The Disney-Pixar children’s film Ratatouille (2007) may seem like an unlikely place to drop hidden depth psychology metaphors, but I assure you, they exist. In spades, too.
If you’ve never seen the film, consider this your stopping point. You’ll definitely need to have seen it once or twice to follow what I’m about to outline. It’s a good film, highly enjoyable, with a well regarded 8.0/10 on IMDB and a Rotten Tomato score of 96%.
First, let’s outline the characters. Again, this is assuming you’ve seen the movie.
Our protagonist, Remy, is a dark grey rat who lives “in the shadows” with his family of hundreds of other rats. Naturally, the rats live as one big colony and work together in finding food and shelter. Remy has an unusually helpful knack of being able to smell out poisoned food, which serves the colony. More importantly, he has a love and appreciation for food that most humans don’t even possess. Early on, Remy is accidentally separated from his colony and forced to venture up from the sewers to explore the city world around him.
To say this rat is passionate about food would be a gross understatement. He has more than found his bliss.
Then we have Linguini, our protagonist number two. Hopefully you may be seeing where this is going, considering you’ve viewed the film; Linguini acts as the conscious in this cute fable (or does he? We’ll explore). Linguini is clumsy, irresponsible (having been fired from many jobs before he even arrives at Chef Gusteau’s kitchen), anxious, and completely unsure of himself. Although he is in possession of these all too human flaws, he’s very friendly and good-natured.
Next, we have Chef Gusteau (mentioned above) — the disembodied guiding force behind Remy discovering his restaurant. Gusteau continually assures him that, “Anyone can cook.” This mantra, repeated often, is a key motivator in Remy’s taking charge of an ill-fated situation that the conscious (Linguini) gets them into. This happens when Linguini decides to add ingredients haphazardly to a soup that is cooking in the kitchen — during the dinner rush! Indeed, it is Chef Gusteau who initiates and inspires their entire foray into greatness.
What story would we have without an antagonist? Meet Chef Skinner, a psychology reference too obvious to ignore. As the former sous-chef to Gusteau when he was alive, he was charged with taking over the restaurant. He dominates and rampages through the kitchen like an angry little tornado. Skinner berates and belittles his staff without regard to their collective failing reputation; instead choosing to “sell out” and hawk cheap, mass produced TV dinners bearing Gusteau’s once good name.
Then, we have Colette, the fiery and highly competitive chef who found herself working in Gusteau’s kitchen through hard work and determination. She has mastered her profession with tenacity alone. While she initially intimidates and chastises Linguini for his careless approach to work, we soon see a softer side to Colette. As she begins to help and mentor him, we see that she is actually a very warm and engaging person… once you get to know her. And Linguini does. Henceforth blossoms a charming and sweet relationship between the two.
Last, but certainly not least, we meet Anton Ego. Again, a blatant reference to the psychological underpinnings of the film. Anton has a highly refined palette that pairs well with his pompous air. Incidentally, he was also the food critic who single-handedly effected the beginning of the end of Chef Gusteau’s career. After Anton’s scathing review of the restaurant, Chef Gusteau, crushed and disenchanted by his fall from grace, dies.
Okay, now that we’ve outlined the characters and what their part is in the film, let’s address the obvious. The kitchen is the metaphor for life — the kitchen is life in the most primordial sense, because out of the kitchen comes life-sustaining food. It’s the stage on which we make music, on which we create something more. The shadowed office and closets off to the side of the kitchen could be considered the recesses or back alley ways of life. It is of note that every time Skinner enters his office, his blinds are shut so that no one in the kitchen (stage of life) can see him or what he’s doing.
Only when they realize that they need each other, does the magic start to happen.
Initially, I believed the fable was representing the Unconscious (Remy) and the Conscious (Linguini) minds as they relate to art, awareness, and inspiration. Remy is kept hidden, under Linguini’s hat, and only they communicate with each other in a way that allows Remy to cook and Linguini to “appear human,” in his own words. Indeed, Remy is the inspired, raw talent. On his journey, there is no question, no doubt, that his art is true and pure. He just connects — to what, we may ask? The divine? The collective? Chef Gusteau follows and guides him, apparently from the spirit world… as Remy remarks several times that, “You’re dead!” Gusteau aptly responds that he is but a figment of Remy’s imagination. So, as the Unconscious connects to the imagination, to the expanse, we find greatness.
If only it were that simple. You see, in writing this piece, I slowly began to realize there is a far more complex parable to interpret here. In digging deeper into depth psychology, I recognized the model of the psyche proposed by Jung can be found… here. In this children’s film. How amazing. We have:
-The Ego: Anton Ego
-The Persona: Linguini
-The Shadow: Skinner
-The Anima/Animus: Colette
-The Self: Remy
Although we can distill the first explanation from the interaction of the two main characters, this is really about all of the characters who make up the story and make it come to life. This isn’t just a story about a rat, this is a story about everyone. I do believe both interpretations can apply. However, in the second part of this post, I will explore, in detail, how the latter (model of the psyche) is more crystallized. To be continued…
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