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The Menu: How A Tense Dining Experience Sparked The Idea For The Movie

Tales of social satire and dark comedy can be tricky at best to nail down on the big screen. That's primarily because the thin line between winking farce and horrific tragedy is generally left to the eye of the beholder. But any movie lover who's beheld the ghastly delights of 2022's pitch-black comedy "The Menu" knows the film toes that razor-thin line with staggering grace. 

Set largely inside a haughty restaurant on an isolated island, the film finds celebrated Chef Julian Slowik (Ralph Fiennes) treating a night's patrons to one of the most elaborately-plotted revenge schemes in foodie history. It also finds one unexpected dinner guest (Anya Taylor-Joy's Margot) struggling to make an exit as service devolves into murderous mayhem. Along the way, themes of socio-economic divisions, gender politics, and the many absurdities of foodie culture are deftly explored. 

As dark and twistedly funny as "The Menu" is, it seems the film was inspired by screenwriter Will Tracy's own daunting dining experience. "I went to a restaurant in Norway on an island. It's kind of like in the film," the scribe told Above the Line. "We took a boat out and it was just only, maybe, 12-15 customers." He then admitted that his own insecurity fed a certain level of paranoia. "I'm a bit of a claustrophobic, nervous person," he said, "and I'm in a foreign country, and it was dark on the boat ride, and on an island, what if something goes wrong?" 

Screenwriter Will Tracy says the extremity of his feelings during the dinner led him to develop The Menu

Now, regarding the biting satirical edge of "The Menu," it seems Will Tracy and co-writer Seth Reiss sharpened that edge while writing for The Onion. As for its all-consuming sense of claustrophobic dread, Tracy claims he began to feed on that feeling during his own Norwegian fine-dining encounter, telling Above the Line, "I immediately started to become a bit paranoid."

The writer went on to add, however, that the depth of his growing despair also made him acutely aware of what he was experiencing. "But [I] also immediately sensed — sometimes when you are in a situation like that, you should pay attention to like, 'oh, would this be something interesting to write about if it's making you have these very extreme feelings?'" he said. Tracy added that he was so overcome by the experience, he promptly noted to his wife (who was dining with him) that he thought it might actually make for a compelling tale in its own right.

When Tracy returned home from the trip, he ran the concept by his writing partner. "I kind of just told that basic idea to Seth," Tracy said, claiming many of the characters, and central ideas in "The Menu" quickly began to fall into place. That includes the film's sublimely clever framing device, with Tracy stating, "We kind of went back and forth and kind of came up with a menu-structured film called 'The Menu.'" And that structural masterstroke proves one of the film's most delicious details indeed.