' ' Cinema Romantico: The Best Eggs In Movie History

Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Best Eggs In Movie History

Eggs ‘round about this time of the year tend to be less about how you want them done and more about symbolizing that one Fella’s resurrection from way back when, and the idea of eggs connoting Christness has a small if storied cinematic tradition. Luke Jackson, or “Cool Hand Luke”, may have merely been an inmate, but he also willingly suffered through eating a grand total of fifty eggs and in the wake of doing so was laid out on a table like Christ on the crucifixion. Rocky Balboa waking up at an ungodly hour in North Philly, cracking eggs and eating them raw was amusing, but it also signaled his rebirth into the Italian Stallion, the man who nearly wrests the heavyweight title from Apollo Creed. Still, I would contend these cinematic eggs don’t have quite the same significant scope as others divvied up at the movies. Remember, not all of America – not to mention, you know, the world – practices Christianity, and so the egg whites and their trusty yolks probably mean something more universal to most. I’m talking about that to which so many patrons of so many churches will adjourn posthaste following conclusion of their forthcoming Sunday morning services. I’m talking about breakfast.

You know how in sitcoms characters are always sitting around a pristinely clean table, reading the paper, eating a full meal of toast, sausage links and perfectly scrambled eggs, sipping coffee and juice, and then inevitably looking at their watch and blithely noting “I’m going to be late”? Yeah, they’re never going to be late. Unless the plot dictates it, because it’s a sitcom and everything is perfect. But breakfast is never this perfect.

There are several notable motifs throughout the Coen Brothers memorable “Fargo” but among the most notable is Food. Over and over we see our lovable central couple, Marge and Norm Gunderson (Frances McDormand and John Carroll Lynch), helping themselves to heaps of Midwestern culinary delights. After all, Marge is pregnant and Norm must show solidarity, by which I mean he’s kind of a minor glutton. If there is a pre-eminent comestible moment, it involves Marge, police chief of the small Minnesota town where they reside, being summoned one very early morning by phone. As she rises from bed, Norm, still mostly in his slumber, mumbles, “I’ll fix ya some eggs.” She tells him he can go back to sleep. “Ya gotta eat a breakfast,” he says as a means to decline. “I’ll fix ya some eggs.” Again, she politely reminds him he can keep sleeping. Again, he replies “I’ll fix ya some eggs.” So he fixes her some eggs and they sit at their kitchen table, eating those eggs in silence, apart from the flat rhythms of their chewing.

What follows has become famous – that is, Marge departs and in a lone extended take we watch her in the background as she goes outside, climbs in her car, tries to start it, fails on account of the significant cold, walks back inside and advises Norm that she needs a jump. Just as intriguing, though, is Norm throughout the same shot, continuing to eat his eggs in the foreground, a Midwesterner just going about the most important meal of the day. And this is breakfast. This is how it looks. A little nook alongside a window. Two people sharing a comfortable and ongoing silence at the crack of dawn over some eggs. No jokes. No monologues. Heck, the coffee hasn’t kicked in yet.

Frank and April Wheeler (Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet) of “Revolutionary Road” are a bit different. Johnnie Walker Red is a motif more prominent than food, and they prefer emphatic arguments as opposed to silence. They have, in fact, just the previous evening, had their most significant row yet. It would seem their marriage, their dream of fleeing to Paris, their everything has reached a tipping point.

Frank is dressed for work. April, newly pregnant, is in a maternity dress, smiling, content, the embodiment, one might say, of the Eisenhower-era suburban housewife. She says: “Would you like scrambled eggs or fried?” He smiles, almost taken aback at the calm. He decides scrambled. She says she’ll have scrambled too. They sit at the table and placidly eat their scrambled eggs, and she starts asking him questions. Questions about his “important day” and his “conference” at work and then she starts asking him about just what he’ll be “doing” in lieu of this “important” “conference”. And he explains. And she listens. And golly gee willickers, it just seems so swell. That's the word he actually uses. Swell. It’s the breakfast of sitcoms and happy pappy films. And it’s a lie, an utter lie, a smiley-face that's purposely bitch-slapping everyone in sight (April's line "It's really quite interesting, isn't it?" has got to be just about the most maniacal skewering of everyday America ever uttered). We'll save the specifics for those who have not seen it nor read the book, but suffice it to say that things take a turn toward negative town.

This is the dueling nature, the false ideal and the humdrum reality, of the Great American Breakfast. We yearn for the eggs to be done up in a perfect Monaco Omelet (tomatoes, red peppers and flakes of gold), a representation of our perfect life underscored by our perfect day which will kick off with the perfect breakfast. Instead, we are standard issue, sitting at a standard issue table, eating eggs to get our standard issue protein and face yet another standard issue day (and find out the Prowler needs a jump).

1 comment:

Alex Withrow said...

Love this post. There really is such a strong juxtaposition between those two scenes. The way Leo behaves during that Revolutionary Road scene is the reason why I still maintain that it is his best performance. So damn devastating.