After watching hundreds and thousands of horror movies, my eyes, my soul, and my brain have become accustomed to gore. If a director wants to make me puke or close my eyes in fear, they have to really fine-tune the chunkiness of the body parts, the sound design of the bodily fluids, and the context around the scene to achieve that effect. However, the one thing that I haven’t mastered is the desecration of food. If someone eats it the wrong way (like they did in “The Platform“), puts an eyeball in it (yes, I am looking at you, “Drag Me To Hell” by Sam Raimi), or if there’s just too much of it (“Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” did a number on me), I get nauseous. And, after watching “Flux Gourmet,” I really came close to hurling. So, it’s automatically a win in my books.
Written and directed by Peter Strickland, “Flux Gourmet” follows three culinary collectives in residence at the Sonic Catering Institute: Elle di Elle (Fatma Mohamed), Lamina Propria (Ariane Labed), and Billy Rubin (Asa Butterfield). They are under the somewhat strict jurisdiction of Jan Stevens (Gwendoline Christie). Their whole course is being documented by a writer named Stones (Makis Papadimitriou). There’s Dr. Glock (Richard Bremmer), who is primarily looking after Stones because he suffers from stomach ailments and also interpreting the culinary collectives’ performances. And it’s these performances that form the crux of the story. The best way to describe this art form is that Lamina and Billy extract sounds from various kinds of food, and Elle shapes her dance choreography around them. Since it’s a creative process, the trio agrees and disagrees on every artistic choice, eventually crescendo-ing with a final presentation.
Strickland touches upon a multitude of things, some of which are just too abstract for me to decipher. As the name suggests, “Flux Gourmet” is about the odd relationship between food and the human body. We need it for sustenance. That said, if it is taken in the wrong quantity or when you are under stress, it can cause various kinds of reflux. This is personified by Stones. His very existence in this whole program is funny in an ironic way. He’s there to observe all kinds of food, watch how it can be contorted and repurposed, and often eat it too. However, he’s constantly suffering from stomach problems. It’s ultimately diagnosed as a physiological problem. But that only becomes apparent when Stones decides to come out of the shell of shyness and present himself to the public, thereby highlighting the physiological and psychological relationship between food and our bodies.
This theme is further explored through Elle, Lamina, and Billy Rubin, as their respective relationships with food, are unconventional, let’s say. Elle’s whole purpose behind doing what she’s doing is to subvert the patriarchal mindset that women are supposed to cook food to satiate a man. That’s why she’s making art out of it and accepting praise for what she does on the stage via group sexual intercourse, which is also documented by a non-participating Stones. Billy is unnaturally emo because he once fell in love with a curvaceous, blonde woman who served eggs. After being accused of lechery, he never experienced love again (or came near an egg). Lamina is way too repressed and ignored to have a defining character trait. You can say that she craves creative freedom, and it’s at the very end of the film that her individual arc actually begins.
Side-note: Elle, Lamina, and Billy’s names aren’t that simple and tie into themes about food and bodies in “Flux Gourmet.” Billy Rubin might be a reference to Bilirubin, which is a yellow color pigment formed during the breakdown of RBCs. This usually passes through the liver and is excreted through the body. But high levels of Bilirubin can be a sign of liver or bile duct problems. The lamina propria is literally a thin layer of connective tissue that’s found in the mucous membranes of the respiratory tract, the gastrointestinal tract, and the urogenital tract. Elle technically just means “she.” Di in chemistry means two. And since the word “Elle” comes twice in her name, it can be a hint towards her double-faced nature. On a slightly tangential note, Gwendoline Christie’s character is named Jan Stevens. The real-life Jan Stevens was the composer of the show called “Scrubs”, a show about medical professionals. Make of it what you will.
Coming back to what “Flux Gourmet” is all about, it won’t be a stretch to say that it’s about cinema and creating art in this day and age. Cinema and art, in general, are going through a transitional phase as the internet becomes more and more popular. People are tuning into mukbang videos and shows where Paris Hilton (someone who can’t cook) is hosting a cooking show, instead of going to the theaters or at least binge-ing quality content. Anyone who is entering the entertainment business has to deal with algorithms and numbers instead of getting an opportunity to tell their truth unfiltered. Eventually, they give up and become a part of the system. And the creative residents’ whole process, their to-and-fro with Jan, and Stones’ inclusion into the program is an exaggerated representation of this predicament. They are putting their bodies on the line. Sometimes they are faking elements of their performance to get the desired reaction, and they are being policed. And it poses the question: is the result worth all that effort?
Coming to the technical aspects of “Flux Gourmet,” Peter Strickland’s direction is almost immaculate. Like the symphony of all the set-pieces, there’s a weird rhythm in the film that is hypnotic and engaging. Tim Sidell’s cinematography, Matyas Fekete’s editing, Fletcher Jarvis and Harold Chapman’s production design, Saffron Cullane’s costume design, Tim Harrison’s sound design, the make-up, and those in charge of the heaps of food really bring their A-game to the stage. The movie could’ve gone into “overly pretentious” territory very easily because you are constantly hearing the creatives talk about the process in such complicated ways. So, it needed to be realized in an expressive but tangible way. And the aforementioned people made that possible. This is why you can vaguely identify the purpose behind each performance and also feel like you are in the middle of it, tasting the food spread across the screen and smelling the odd concoction of veggies, fruits, sweat, and spit.
The performances from the cast of “Flux Gourmet” are excellent. Everyone is so bloody committed that it starts to feel like a documentary instead of a feature film. Asa Butterfield, as this man-child who can be easily manipulated, is so hilarious. His chemistry with Gwendoline Christie, who is brilliant in her own right, is equal parts funny and equally raunchy. It’s like they have jumped out of the “Austin Powers” franchise if you know what I mean. Richard Bremmer is all kinds of creepy. Ariane Labed seems to not be doing much, and yet she manages to define the quirks of her character very well. That’s how natural she is. Makis Papadimitriou is the only other member of the cast who is allowed to give a reserved performance, and he knocks it out of the park. His narrations are so good. But it’s Fatma Mohamed who truly takes the cake and eats it too. She gives her mind, body, and soul to this role, and she deserves all the applause for it.
“Flux Gourmet” is evidently not for everybody. This isn’t a crowd-pleasing film. It doesn’t have a very clear narrative. It doesn’t have a very clear ending. I mean, the ending is clear. But what it means is very vague. The characters are all off-center. The one thing that you probably like to consume (I am talking about food) is messed with in creative ways. However, at its center, there is a beating heart and an attempt to find humor in the messy process of making art. To describe it in a more relatable way, it’s a weird cross between Gaspar Noé’s “Climax,” Peter Greenaway’s “The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover,” and maybe even a little bit of David Cronenberg’s “Crimes of the Future.” So, if you liked any of them (or even if you didn’t), you should give this movie a try. At the very least, you are going to look at your next meal in a whole different light.