“Ratatouille” & Jewish Assimilation (an essay, with spoilers)

July 9, 2007 | By | COMMENTS

The key moment in “Ratatouille” is not the creation of the title dish, a layered circle of sliced zucchini, eggplant, and tomato perfectly rendered by Pixar’s animators and lovingly sauced by Remy, the film’s protagonist. It’s not the climactic scene of judgment by the film’s primary antagonist, the food critic Anton Ego, voiced by a droll Peter O’Toole. It is, instead, the moment when the father rat, Django–voiced by Brian Dennehy–takes Remy to the surface to show him what humans do to rats. Remy looks up and sees a giant store window filled with rat traps and, more horrifically, his dead brethren strung up with cold, calculated indifference. Taken along with the scene where Remy, in a sewer, overhears a woman complaining about “filthy vermin” the movie becomes–at least for me–a powerful metaphor for the 20th century Jew’s attempt at assimilation.

Like many a young Jew before me, I hated going to Hebrew school. I would beg my parents to let me skip it–I hated sitting in those dusty rooms with histrionic men and women extolling the importance of tzedaka (charity) which we collected for Israel in little blue and white tins that you may recall from Woody Allen’s “Radio Days” (he spends his tzedaka money on a decoder ring.) Most vividly, I remember my Jewish elders loudly broadcasting our need to remember the Holocaust. “Those who don’t study history are doomed to repeat it,” one of them would write on the board. “Never again,” others would chant and our obligation to remember the Holocaust–to “never forget–was drilled into us at a very early age. Anti-Semitism wasn’t a concept, it was a fact. And anyone who ignored that fact was doomed to suffer.

Fear of the Christian world is a very real experience for many Jews the same way that fear of the human world is a very real experience for the rats in “Ratatouille.” To me, that moment where Django shows Remy the shop window is the equivalent of Hebrew school teachers showing young Jews slides of concentration camps, reminding them that there’s no safety anywhere, that the Jews are incredibly vulnerable. What Remy must overcome in the movie is not so much the challenge of the kitchen–using Linguini (his human friend) like a puppet, impressing the corrupt head chef–but, instead, the seemingly unreconcilable worlds of humans and rats. The movie chronicles Remy’s attempt to assimilate.

Remy loves the human world. In one of the earliest scenes in the movie, he tries to convince his brother, Emile, that humans, while they have their faults, are pretty wonderful. “Look what they do with food,” he cheers. He bemoans the fact that his fellow rats eat trash. “There’s a reason they call it trash,” he quips.

The rats eat trash in “Ratatouille” because they have to eat trash. Liken that to the historical position of the Jews in post-Christianized Europe where, because handling money was considered impure, they were forced to become bankers and money-lenders. Consequently, Jews developed a deadly reputation for being money-obsessed: a reputation that Hitler used to justify their “extermination.” (Is it a coincidence that the scurrying rats in “Ratatouille” look a lot like those in Hitler’s propaganda films? And, for that matter, why does Django have a hooked nose?) Remy’s disgust at his family’s trash-eating ways is almost Philip Rothian in how he resents the cultural fate he’s been dealt. If humans think of rats as trash-eaters and rats continue to eat trash, there’ll never be any escape. To quote Roth in Portnoy’s Complaint (pg 76): “Do me a favor, my people, and stick your suffering heritage up your suffering ass–I happen also to be a human being!”

But Remy, unlike Roth, is not a human being. He’s a rat. And the movie’s way of dealing with that fact is, in my opinion, decidedly dark. At the end the rat world and the human world are not reconciled. Anton Ego knows Linguini’s secret but keeps it to himself, choosing to benefit from the genius rat (eating at his restaurant every day) without giving him the glory he deserves. And Remy’s fellow rats, while happily noshing on Remy’s food, are doing so in what I took to be the restaurant’s attic. The attic! Sure those rats look happy, but they’re still in hiding. And hiding in an attic has undeniable resonance for 20th century Jews.

