I’ve been going to the movies a little more these last few months. It has become a nice escape from school and work to cozy up in the velvet seats for late-night showings. In my daily life, I end up reading a lot of social and political theory for school and thus, I’m no stranger to the realm of social critiques. Lately, though, I can’t help but wonder if social commentary resonates the way it’s intended in modern films. Using film as a way to spread political and social commentary can be useful and practical for educating the newest generation of media-consuming youth. In order to test my hypothesis, I decided to take a closer look at some recent popular movies, Triangle of Sadness, M3GAN, and The Menu. Is this the new way to educate a mass population or is this new era of the film going to water down social and political issues so much that people don’t take them seriously?
I can’t sit here and pretend that my enjoyment of Triangle of Sadness wasn’t affected by the strenuously long vomit scene (thank you emetophobia). Each gag, puke and stomach grumble felt like a personal attack on my psyche and put to the test my years of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). But, biases aside, I actually did enjoy the movie. Triangle of Sadness had so much potential to be a 5/5 film for me (got closer to 4/5). The film premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in 2022. The jokes were funny and well-timed. The plot, including a working-class coup and the suffering of obnoxiously rich people, was nothing short of incredible. All that being said, however, I felt as though the film was pushing too much at once. Perhaps this was the point of the satire, but too much “in-your-face” commentary can lessen the seriousness of the message. Any review of this movie you read will tell you the outrageousness is the point, but I haven’t spoken to any “regular” (non-film world) person that felt like the more subtle themes of the movie came through without research and discussion. The overt commentary overwhelms the nuanced messages.
I would argue the same for M3GAN. It’s realistic to believe that a robot like M3GAN is where we, as a society, are headed, which adds to the eerie feel of the movie. Gemma’s money and the status-hungry boss is a trope we see constantly in real life. The child therapist’s concerns with Cady’s relationship development are a direct reflection of the phone-over-everything mentality. The cheesy jokes, however, like demanding kombucha and other gen-z specific humor made the movie feel like a parody film rather than a serious horror movie.
Both movies, at times, felt like they were trying desperately to get a cheap laugh, though Triangle of Sadness’ jokes were much better timed and more relevant. M3GAN, simply put, felt like a PG version of Chucky.
In contrast, the Menu earned a 5/5 rating in my book. It contains similar tropes to Triangle of Sadness – i.e. ultra-rich people being shamed for their spoiled behavior and lack of introspection. This film, however, makes fewer attempts at comedic relief and instead keeps the entire theme a bit unnerving as the plot develops. The motifs are nuanced, like the contrast of head chef Slowik’s food, with the cheeseburger at the end: a simple juxtaposition between economic classes and mockery of frivolity. This is a film I can imagine kids of the next generation studying in school, the same way we study literature for it's social, political, and cultural impacts.
Since films have the ability to impact countless people in a short period of time, filmmakers should at least be aware of the impact their work could have. These three movies tread the fine line between satire and corniness: Triangle of Sadness and M3GAN’s attempts are prime examples of such work. In the future, filmmakers should pick and choose what they’re going to tackle (and how many cheesy jokes they’re going to throw in... seriously, no more Kombucha jokes!).