Daily Archives: August 25, 2020

Next Floor (2008)

*. An early short by Denis Villeneuve, before his career took of with a string of critical hits (Incendies, Prisoners, Enemy, Sicario, Arrival, Blade Runner 2049). Of his later work only Enemy strikes me as a work of real genius, though I’ll admit he has a unique look, which is something that isn’t easy to achieve in the current environment, especially directing SF-Fantasy fare.
*. The set-up is pure allegory. A table full of society types are stuffing their faces full of exotic dishes. Then, when they grow too heavy, they crash through the floor to the next level of the empty building they’re in, table and all. The maitre d’ calls in “next floor” and the waiters and musicians and other attendants scramble downstairs to set things up again. But the same cartoon descent is repeated over and over.

*. The colours and the appearance of the food recalls nothing so much as the painting “The Gross Clinic” by Thomas Eakins. But while repellent, most of the entrées do look edible. It’s just that they’re grotesquely supersized and the way the diners are eating is made to seem even more disgusting than the sight of people eating normally looks. The assembled guests are an off-putting bunch as well, even before they’re turned into statuary by the accumulating plaster of their violent relocations. Clearly we’re meant to be on the side of the hired help, at least until the final shot.
*. The allegory I mentioned is pretty clear. We’re in Buñuel territory here, with a modern retelling of The Exterminating Angel. The diners are the haute bourgeoisie, or capitalists more generally, and they are literally digging their own graves in the abandoned building. Yes, the system is collapsing due to its own contradictions. The most glaring contradiction being that they are eating themselves out of house and home: consuming to such excess (not just in terms of the volume of the food they’re served, but the endangered species on the menu) that it all becomes a suicidal race to the bottom.

*. Growing social inequality has led to a unsustainable state of affairs, but what happens isn’t revolution. The waiters aren’t rising up against the diners here. Instead they are content to continue playing their part, giving the upper classes enough rope (or food) to hang themselves. That this is deliberate is indicated by the cold eye the maitre d’ casts on the serial catastrophe. He knows what’s going on, and is prepared to let it happen.
*. I’m not sure how political such a message is. Are the lower classes to remain passive and simply allow their social superiors to destroy themselves? This question is made more complicated by the accusatory glare of the maitre d’ that the film ends with. For me this asks “Whose side are you on?” And which side is really worse? Is it better to be an enabler than to be one of the destroyers? Isn’t an enabler a destroyer too? Questions very much for our time.