The story of “Ratatouille,” then, is a story of exploitation. Django exploits Remy for his poison-sniffing abilities; Linguini exploits Remy for his arm-controlling kitchen skills; and, in the end, the world exploits Remy for his food, a set-up that he finds enjoyable but probably not ideal. He’ll never reach the career heights of his mentor, Gusteau: he’ll never write a bestselling cookbook (unless he ghost-writes it), he’ll never star in his own cooking show. He’ll never dine at other fine dining establishments to study the food; he’ll never get to hang out with other chefs and shoptalk over a beer. He’ll stay where he is and do what he does and he’ll be grateful that he got as far as he did. Is that a happy ending? The audience seemed to think so. Everyone left the theater with smiles on their faces. But for Jews worldwide, many of whom hide out in kitchens of their own–doing their jobs and then returning home to their Jewish friends and families, barely interacting with the Christian world–it is a very revealing portrait. We’re not entirely trapped, we’re not entirely free. We walk the tightrope and try to forget the fear of our elders, a fear that makes it impossible to fully step forward.

Tags: , ,

Categories: Essays

  • http://www.cookingwithamy.com Amy Sherman

    Honestly I think you are reading WAY too much into this. I saw it as more of a Horatio Alger story of the lowly rat rising to greatness. Remy wasn’t exterminated but vindicated when he ends up being a chef and doing what he loves.

  • CR

    Adam, I’ve idly wondered about your Jewish identity from time to time. I mean, aside from the fact that your family lives in a Jewish-heavy part of the country, aren’t you almost totally assimilated yourself? You go on and on about bacon, the holidays pass with no mention from you, etc. As I’m sure those old people at your Sunday school used to ask you, what exactly does being Jewish mean to you? What do you stand to lose here?

    I don’t think it’s fair to blame the Christian majority for its obtuse behavior (although I guess you see it as threatening). I’m an American Jew who moved to Israel, and while I obviously don’t have any problems retaining my Jewish identity here, I never felt angry at the Americans who cluelessly wished me Merry Christmas. Their country, their culture. Yes, the rest of the world may be a different story, and believe me, I’m well aware of how much anti-Semitism there is out there. I live with the reality that millions of people would like nothing better than to kill me.

    I’m not saying you’re reading too much into this (I haven’t seen the movie yet), but the burden of anti-assimilation in a friendly country is also on the minority group. Jews are so central to the culture and character of New York that it’s hard for me to imagine a Jew there feeling overwhelmed by the dark forces such as you describe.

    Maybe I’ll see it differently after seeing the movie.

  • Ed

    This is kind of a departure from what you normally write but it’s very interesting. You draw a lot of parallels to 20th century Jewish history/experience, but I think a lot of these themes could resonate with any minority group (ethnic, religious, or otherwise) that struggles with assimilation. I’m not trying to invalidate any of the comparisons that you draw. However, I think that the conflict that comes with wanting to succeed and yet feeling limited by the constraints of the majority culture are not unique to the Jewish experience.

    Also, I’m not sure if I agree with you about Remy being exploited. In the one sense, he isn’t being given personal recognition for his work. But I don’t think that’s what motivates him. He’s given the opportunity to create. And while he isn’t personally profiting from it (i.e. you won’t see a line of cookware bearing his name and likeness) that’s OK because personal glory isn’t necessary for his happy ending. He’s an artist, and he gets joy in the act of creation.

    Still, I’m glad you posted this. It’s a different tone from your other posts – but I’m glad you shared.

  • george

    Handling money was done by jews in that time period and in that place because they saw a need and filled it(nothing wrong with that). No one forced them to lend money or to be bankers. Adam is being dishonest about history when he says that European jews were forced to be money lenders. They decided to take some jobs that were reviled by the christian majority because they themselves didn’t think that those jobs were so loathesome- also, these jobs were quite profitable.

  • junglegirl

    It seems your Hebrew teachers may have done you a disservice by bludgeoning your tender young mind with their post traumatic stress. It would take a good deal of processing out loud to overcome the fears their generation must have had to deal with, but feeding the minds of the next generation a relentless diet of doom and fear and insecurity is not the best way to handle it.

    I grew up with some very poor teachers too; negative, fear-mongers, (hello: mother?) but I used my own life experiences to determine my reality and I see that humanity has evolved considerably beyond what my ‘teachers’ had to experience. Sure, some haven’t, but I always choose to hang with those who have, to the best of my ability, every day.

    By these conversations may we heal. And move on into healthier realms.

