sudden change of heart redeem his complicitness? Seth Reiss, one of the co-writers "The Menu," believes it's possible to feel both emotions at the same time:

"Ultimately I think people feel, 'Oh, stop whining. You've chosen to do this with your life. You need to accept that this is what your vocation is like I've accepted what my vocation is. Calm down.' I think if people feel both of those things towards Chef, that Will and I have done a good job."

Luckily, as any smart movie should, "The Menu" lets the audience make those judgments for themselves. Reiss and Tracy wrote the role specifically for Fiennes, perfectly utilizing his ominous and enigmatic talents, surpassing even their own expectations. But, if the height of decadence to you is a really good cheeseburger instead of a spoonful of caviar with gastronomic gels and foams, you might find you have more in common with Chef Slowik than you'd initially think.

"The Menu" is now playing in theaters.