Cinema is all about reflecting the human experience, and whether we think about it or not, eating is a large part of our lives. There are many instances of characters eating on film, but what about those times when the food is just tantalizingly talked about, glimpsed, nearly eaten, or even completely unseen? Consider this buffet of the most desirable meals in cinema that were not technically eaten an appe-teaser for your Thanksgiving celebrations.
10. The Pale Man’s Feast in Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)
When Ofelia (Ivana Baquero), in the midst of completing several tasks given to her by a magical faun in order to prove her immortality, encounters the Pale Man, she sees before the monster a “sumptuous feast” that the faun’s rulebook, the “Book Of Crossroads” warned her not to touch. On her way out of the room, Ofelia can’t help but pluck two tiny grapes from the table, which awakens the creature, who subsequently kills a few of her fairy companions. Given how robust and delicious the smorgasbord of fruits and sweetmeats looks, Ofelia should have brought a few more fairies to distract the Pale Man so she could really chow down.
9. Lisa’s Pizza in The Room (2003)
Ordering a pizza to keep Tommy Wiseau’s Johnny placated, his fiancee Lisa (Juliette Danielle) orders delivery. Sure, the pizza she orders — “half Canadian bacon with pineapple, half artichoke with pesto and light on the cheese” — sounds like some unholy Frankenstein’s monster of a dish, mixing sauces and ingredients that should never be mixed together. But who knows? Maybe it’s good! Whatever the case, it’s the perfect culinary representation of The Room, so it’s a shame we never get to actually see the fiasco of a pie, as a jump cut reveals Tommy and Lisa eating a plain cheese pizza. Let’s hope James Franco is more adventurous.
8. The Uneaten Candy of Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory (1971)
The opening of Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory introduces us to the film’s fantasy world of candy, a world in which confections aren’t just delicious but have magical properties. In Bill (Aubrey Woods) the candy man’s shop, he knows exactly what his schoolchildren customers want, giving the kids “a triple creme cup for Christopher, a squelchy snorter for Otis, a sizzler for June-Marie” before going into a sales pitch for a new Wonka bar and, well, himself. For the rest of the movie, we’re left to imagine what these crazy sounding treats look like, taste like, and do. A triple creme cup sounds pretty basic, but does a squelchy snorter make you snort every time you laugh? Does a sizzler make your head so hot that smoke comes out of your ears? It’s a bigger riddle than any the Oompa Loompas could pose. Time for a sequel! (Editor’s note: Roald Dahl did write a sequel to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, called Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator, but it was never made into a film and does not elaborate on the enigmatic confections mentioned here.)
7. The Stomach Pounder in The Fog (1980)
After finding an odd piece of driftwood on the beach, young Andy Wayne (Ty Mitchell) bursts into his mother Stevie’s (Adrienne Barbeau) bedroom, excited to show the late-night radio DJ his eerie find. In the midst of mother/son pleasantries, Andy exclaims “Mom, can I have a stomach pounder and a Coke?” To which Stevie replies, “After lunch.” We never see Andy get this delicacy, which raises the question: just what the hell is it? And why does it have to come after lunch, and with a Coke? We may never know, but one possible answer comes in the form of a sequel to another of John Carpenter’s films, the 1995 Halloween entry The Curse Of Michael Myers. A character in that film gives his little brother his version of the infamous stomach pounder, which appears to be some kind of chocolate shake that the younger brother can’t take more than a sip of. Probably because he forgot about the Coke. What an idiot!
6. Po-tay-toes in The Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers (2002)
Ever gone camping and wish you’d brought better food to eat? On their long journey to Mordor to destroy the Ring, Sam (Sean Astin) runs into this issue as he and his Hobbit companion, Frodo (Elijah Wood) cook a couple of rabbits that were caught in the wild by their guide, Gollum (Andy Serkis). Gollum is proud of his catch: “They are young, they are tender, they are nice! Eat them!” But Sam feels the menu is a little lacking: “What we need’s a few good taters.” Gollum has never heard of those. “What’s taters, precious?” Sam clarifies: “Po-tay-toes! Boil ‘em, mash ‘em, stick ‘em in a stew! Lovely, big golden chips with a nice piece of fried fish.” Gollum is unconvinced, but Sam’s fantasy meal sounds a lot more delicious than a makeshift wild rabbit stew next to a creature talking about eating “raw and wrrrrriggling” fish.