  • http://baixagastronomia.blogspot.com Mar

    I haven’t seen Ratatouille yet (it’s not yet released in Spain) so I don’t know whether you are reading too much into it or not. But I was going to suggest you read “Maus” by Art Spiegelman, for the best ever reading into the mouse/Jew paralelism, written and drawn by the son of a Holocaust survivor, nonetheless. And a damn fine comic, at that.

  • Jill

    I married into a Jewish family with an open and loving heart and was surprised and devastated to be treated like dirt, presumably because I’m a shiksa. The indoctrination my in-laws have received has made them so wary of prejudice that they strike first as a form of defense.

    Ironically they create their own worst fear. Time and time again I watch them treat people with arrogance and disdain, get rejected and then feel discriminated against. Which makes them feel more embattled and behave even worse.

    I am sure that prejudice is very real and painful but by seeing it everywhere my in-laws have become defensive and aggressive and thus have created a hell on earth for themselves. They are literally the unhappiest people I’ve ever seen.

  • Ben

    Concentration camps for Jews are not the current reality although anti-semitism no doubt persists. There’s a Kafka short story that is titled ‘Josephine the Singer’ that fits in with your theme and is more timely. If you’re interested in pursuing it, Mark Anderson (Professor at Columbia) has written an amazing essay on that story, rats and anti-semitism. It appears in his book ‘Kafka’s Clothes’.

  • http://nikas-culinaria.com nika

    It is absolutely right that people feel comfortable coming here and rationally discussing how they feel, that you may have been a bit off the mark.

    I would like to say that I hear and understand what you are saying and it is a very important comment you have made.

    I do not feel you are off the mark. Any of us know reality only within the context of our previous experiences. For you, it absolutely makes sense that this movie tells this tale.

    I do not blame the victim either, I am not going to presume to know what the REAL dynamics were like back long ago in Europe when the Jews built guilds around lending, gold, diamonds, etc (sounds like good old capitalism if you ask me, what could an American POSSIBLY have to say against that? Beware of veiled anti-semitic bias bred by the fundie message here in the US that Jews are dirty moneychangers .. that very tired old saw but quite a vibrant message for the fundies – that old 2 minute hate is an enduring practice).

    My experience as an American is, by definition, different than yours. I am not Jewish, I am a first generation mixed race Colombian American (1/2 of family is in Colombia the other 1/2 are redneck farmers in Illinois, talk about a mix of the conqueror and the conquered)

    I would like to ADD to your analysis by extending it to a greater commonality.

    It also sounds like a story of our modern world where isolation and net-locked personalities have narrowed our realities. We develop online realities that rarely actualize in our day to day world. As bloggers, we operate, often, with the assumption of obscurity. Anonymity. Isolation.

    The unacknowledged foodie rat is a tidy metaphor for the obscure food blogger who is devoted to his little under-read blog :-).

    I totally do not think you went too far or off the mark. I am also going to look at Maus again.

    I say, do not feel like you can not get serious like this (you do not need my validation) I say write more!

  • Lola

    Adam,not everything in the world is about the Jews. Really. The sooner you accept it, the better off you will be. Many Jewish people I know seem to focus a lot on themselves, even more so than Christians.

    I also question the very identity of Jewishness in modern, cultural Jews. Many are not religious, they claim to be “cultural Jews”. What does it mean? That they belong to a clan who is keeping close tabs on who sleeps with whom? That’s how are Jewish?

    I will repeat: trust me, not eveything is about the Jews. There are many more aspects to life than the Jews.

    Lola

  • yoshi

    Wow …. just wow. Yesterday I read an essay on how Remy will never reach the top tier of comic rats because he is too two dimensional. I was thinking “someone needs a life” and I went out to walk my dog.

    But back to the essay. Scratch out the bit about hebrew school and replace “jew” with “gay” and you got the same essay. Also – replace Ratatouille with any movie released in the last 10 years and you have a 50% chance of your essay still being valid. Seriously dude – most movies have this same common theme.

    I think there are some valid criticisms of this movie – this isn’t one of them.

  • http://cinemaknits.blogspot.com Jenna

    I’m not sure that what Adam wrote is a criticism of the film at all – it’s an essay, it’s a way of looking at the story in a different framework. Attacking his argument by saying “Not everything is about the Jews!” is futile and closed-minded. I doubt Adam would say Ratatouille was written with this concept of Jewish assimilation in mind, but he’s making the case that it’s there. And I think it’s a strong case.

