It was late September, and there was shit in our spinach.
That’s what the media was saying, spinning elaborate tales of improper cleaning and an entire crop of untraceable green leafy veggies corrupted with E. coli. There aren’t many conversations in which misplaced fecal matter is an appropriate segue, but in the context of Richard Linklater’s new film Fast Food Nation, it makes perfect sense. Eric Schlosser’s exhaustively researched and disgustingly detailed report into the way Americans eat and live didn’t seem an obvious cinematic target–it’s more statistics and footnotes than overarching narrative and sympathetic characters–but Linklater has become a man prone to unexpected choices.
In the past three years, Texas’ Slacker Bard has made a kid-friendly story about rock music in public schools, an Oscar-nominated sequel to one of his most beloved movies, a remake of a profane ’70s baseball classic and an animated version of a supposedly unfilmable sci-fi classic. Given that Linklater has succeeded more often than he’s failed, it’s no wonder that his low-budget saga of immigration, factory safety and not-so-humane cattle slaughter was still able to attract a cast that includes Bruce Willis, Patricia Arquette, Kris Kristofferson, Avril Lavigne, Wilmer Valderrama and Oscar nominees Greg Kinnear, Catalina Sandino Moreno and Ethan Hawke.
The result is Slacker meets Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, a loosely structured piece of agitprop that demands a powerful and visceral reaction. Some people will lament the plight of cows and minimum wage workers, but folks on the other side of the political spectrum may take umbrage at what could certainly be read as an attack on capitalism and at the state of contemporary American culture. It’s an intricately told sociology lesson that concludes with a sure-to-be-notorious killing room floor sequence with enough sloughed off fat, bulging intestines and arterial spray to cause even the most carnivorous of diners to give a second thought to that Whopper.