How to Eat Alone
by Elissa Suh
I’ve always been interested in movies and food, but it wasn’t until somewhat recently that I attempted to bridge the two worlds together. So-called “food movies” are primarily concerned with arousing appetites, or spotlighting the industry if they’re of the documentary tradition. American films, as of late, are particularly drawn to chefs, often unintentionally heroicizing bad-boy culinarians. Either way the canon is limited, and so in an attempt to expand what we think about when we think about food in the movies, I began to look beyond the eroticizing of desserts and red meats and airbrushed breads and towards the act of eating more generally. A lot can be said about what’s eaten, how, and why, by characters on the screen, and women in particular.
The image of a woman eating alone tends to prompt people’s (mostly men’s) sympathetic alarm. I, like countless others, have always found pleasure in solo dining, and started taking notice of such instances on screen. Eating alone in the movies is not always relegated to sad endeavors, though sometimes it is. Filmmakers have used it to correlate different characters’ lives or draw attention to larger issues. Food is a weapon, a source of defenses, and pleasures. The following are some of my findings, by no means exhaustive.
The Net (Irwin Winkler, 1995)
Support the Girls (Andrew Bujalski, 2018)
Kiki’s Delivery Service (Hayao Miyazaki, 1989)
The Assistant (Kitty Green, 2020)
Marie Antoinette (Sofia Coppola, 2007)
Spencer (Pablo Larrain, 2021)
The Queen forges a path of individuation through indulgence, cultivating the pleasures of beauty, which extends to jewel-like macarons and pastel confections. The Princess reclaims an independence, by eschewing the heavily arranged dinners of Buckingham Palace for fast food — a bucket of KFC.
Make/eat: Something secret you like to eat.
Phantom Thread (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2017)
The Beguiled (Sofia Coppola, 2017)
Food is a double-edged sword, one that nourishes — as in Paul Mazursky’s An Unmarried Woman (not pictured), about a new divorcee played by Jill Clayburn — or punishes, as evinced by Vicky Krieps and the cadre of women at Miss Farnsworth’s boarding school.
Make/eat: Something your lover loves or hates, buried with a secret. Don’t eat; just observe.
Saute Ma Ville (Chantal Akerman, 1968)
Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (Chantal Akerman, 1975)
The horrors of routine and how to escape them.
Make/eat: Something your mother or grandmother used to make on a regular basis. Something old, traditional, a mid-century delight, but make it new.
A Ghost Story (David Lowery, 2017)
Can She Bake a Cherry Pie? (Henry Jaglom, 1983)
Marriage Story (Noah Baumbach, 2019)
The Souvenir, Part II (Joanna Hogg, 2021)
Make/eat: Something that brings you comfort. Recognize that this too shall pass.
NOTES ON APPEARANCE
A New Leaf (Elaine May, 1971)
The Heartbreak Kid (Elaine May 1972)
Make/eat: A sandwich, piled high and oozing accoutrements, or something else with your hands in front of a prospective romantic partner.
PORTRAITURE / PLEASURE
Yearning (Mikio Naruse, 1964)
Melancholia (Lars von Trier, 2011)
Red Desert (Antonioni, 1964)
Certain Women (Kelly Reichert, 2016)
Wanda (Barbara Loden, 1970)
Make/eat: Scarf something down with feral vehemence.
Burning (Lee Chang-dong, 2018)
Fish Tank (Andrea Arnold, 2009)
A Nos Amours (Maurice Pialat, 1983)
Toni Erdmann (Maren Ade, 2016)
Variety (Bette Gordon, 1983)
Maison Du Bonheur (Sofia Bodhanowicz, 2017)
My Happy Family (Nana Ekvtimishvili and Simon Groß, 2017)
Read: Serve It Forth by M.F.K. Fisher
Never Rarely Sometimes Always (Eliza Hittman, 2020)
Fourteen (Dan Salitt, 2021)
Starlet (Sean Baker, 2012)
Make/eat: Something for or with a friend. Invite them over for tea, meet for a cup of coffee, or stroll through the park while eating brownies. Place less importance on what is eaten, and more on the time spent.
Single White Female (Barbet Schroder, 1992)
Stoker (Park Chan-wook, 2013)
Near Dark (Kathryn Bigelow, 1987)
Under the Skin (Jonathan Glazer, 2013)
Jennifer’s Body (Karyn Kusama, 2009)
Raw (Julia Ducornau, 2016)
What is a body? What is desire? What does it mean to be what you eat?
Make/eat: Something entirely foreign that your tongue has not tasted before.
BONUS: SEX AND DEATH
Le Boucher (Claude Chabrol, 1970)
Wedding in Blood (Chabrol, 1973)
Betty (Chabrol, 1992)
La Cérémonie (Chabrol, 1995)
The Swindle (Chabrol, 1997)
Merci pour le chocolat (Chabrol, 2002)
Nouvelle Vague filmmaker Claude Chabrol made policiers, genre-driven thrillers and detective stories, rife with sex and death and, naturally, food. Lusty dinners, juicy wines, and impeccable dessert plates abound in these domestic settings, where violence lies beneath the idylls of domesticity.