    As a (so-called) “cultural Jew,” I take offense at Lola’s characterization (not to mention that certain Christian sects in this country care a lot more about what people do in their bedrooms than I, or other Jews I know, do). Sometimes I forget what a small, small minority we are, at least in the US. Thanks for the reminder, commenters!

  • mike

    I think the comparison you are drawing here is pretty stretched. Remy and his family end up settling for what they did in the movie because well….they live as rats in a world of humans. They are a different species, it’s not allegorical. Would you feel similarly if they made a movie about bacteria? Look at how our immune system pursecutes them! Look at how we exploit them for yogurt!

    Plus the health inspector closed down the restaraunt for having too many rats, does that make him Hitler now?

    Plus why bemoan the fact that Remy will never sell books or have a cooking show? How do you even know he wants these things? Why assume that every cook wants to be a star, instead of just loving food enough to appreciate creating it and having everyone enjoy it. He’ll also never turn get to himself into a brand and shill spinoff bistros and frozen foods for millions of dollars. Isn’t that what one of the points of the movie? That the appreciation of food can be bliss enough?

  • http://nikas-culinaria.com nika

    Adam: I am betting if you look at your statistics, some of this traffic may be coming from someone who tagged you in the red-side of the blog world. Not much you can do about it. So far its been somewhat rational (?) but you might want to keep an eye on it.

  • rosalind

    Haven’t seen the film, so I can’t comment on the AG’s analysis one way or another.

    But I did want to point out that the name “Django” — which I guess is the main character’s father’s name? — is a Roma (or “gypsy”) name. I think it’s a form of John. Of course the Roma were also victims of Nazism.

    To me, the name forever connotes Django Reinhardt, famous Roma jazz guitarist who survived the Second World War in Paris, despite a lot of friends and family members being sent to concentration camps.

  • Laura GF

    Adam, thanks for this perspective — I thought it was interesting even without seeing the movie. I’m glad you took the time to think about this and then share your thoughts with all of us.

  • http://angusindex.blogspot.com emily

    Bravo AG, for adding a little cultural criticism to the ‘Ratatouille’ stew! Not everyone in the foodie-blog world will get the gist of your deconstruction of Remy, but I think you hit some important points.

    I agree that the movie is about assimilation — to another culture/species (human), to a specialized vocation (cuisine), and to an independent, creative lifestyle (vs. the communal drudgery of the rat colony). I’m not Jewish, so I did not read it as a specifically Jewish tale, *but I can see why you did.* I read it more broadly as Remy’s breaking away from the blue collar, close-minded, subsistence-based, philistine world of his family (and yes they were vaguely “ethnic” but I think you could substitute other immigrant or minority groups in place of Jews in your reading and have a similar analysis). The fact that Brian Dennehy voiced Django, the father, gave him a particularly Anglo-Irish, Archie Bunker-ish feel to me.

    But the story development is the same — Remy must choose between the life he was born into and the one he desires, which is in a world that rejects him. So, he disguises himself (inside Linguini’s hat) and only reveals his true self to a few allies, who allow him to live a “double consciousness” in the end, with his own “underground” rat-restaurant in the rafters above the human one. W.E.B. DuBois and Ralph Ellison, anyone?

    Interesting stuff. What really disturbed me was the almost Ayn Rand-esque scene where Remy denounces his father’s belief in the evil of humans, by spouting all this stuff about “evolving” into who he’s supposed to be, and “moving forward” without all the restraints of his family…he’s an Uber-Rat! :P

    Anyway, thanks for the provocative and thoughtful post — those who think you’re “reading too much into it” just haven’t taken their PostModern Pill this morning. ;)

  • http://alteredplates.blogspot.com Deb

    Hey Adam,

    This seems more in line with your Adam D. Roberts blog’s tone. However, I like the fact that you have so many people thinking about the subject.

    This weekend, my husband and I finally rented “The Pianist,” so the subject of WWII and one man’s story of survival is very fresh in my mind.

    While I haven’t yet seen the movie, I’m keeping an open mind. I’d be very interested in Brad Bird’s take on your blog post.

    Thanks for your thoughts on this. Looking forward to your next cooking adventure.