5. The Royale With Cheese in Pulp Fiction (1994)
Hitman Vincent Vega (John Travolta) just got back from a vacation in Europe and is excitedly relaying his experiences to his partner, Jules Winnfield (Samuel L. Jackson), when he says that everything overseas is “just a little different.” Jules asks for an example, and Vincent explains how movie theaters and McDonald’s sell beer, then says “You know what they call a Quarter Pounder with cheese in Paris?” Jules thinks they might call it the same thing, but Vincent explains “no man, they got the metric system, they wouldn’t know what the fuck a Quarter Pounder is … they call it a ‘Royale With Cheese.’” Jules flashes a wide grin, repeating the name: “Royale With Cheese.” A mere name change makes a plain old fast food burger an exotic delicacy, and Jules tries asking about other potential burger name changes, which Vincent comes up short on. Still, his interest (and appetite) is so piqued, it’s no wonder that Jules partakes of the “one tasty burger” belonging to his prey a few moments later. Makes you wonder if Jules ever found out what a Big Kahuna Burger was called in Paris…
4. The Imaginary Dinner in Hook (1991)
Peter Banning (Robin Williams) is having a helluva time finding out that he’s actually a grown up Peter Pan, not to mention having his children abducted by Captain Hook and his pirate gang. Holed up with the Lost Boys, Peter sits with them for dinner, as pot after pot of food is brought to the huge table. As the Boys rip open the pots and dig in, Peter is dismayed to find…nothing. The Boys mime eating all sorts of delicacies as Peter watches, tormented by hunger. Finally he breaks: “Eat what? There’s nothing here! Gandhi ate more than this!” At that, a verbal fight breaks out between him and erstwhile Lost Boys leader Rufio, and when Peter flings a spoonful of imaginary food at Rufio, the substance magically appears. A huge feast is revealed to be on the table, and Peter and the Boys happily dig in. Guess the power of imagination really can stave off hunger!
3. Cypher’s Steak in The Matrix (1999)
About to betray the entire human race to a bunch of machines, Cypher (Joe Pantoliano) enjoys dinner inside the Matrix, a false illusion of a world created by the machines to placate humans while their bodies are used as power sources. As far as Cypher is concerned, the deal he’s making with Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving) is sweet even though he knows the truth: “I know this steak doesn’t exist. I know that when I put it in my mouth, the Matrix is telling my brain that it is juicy, and delicious…you know what I realize? Ignorance is bliss.” Props to this scene for featuring a steak that looks so amazing (despite its incorporeality) that you’d give yourself over to any robot overlords who’d make you believe it’s real.
2. Kraft Macaroni & Cheese in Home Alone (1990)
Kevin McCallister (Macaulay Culkin), an 8-year-old boy accidentally left home alone during the holidays, takes it upon himself to go do some grocery shopping. At the store, he picks up a frozen Kraft Macaroni & Cheese dinner, which he’s unsure about: “Are those microwave dinners any good?” The cashier shrugs, and Kevin says “I’ll give ‘em a whirl!” A few days later, Kevin prepares his house with traps to stop the Wet Bandits, and after setting all the traps just before 9:00 (which is when the burglars claimed they’d be back), he makes the mac & cheese. Sitting down before the piping hot plate, he says a kind of grace: “Bless this highly nutritious macaroni & cheese dinner and the people who sold it on sale. Amen.” He picks up his silverware, about to dig in — and the clock strikes 9, at which point Kevin stands up and runs to get in place for the first trap. HE NEVER TAKES A BITE. Not one! Not even a quick spoonful! And you just know it’s all ruined and cold after the crazy slapstick hijinks of the night are over. This would be the most traumatizing culinary tragedy ever put to celluloid, were it not for….
1. The Christmas Turkey in A Christmas Story (1983)
Who cares if the family Christmas turkey has “an hour to cook”? Not “turkey junkie” Old Man Parker (Darren McGavin), whose “wild and ravenous light” in his eyes betrays his naked lust for the delicious-looking golden brown turkey sitting on the Parkers’ dining room table. The Old Man isn’t the only one to answer the turkey’s siren call, however, and the neighbor’s dogs come running over, invading the household and tearing the turkey apart. Narrator Jean Shepard’s voiceover (as an older Ralphie) makes plain the sheer tragedy of the moment: “The heavenly aroma still hung in the house. But it was gone, all gone! No turkey! No turkey sandwiches! No turkey salad! No turkey gravy! Turkey hash! Turkey a la aing! Or gallons of turkey soup! Gone, ALL GONE!” After this, the Parkers go out to a nice Chinese restaurant and all is well, but the specter of that uneaten turkey hangs over the film. It was the perfect holiday meal, whisked away. So when you’re at your dinner this Thanksgiving, spare a thought for the Parkers. And maybe keep your pets as far away from the table as possible.
Bill Bria lives in New York City, never misses a meal.