Director: Richard Linklater
Over the past few years, the source most commonly blamed for the start of our dwindling attention spans has been the birth of MTV. With the emergence of the Internet in the 90’s offering a universe of information accessible from anywhere 24/7, the idea of multitasking has made American lives both easier and increasingly hectic. Simply put, we want things fast and we want them right now, opting for convenience at whatever the cost and a popular saying that has become the mantra of some Gen Xers living in the 00’s is “instant gratification takes too long.” While our aptitude for technology has increased along with our ability to get more accomplished in one day, the minuses that go along with it have become regular headlines on the evening news warning of the hazards of our sedentary lifestyles and the growing obesity epidemic that has many blaming the abundance of quick and easy fast food joints that populate most of America these days. Using this premise as the basis for exploration, Morgan Spurlock proved in his critically acclaimed documentary Super Size Me that eating an entire diet of McDonald’s menu selections for thirty days could make a man in normally above average health come very close to cardiac arrest. In 2001, Eric Schlosser wrote a fascinating and disturbing work of nonfiction called Fast Food Nation that blew the whistle on the industry and revealed the darker side behind the abundance of televised smiles and kids toys. Five years later, he collaborated with Before Sunrise director Richard Linklater on the screenplay adaptation, presenting his findings in a fictitious comedic, horrifying, and eye-opening dramatization of the conditions revealed in his book. An official selection at the 2006 Cannes Film Festival, Fast Food Nation traces the entire process of the industry as illegal immigrants use “coyote” Luis Guzman to cross the border from Mexico into the United States where they hope for better opportunities and a more financially secure future. Instead, some end up in Cody, Colorado at a cattle ranch/meat packing plant and slaughterhouse where they kill cows and chop up the meat used to produce Big Ones hamburgers for the fictitious Mickey’s food chain. The grueling conditions of the slaughterhouse are made abundantly clear as drugs are offered by some to employees in the hopes of preventing lawsuits due to the risks of serious injury (including loss of limbs) and the women must endure sexual harassment, advances and blackmail from their boss (Bobby Cannavale). When a group of university students independently test Mickey’s hamburger patties and discover very high levels of fecal matter in the Big Ones, new CEO Greg Kinnear travels to Colorado where he investigates all involved in the creation and sales of the product including the plant itself, the local Mickey’s restaurant where high school employees discuss their dissatisfaction, along with meeting with cattle ranchers and others. Interweaving several stories of those whose lives are affected by fast food chains, Linklater’s cast includes a wide range of talents (Bruce Willis, Ethan Hawke, Patricia Arquette, etc.) that is impressive and manages to keep us instantly engaged no matter how long the actors are onscreen. Admirably, Linklater and Scholsser raise many questions not only about the food industry but our current business and political climate today, including the legal repercussions faced by environmental activists who try to change things. While the film is definitely not for the squeamish as we’re taken right onto the “kill floor” to witness a slaughter firsthand, the work is undeniably important and worth seeing so viewers can become informed consumers. Fast Food Nation will surely make us think twice about considering just how convenient the meal we’re being served really is in the long run, for, as the tagline promises, “the truth is hard to swallow” indeed.