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 throw up or close my eyes in fear, they have to really fine-tune the size of the body parts, the sound design of the body fluids, and the context around the scene to achieve that effect. However, the one thing I can’t control is the desecration of food. If someone eats it the wrong way (like they did in “The platform“), put an eyeball in it (yes, I’m looking at you, Sam Raimi’s “Drag Me To Hell”), or if there’s just too much (“Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” did a number on me ), I’m nauseous. And, after watching “Flux Gourmet”, I really almost screamed. So that’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 fairly strict jurisdiction of Jan Stevens (Gwendoline Christie). Their entire journey is documented by a writer named Stones (Makis Papadimitriou). There’s Dr. Glock (Richard Bremmer), who mainly takes care of Stones because he suffers from stomach ailments, and who also performs the performances of the culinary collectives. And it is 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 types of food, and Elle shapes her dance choreography around them. Since this is a creative process, the trio agree and disagree on every artistic choice, eventually crescendoing with a final presentation.
Strickland touches on a multitude of things, some of which are just too abstract for me to decipher. As its name suggests, “Flux Gourmet” deals with the strange relationship between food and the human body. We need it to feed ourselves. That said, if taken in the wrong amount or when you’re stressed, it can cause various types of reflux. This is personified by the stones. His very existence throughout this whole program is funny in an ironic way. He’s there to observe all kinds of foods, see how they can be twisted and repurposed, and often eat them too. However, he constantly suffers from stomach problems. It is eventually diagnosed as a physiological problem. But that only becomes apparent when Stones decides to break out of the shell of shyness and introduce himself to the public, thus highlighting the physiological and psychological relationship between food and our bodies.
This theme is explored further through Elle, Lamina, and Billy Rubin, as their respective relationships with food are, shall we say, unconventional. Elle’s whole purpose behind what she does is to overturn the patriarchal mindset that women are supposed to cook to satiate a man. That’s why she makes art out of it and accepts praise for what she does on stage via group sex, which is also documented by non-participating Stones. Billy is unnaturally emo because he fell in love with a curvaceous blonde woman serving eggs. After being accused of lust, he never knew love again (nor came near an egg). Lamina is far too repressed and ignored to have a defining character trait. You can tell she craves creative freedom, and it’s at the very end of the film that her individual arc really begins.
Side note: The names of Elle, Lamina, and Billy aren’t that straightforward and tie into themes about food and the body in “Flux Gourmet.” Billy Rubin could be a reference to bilirubin, which is a yellow colored pigment formed during the breakdown of red blood cells. This usually passes through the liver and is excreted from the body. But high bilirubin levels can be a sign of liver or bile duct problems. The lamina propria is literally a thin layer of connective tissue found in the mucous membranes of the respiratory tract, gastrointestinal tract, and urogenital tract. She technically just means “she”. Di in chemistry means two. And since the word “She” comes twice in her name, that may be a clue to her two-sided nature. On a slightly tangential note, Gwendoline Christie’s character is called Jan Stevens. The real Jan Stevens was the composer of the show called “Scrubs”, a show about medical professionals. Do what you want with it.
Going back to what “Flux Gourmet” is, it’s no exaggeration to say that it’s about cinema and artistic creation in our time. Cinema and art in general are going through a phase of transition as the internet becomes more and more popular. People watch mukbang videos and shows where Paris Hilton (someone who can’t cook) hosts a cooking show, instead of going to the theater or at least gorging on some great content. Anyone entering the entertainment business has to deal with algorithms and numbers instead of having the opportunity to speak their truth unfiltered. Eventually they give up and become part of the system. And the whole process of the creative residents, their back and forth with Jan, and the inclusion of Stones in the program is an exaggerated representation of this predicament. They put their bodies at risk. Sometimes they fake elements of their performance to get the desired reaction, and they are controlled. And that begs the question: is the result worth all the effort?
Coming to the technical aspects of “Flux Gourmet”, Peter Strickland’s direction is almost immaculate. Like the symphony of all sets, there is an eerie rhythm to the film that is hypnotic and engaging. Cinematography by Tim Sidell, editing by Matyas Fekete, production design by Fletcher Jarvis and Harold Chapman, costume design by Saffron Cullane, sound design by Tim Harrison, makeup and food pile makers really bring their A game to the stage. The movie could have very easily gotten into “too pretentious” territory because you constantly hear the creatives talking about the process in such a complicated way. It therefore had to be realized in an expressive but tangible way. And the aforementioned people made it possible. That’s why you can vaguely identify the purpose of each performance and feel yourself in the middle of it, tasting the food smeared across the screen and smelling the strange concoction of vegetables, fruit, sweat and spit.
The performances of the cast of “Flux Gourmet” are excellent. Everyone is so engaged that it’s starting to feel like a documentary instead of a feature film. Asa Butterfield, this easily manipulated man-child, is so hilarious. His chemistry with Gwendoline Christie, who is brilliant in her own right, is both funny and equally raunchy. It’s like they jumped out of the “Austin Powers” franchise if you know what I mean. Richard Bremmer is creepy of sorts. Ariane Labed does not seem to do much, and yet she manages to define the faults of her character very well. That’s how natural she is. Makis Papadimitriou is the only other cast member allowed to give a reserved performance, and he knocks it out of the park. His stories are so good. But it’s Fatma Mohamed who really 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 obviously not for everyone. It is not a film that appeals to the public. There is no very clear narrative. It doesn’t have a very clear end. I mean, the ending is clear. But what that means is very vague. The characters are all off center. The only thing you probably enjoy consuming (I’m talking about food) is creatively manipulated. However, at its center is a beating heart and an attempt to find humor in the messy process of artistic creation. To describe it more aptly, it’s a strange cross between “Climax” by Gaspar Noé, “The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover” by Peter Greenaway, and maybe even a bit of ” Climax” by David Cronenberg.Future Crimes.” 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’ll look at your next meal in a whole new light.