  • http://lost-camel.blogspot.com LC

    I was also distressed by the ending of Ratatouille; I spent the whole movie waiting to find out how they would address the assimilation issue, and they just didn’t. Remy will never have fame or credit in his own right, never get to be a chef like every other chef. It bother me far more than animation ought to, and reading your essay makes me understand why.

    Thanks for writing this.

  • http://www.somethingclever.net Devlyn

    I also v much enjoyed this essay, Adam. The whole question of assimilation is a distressing one – if we are looking towards a future of a “one-world” society, how many histories and memories of our ancestors will we have to give up? It’s not just the prejudices which will be negated, but also our personal and cultural identities. Unfortunately, I don’t really think there’s a very good answer to the issue…

  • Ben M.

    I see no reason why this movie has to either be entirely about the Jews or have nothing to do with the Jewish experience. It can heavily reference Jewish struggles–and I think Adam makes a strong case that it does–while simultaneously being about any group’s struggle for integration. The sense of horror at seeing the store window (and the attic references) do seem to me to fit very specifically with the concentration camp idea. But concentrations camps, as Rosalind points out, held gypsies (and gays for that matter) as well as Jews. And I can’t see how the writers of the film, working in the cartoon medium, would be unaware of MAUS, which posits Jews as rodents and is one of the only illustrated works to win a Pulitzer. All that said, as with any good work of fiction, the film does speak to many different people and groups.

    The ending of the movie seems happy for Remy but not for interspecies (or intergroup?) relations. There isn’t much in the film about Remy’s idolizing humans after he sees the shop window. He still loves cooking, but he’s happy keeping some distance between himself and people. While individual humans look good in the film, humans as a group aren’t very sympathetic. The gap between humans and rats seems mostly insurmountable at the end. But, while Remy will never be another Gusteau, he’ll still be a role model for future generations of rats.

  • livetotravel

    Not for nutin’ – but 4 of the top chefs in America are Jewish and are women – a double assimilation victory…Evan Kleiman, the chef-owner of Angeli Caffe in Los Angeles and host of NPR’s “Good Food”; Elizabeth Katz, the pastry chef at Fiamma, in New York City; Nicole Kaplan, the former pastry chef at Eleven Madison Park, also in New York; and Gale Gand, the co-owner and pastry chef at both Tru and Brasserie T in Chicago and host of the Food Network’s “Sweet Dreams.”

    By reading the tags on your post (pretentious food essays), are you pulling our collective leg?

  • http://pilgrimakimbo.blogspot.com/ cineboy

    I think that’s a great essay. I just saw the film on Friday. In many ways I liked it a great deal – the animation was, as expected, amazing. I also love to cook, so I found a lot with which to enjoy. But you are right to notice the darker aspects of the film, many of which just go by as typical plot/structure devices, and yet if one looks a little deeper and asks “why did they chose that particular…?” then I think the connections with 20th Jewish history becomes very evident. I would not be surprised if, at least subconsciously, many of the ideas you state were not part of the thinking process the filmmakers used to create a sense of story depth and real struggle. I understand why some would say you’re reading into the film too much. I’m sure the filmmakers would say the same things. But, as you point out, there are too many obvious connections for your reading to be off the mark.

  • MARTEE

    You have VARY vivid imagination!

    Quite a stretch in your comparisons, I must say….

    I almost converted to Judaism; I was seriously dating a Jewish man. I leaned a lot in the process. I think you are really filing in the blanks with your own ideas, too bad you feel that way.

  • Mariss

    Thank you for that incisive and brilliant essay. This is cultural studies, food writing, critical theory at its best. Again, you give me more reason (as if your cooking and songs are not enough) to visit your blog daily to see what you’re up to. Absolutely brilliant.

  • http://imaginarycupcake.blogspot.com erin

    I would like to encourage you to read “The Struggle to be an All-American Girl” by Elizabeth Wong. The poignant description of your school experience reminded me of Wong’s essay.

  • Nancy

    I’m a daily reader of your blog and always find it fun and today, I was delighted to find it so thoughtful. I found the “riff” on a movie to be quite creative and profound. However, I am shocked to read some of the comments here which show a real lack of historical knowledge. To take one instance, Jews didn’t “chose” to become bankers in the Middle Ages; they were forced to in order to survive as so many other occupations were closed to them. I didn’t see your essay as one that was “all about Jews, all the time, ” but a poignant meditation on your Jewish experience. And why not – what’s happening today makes a lot of us fearful – Jewish or not. But the hostile, snippy nature of some of the comments were again a barometer of the bigotry that’s still so prevalent.

