As we munch on our favourite movie snacks, there is undoubtedly the feeling of craving from watching a movie character indulge in a succulent plate of food. Quentin Tarantino has explained that people fixate on a certain drink or food and will develop an interest in the consumption of said indulges once the picture is over. (Tarantino) A viewer of the film might not understand as to why the character is eating a certain food. Upon further analysis, food is an important aspect of any film, especially ones of the man himself, Quentin Tarantino. To allow for a better comprehension, I will explore the symbolic meaning of food, primarily focusing on the power implicated within the scene, in some of Quentin Tarantino films and why they are significant to the development of his stories.
Quentin Tarantino is a name that any movie goer will recognize. This cinematic crazed director is well known for his convoluted way of integrating classic film techniques into his big screen productions, transforming them into a genre of their own. However, not only is he notorious for his style of shooting a sequence, there is also distinct aspect that he includes in his pictures, which is the presence of food in seemingly normal scenes. (Marshall) His films include at least two scenes where the characters will have a discussion surrounded by as little as a glass of milk to a large feast. One of the main reasons for this is because of the symbolism of what food can allow a scene to emit. It is a subliminal visual queue, allowing the viewers to understand the characters power within the scene.
For instance, in Pulp Fiction, a hitman by the name of Vincent Vega is in charge of keeping his employers wife preoccupied for a few days. He decided to take her out to supper and as they place their orders with the waiter, Mrs. Wallace orders a 5$ milkshake, making Vega questions her decision for the expensive drink. Upon receiving the cold beverage, the hitman asks if he could have a taste of her milkshake, which she allows. It is important to understand that the 5$ shake is a representation of who Mia Wallace is: a self-indulging, alluring, out-of-reach woman that Vincent will only be allowed to have a taste of. There is also a large tension created over the beverage, giving the audience the feeling that the hitman himself understand the subtext of the whole situation. (Hopper)
During Kill Bill Vol.2, The Bride undergoes intense kung fu training under the guidance of her master’s teacher. After a long day of training, being in excruciating pain, it is difficult for her to keep a grasp on her chopsticks, making her assume defeat. She forgoes the wooden utensils and instead attempts to consume the steaming rice with her fingers. Her kung fu master angrily tosses the grains to the floor, refusing to let her indulge in the white grains until she treats herself with respectable manners. His use of the bowl of rice is a signifier of power over her weakness. (Hopper) He is teaching her that she must first go through suffering before she can reward herself for her efforts.
As for Inglorious Basterds, dairy is a recurring theme in some important scenes of the film. At the beginning of film, Hans Landa, an SS Colonel introduces himself to a French dairy farmer. Instead of accepting the wine that he was offered, he asks for a glass of milk. Upon receiving it, he slowly drinks the homogenized liquid, creating an anxious filled moment for the host, awaiting the reason for the SS’ visit. As the movie unfolds, the glass of milk makes a second appearance when the Colonel makes the acquaintance of Emmanuelle Mimieux, the owner of a cinema, who happens to be the Jewish girl who escaped at the beginning at the film. As they are seated in a restaurant, he orders two strudels, an espresso for himself and a glass of milk for the young lady. Within that moment, Emmanuelle becomes fully aware of the man that is seated in front of her. The Colonel unquestionably has the upper hand, having the ability to evoke fear within his “prey” simply by the presence of a bland drink. (Hopper) An important aspect of the white drink is to note its colour. White is a symbolism of protection and encouragement, which Hans has the ability to convey towards his counterparts, allowing them to feel comfortable around a man whose uniform certainly does not evoke the same message.
In Django Unchained, a slave owner by the unforgettable name of Calvin Candie invites two strangers into his lavish home, a doctor and a freeman. After an uneventful dinner, the sweet-toothed Mr. Candie offers a slice of white cake to the doctor. His offering of the delectable dessert is to convey his power over his guest, white representing his apparent stance on the subject of slavery. (Hopper) Denying the slice of cake, the doctor also communicates his ideology on the same subject. This creates an even greater tension between the two characters.
As a reoccurring theme throughout these four films, the colour white is a vital trait to the selected foods. The connotation associated with the colour in these particular films is very specific. Symbolically, white is known for being the colour of peace, purity, and innocence. (Color Wheel Pro) However, in a Tarantino production, it is the foreshadowing of an unfortunate events that can also be an implication of power within itself. (Hopper)
Occasionally, the food itself is not a symbolism of power, however the action done upon the food has the possibility to have the same signifying aspect. In Pulp Fiction, two hitmen track down a briefcase for their boss. Upon locating the briefcase, they encounter three associates enjoying a cornerstone breakfast of hamburger and fries. Jules Winnfield, one of the hitmen, questions the fellows about their unusual, but delicious choice. He blatantly demands if he could taste a burger for himself. His actions clearly indicate that he is in power. Asking for a bite out of a stranger’s burger is unconventional, however because Jules is an authoritative character, he has the ability to overpower a person. (Tarantino) There is an evident fright within the associate, incapable of denying the ‘intruder’ of his bite of food. He even allows Jules to take a sip of his Sprite without hesitation, afraid that he might anger him.
As for in Kill Bill Vol. 2, the leading lady is on the hunt to find the man who has made her life a living hell. In a scene where Bill prepares a sandwich for ‘their’ daughter B.B., he uses a noticeably large knife to cut and spread the condiments onto the sandwich. For such a benign task, it allows for tension and violence to be generate between the two adult characters, showcasing that Bill is evidently the stronger individual in that scene. (Dean) It creates suspense within the scene, giving the audience the strong sensation of empowerment within one character and fear within the other, even though the seemingly stronger individual is the one to die. (spoiler alert!)
Symbolism is an important aspect of any story. It helps bring emotion and meaning to any plot. As for Quentin Tarantino, he does so by using food to convey a subliminal message. Typically, he uses food to indicate the power a certain individual may have over another, aiding the development of his stories. He also has the tendency to use foods of white colour to help in the foretelling of the following scenes, as well as aid in the understanding of a characters thoughts. Tarantino himself as send that power is an important element in any of his films, and without the overused motifs symbolizing power within food, it might be lost. Next time you watch a QT film, pay attention to the food and see if you can understand the reasoning behind its existence.
Color Wheel Pro. Color Meaning. n.d. Online Document. 13 December 2016.
Dean, Sam. “All the Food in Quentin Tarantino’s Movies, From Reservoir Dogs to Django Unchained.” 19 December 2012. Bon Appétit. Online Article.
Hopper, Charlie. “No One Enjoys Table Talk and Significant Food More Than Tarantino.” 15 January 2014. A.V. Club. Online Article.
Marshall, Colin. “The Power of Food in Quentin Tarantino’s Films.” 23 April 2013. Open Culture. Online Article.
Tarantino, Quentin. The Treatment Elvis Mitcell. 1 October 2014. Podcast.