In my last blog I talked about the pastries of The Grand Budapest Hotel. In that film, the exquisitely designed, sweet and airy food reflects the pastel shaded nostalgia of the film’s imagined Ruritanian past, but what about the food of the future? What do films have to say about that? With plenty of rumours flying around about an impending Blade Runner 2, will there be a return to of that movie’s diet of street food noodles?
Of course, in many ways Blade Runner‘s prediction that cheap, quick noodles would become the 21st century’s Bachelor Chow of choice has kind of already come true. Although the film was released in 1982 and instant ramen had been around since 1958, initially they had been a luxury novelty. It was only really in the 70s that the kind of instant noodle cups that we know today came into being, with Britain’s most loved and loathed barely-a-foodstuff food Pot Noodle (something which feels inherently like it belongs to a dystopian future) appearing in 1978 and becoming properly popular in the 80s and 90s. Nowadays, 95 billion servings of instant noodles are eaten worldwide, with the Japanese declaring it their greatest invention of the 20th century.
A combination of Ridley Scott’s initially failing tech-noir becoming increasingly popular and influential, and the almost universal belief that the future will be dominated by the twin superpowers of America and Japan or China (but rarely both Asian nations) has seen the instant noodle motif show up time and again in various dystopias. The phenomenon has become so common US comedy website Cracked even devoted an article to it.
For all that it takes place in a lurid Jean Giraud and Jean Paul Gaultier designed cinema du look future rather than a gloomy noir one, The Fifth Element, for example, is undoubtedly a dystopia and comes with noodle based street food that flies its way straight to you. Crucially, it demonstrates its dystopian credentials by contrasting the haves and have-nots of its bleak world (much as Terry Gilliam’s satire of absurdist bureaucracy Brazil derived as much horror from the future’s fine dining as from the grim and gloomy existence of the average citizen). The film’s final act swaps the fast food fueled world of its average Joe(ish) protagonist Corben Dallas for the opera and colourful cocktails of a luxury cruise liner, inadvertently setting the production design template for The Hunger Games.
For all that it is often spoken of as ripping off its teens fight to the death in dystopian reality TV twist conceit from cult Japanese classic Battle Royale, The Hunger Games on screen looks and feels far more like Luc Besson’s stylised comic book pulp. In fact, its lack of pseudo-Japanese stylings means that it is one dystopia that foregoes the noodles entirely. Instead, the film contrasts a grimy mining community straight out of the silly scenes in Zoolander where the model protagonist returns home and where the only food is what can be hunted or scrounged yourself and fresh bread is the greatest of treats, against the Capitol which is full on Luc Besson by way of Marie Antoinette.
A more complex take on the dystopian haves and have-nots food divide occurs in The Matrix in which cyberpunk terrorist Morpheus frees the minds of psychologically enslaved humanity only to reveal that the real world is a dystopian wasteland. In the real world all that people have to eat is a snotty sludge, like many dystopian foods designed more for practical than flavour purposes.
Ultimately, it is this living in the bleak environs of the real world, eating this bleak real food, in contrast with a virtual juicy steak inside the Matrix, is what fuels the villain’s deal to go back inside the virtual prison and live in ignorance of reality. The contrast in food options make his Judas-like betrayal at least understandable for the audience, even provoking some empathy before he stabs the heroes in the back.
Ultimately, of course, this clash between the depressing synthetic food of the masses and real, juicy meat leads us back to a movie discussed in these pages before, Soylent Green. Damaged by the fact that its revelation is almost universally known, the film does not hold up so well as some of the other dystopias discussed here, but is worth noting for its use of food. Even without the cannibalistic twist, the soylent diet is an unappetising one and the one truly memorable scene in the film shows this best by contrasting it with the simple delight of an old fashioned home cooked meal (no lurid confections of The Fifth Element or The Hunger Games here).
This has barely touched on the whole array of dystopian food options out there, in particular the noodle theme can be seen in countless anime futures, although given that’s already a quick and cheap dining option in Japan it is perhaps not really in there as something futuristic. Which returns us to the original point, street noodles are already as much of a thing in the West as they were in the original Blade Runner, perhaps a sequel should move on and make other predictions about future street food trends.
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