Thursday, December 20, 2007

The Objectivist Implications of Ratatouille

In my crapulence, I missed out on Ratatouille in theaters, despite the fact that Brad Bird is one of my favorite directors, and Pixar hasn't made a film I haven't liked yet (with the potential exception of "Cars"). In any case, I basically purchased a blu-ray player just so I could watch the film in high-def the first time. That's how certain I was that I would like it.

The film certainly delivered on all fronts. While some of the messages about dealing with prejudice and, separately, about rising above your humble beginnings were a bit lost in the mix, I was dazzled by the film's amazing animation, great voice acting (esp. by fellow nerd Patton Oswalt), and uplifting ending.

So how does it relate with my last post?

Between "The Incredibles" and "Ratatouille," I think Brad Bird has really come full circle. once described "The Incredibles" as an "Ayn Rand bedtime story" and I basically tried to prove as much in my last post. But the message of "Ratatouille" seems drastically different. The film chronicles the activities of Remy, a rat who has a keen sense of smell, a complete understanding of English, and a strong desire for delicious food. The problem is that his rat-like appearance poses problems whenever he tries to get into a kitchen for grub that compares favorably to his normal dumpster-diving fare.

One day while pawing through a kitchen for some foodstuffs, Remy encounters the work of master chef Auguste Gusteau, whose cooking skills and populist message ("Anyone Can Cook") resonate deeply with Remy.

Shortly afterwards, through a series of comedic and outlandish circumstances, Remy is marooned in Paris and figures out a mutually beneficial arrangement with a young boy named Alfred Linguini. They work out a system in which Remy pulls on his hair to control his hand movements, using him as a vessel to make divine culinary creations.

There's the standard bad guy and the obligatory love interest, but the heart of the story is Remy's break from his rat family and how he grapples with his role in the world. Does the world have a place for a chef from such humble beginnings? The end of the movie seems to offer an unequivocal and hopeful answer: Yes.

The thematic differences between "The Incredibles" and "Ratatouille" are quite stark. Whereas one argues that there are those among us who are inherently superior (and that's a good thing), the other argues that even the lowest of the low can achieve greatness. Whereas one argues that "special-ness" is something that is granted or inherited, the other shows that it must be worked at, in the midst of obstacles that risk even life and limb. Whereas one is a celebration of the superiority of others, the other is a celebration of egalitarianism, and the triumph of an indomitable will.

"Ratatouille" repudiates the message of "The Incredibles" and it does so in a way that only a genius like Brad Bird could. It is sweeping in its simple and profound message. It has characters that grow and change throughout the course of the film's running time. And it is deeply moving.

See it!

BONUS VIDEO: For longtime readers, you'll know what this is:

Click here for clip


Gabby said...

hey! nice blog!

i wanna comment on the difference you've found between Incredibles and Ratatouille.

I think that both have the same message: There are some of us who have talents, inherently not trainable --i.e. genuises in one way or another. It is society that stops them from exercising their abilities -- in one movie, the government/society at large; in the other, its pre-conceived notions/heritage of who can cook.

In Ratatouille, remy can cook, but sadly he's a rat, which means he's excluded from the club of chefs. In incredibles, incredible can save lives, but is precluded from doing so.

in ratatouille, there seems to be a populist message. But apart from the lipservice to 'hardwork', its remy's genius that enables him to rise above his 'rat'ness. Note, his human partner realizes that he can't cook (no matter how hard he tries!) and instead focuses on his comparative advantage: management.

Societies capitulation to the idea of a rat chef comes when the food critic falls in love with the rat. Ultimately, the movie is still elitist, but as the critic says, talent/genius can come from anywhere. So society must be open and flexible to accept new talent.

there seems to be an arrogance with which mr incredible treats the boy side kick. indeed, one of the themes i got from that movie is exactly the same as in ratatouille -- Mr incredible realizes that talent/ability can come from everywhere/anywhere, and that he 'shouldn't work alone'. Hence, in an emotional scene before the last fight scene, he acquiesces to his wife that they should fight together, as a family.

David said...

Hi there,

Just stumbled on this looking for commentary on the objectivism in 'Bioshock' - I'm actually in the midst of reading 'Atlas Shrugged', and it keeps reminding me of 'The Incredibles'. I loved both 'The Incredibles' and 'Ratatouille', and I think your comments on both of them are quite interesting.

However, I'm not sure I completely agree with your interpretation of 'Ratatouille' as a refutation of 'The Incredibles'. It seems more like a caveat. Both movies rail against a society that rewards mediocrity and squelches the exceptional - whether it be superpowers or culinary skill. But it seems to me that 'Rataouille' adds the idea that the exceptional, whatever it's origin, will make itself known. The cream will always rise to the top, if you will.

You'll note at the end of the film that they clarify that "Anyone can cook" does not mean everyone has innate talent for it, but that a cook can come from anyone. If you look at 'Atlas Shrugged', you'll notice that all the business tycoons start off in the anonymous working class, but their ability causes them to quickly rise. The steel tycoon started off in an iron mine, the railroad executive started off at the ticketing counter, etc. This is in contrast to people who start off at the top - the superpowered Incredibles, for example.

So, in short, it seems to me that, while 'The Incredibles' is saying that talent should not be hidden to make other people feel better, 'Ratatouille' is saying that that talent can come from anywhere.