Food for thought in atheist inspired animation

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Sausage Party (MA). Directors: Greg Tiernan, Conrad Vernon. Starring: Seth Rogen, Kristen Wiig, Michael Cera, Jonah Hill, Nick Kroll. 89 minutes

It would be a stretch to describe this adult animation, about the plight of a bunch of anthropomorphic groceries, as satire. That would imply some semblance of subtlety and semantic wit. Sausage Party is about as subtle as — well, as comparing a hotdog and its bun to the male and female sex organs. Less subtle than that even, given that its heroes Frank the hotdog (voiced by Rogen) and Brenda the bun (Wiig) long for an encounter that is explicitly carnal.

At the same time, it might be precious to dismiss it as juvenile. This, after all, is billed as a movie by 'the guys who brought you' the grotesque apocalyptic comedy This is the End; said 'guys' also have their various names on films like the high-school-misfits-trying-to-lose-their-virginity gross-out Superbad, the stoner action comedy Pineapple Express, and the irreverent rom-com Knocked Up. If you've seen those films, you know the level of man-child humour to expect.

Whether it serves a greater purpose is an open question. Certainly it lacks the inherent warmth that is a strength of some of those films. But it does strive for a level of sophistication. The groceries adhere to an overtly religious creed that states they will be rewarded for their existence on the supermarket shelves by being carried by 'the gods' (human shoppers) into the 'great beyond', where the pleasures that they have denied themselves will finally be fulfilled.

Of course it's a lie; to be chosen is in fact to be massacred and consumed by said gods. The creed is a panacea to give a semblance of meaning to an otherwise meaningless existence. The lesson learned by various characters who discover the truth is that the lie of religion must be discarded so that true meaning can be found elsewhere, in the pleasures of existence itself; the film concludes with a mass food orgy that would be X-rated if it weren't in animated form.

Still from Sausage PartyAs far as it goes, then, the commentary on religion reels from cheeky to insulting. At the same time it is vaguely insightful. There's a bagel, coded as Jewish, and a lavash (Armenian flatbread), coded as Palestinian, who clash because they have to share an aisle. 'Isn't the aisle big enough for both of you?' asks Frank.

 

"Is the film's relentless sexism rendered less damaging by the fact that we are watching animated foodstuffs instead of human actors? Are its cheap racial caricatures? Nah."

 

In this and other ways the film points to the destructive power of religious belief corrupted by self- or socio-political interest. (There's also a minor Hitler-inspired character who channels religious fervour towards hatred of 'juice'.) It's glib, but there's a certain obtuse truth to it.

On the other hand it ignores the role religious belief can, at its best, play in developing robust ethical thinking about the ways in which we can interact meaningfully with others and the world. It instead emphasises easy, shallow portrayals of religion as an existential placebo, as fuel for bigotry, as an enemy of rational thought. Ultimately it promotes mutual respect and recognition of a shared 'humanity' (foodity?) — even from atheists — as a bridge over ideological difference. This, at least, is on point.

In terms of production the film can hardly be faulted. Both directors are well credentialed, having worked on proven mainstream children's animations including the recent television incarnation of Thomas the Tank Engine and the Madagascar film franchise. As a result the animation is top-notch, and the use of visual and tonal references to horror, American westerns and war films are exceptional. (A parody of the beach scene from Saving Private Ryan is truly excellent.)

But is the film's relentless sexism rendered less damaging by the fact that we are watching animated foodstuffs instead of human actors? Are its cheap racial caricatures? Is the character of a walking-talking douche (Kroll), who sexually assaults a juice box and drools at the cleft in a female shopper's jeans, less offensive because he is coded as evil, when at the same time those things are played for laughs? Nah. Perhaps juvenile is not too strong a word after all.

 


Tim KroenertTim Kroenert is acting editor of Eureka Street.

Topic tags: Tim Kroenert, Sausage Party, Evan Goldberg, Seth Rogen, Kristen Wiig, Michael Cera, Jonah Hil

 

 

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Existing comments

"shallow portrayals of religion as an existential placebo, as fuel for bigotry, as an enemy of rational thought." Religion is that. Sure, it's not ALL that (and clearly the filmmakers are not saying it is). To poke fun at religion's flaws is not shallow if those flaws exist. Somehow I suspect the author of this article is religious.
Ian Cooper | 11 August 2016


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