  • tulip

    I’d like to second the comments that this was a great essay. I thought it very well written and insightful. I am glad to see it here. I have yet to see the movie but I will look at it with a more thoughtful eye now I think. I thought it was interesting in one of the above comments that the poster said “put gay in place of Jew and it would be the same.” I agree that the question of assimilation is a universal one to those that struggle with it. I was glad to see your take on it Adam. Many thanks for giving me something to think about today.

  • Liz

    Wow, you’ve started quite a conversation here in the comments (as I’m sure was anticipated). It seems that most who have commented here are giving serious thought to what you’ve presented, whether they think you’re reading too much into it, seeing your own issues on film, or right on the money. I probably fall in the middle of all three.

    Interesting that a movie for kids can get adults involved in cultural dialogue.

  • K

    Follow the trail back to the origin.

  • Natalie Sztern

    i wrote a comment today on this post at about 1 pm…why are u not posting it?

  • http://chewonthat.blogspot.com Hillary

    To Adam and his many commenters -

    Throughout the movie, I found myself, quite literally, having a battle in my mind about whether or not to feel ridiculous about wanting Remy (a rat!) to become a chef. Of course, as a result of Disney-Pixar’s wonderful and adorable personification, I sympathized with Remy and wanted the movie to have a feel-good ending. But then, my reality would kick in where I would EMpathize with the “enemy” in agreeing that I would never want a rat in the kitchen of a restaurant I’m eating at, let alone cooking my food.

    Perhaps you blamed the kitchen staff too for leaving Linguini by his lonesome when he exposed that Remy was the chef all along, but would any real human being at this point in evolution have done any differently? No.

    So, the key is, it’s all about personification. Adam sympathizes with the Jewish story because he knows it so well and has been taught time and time again in Hebrew school to remember the stories of his ancestors in the Holocaust. I’m sure he’d feel no differently to add gypsies, gays, and the repressed-like to that category, as so many commenters have pointed out.

    I happen to be Jewish and of a similar background to Adam. While that does not make me an authority on the matter, it leads me to sympathize with Adam too. His cause is personified for me. And Adam has every right to feel the way he does and say something about it, not just because of free speech, but because as a Jew, with his Jewish perspective, who else will?

    In our open-minded society, we have two responsibilities: to have an open mind, and to give others something to be open-minded about.

    Thank you, Adam, for this entry.

  • kasa

    I actually completely agree with your reading of the film, Adam. Particularly fresh off reading Maus a few weeks ago, the window display scene was particularly revealing to me. I think it’s pretty obvious that antisemitic parallels were drawn in the film, although they were admittedly pretty damn light. Regardless, lovely essay.

  • Natalie Sztern

    Very good damage control Hilary, but where is my first post? Adam, the one I wrote at around noon?

    It has been a long while since a blog has upset me like the one Adam wrote: … anyway here it is again

    Direct quote from The Amateur Gourmet:

    “To me, that moment where Django shows Remy the shop window is the equivalent of Hebrew school teachers showing young Jews slides of concentration camps, reminding them that there’s no safety anywhere, that the Jews are incredibly vulnerable”

    The entire post is reprehensible but to suggest that Ratatouille resembles anything remotely associated with the Holocaust is an absolute insult to all Jews with direct contact to anyone ever associated with the pain Adolph Hitler attacked us with. I suggest a trip to the Holocaust Museum in DC for the Amateur Gourmet to enlighten and educate him.

    Hilary says “Adam sympathizes with the Jewish story because he knows it so well and has been taught time and time again in Hebrew school to remember the stories of his ancestors in the Holocaust. I’m sure he’d feel no differently to add gypsies, gays, and the repressed-like to that category, as so many commenters have pointed out.

    I want to meet those hebrew school teachers showing their students holocaust pictures and telling them jews are not safe……and more importantly, I want to see the look on their faces when they hear the reference to Ratatouille and jewish assimilation where the holocaust is concerned

    Bigger people than he have tried to suggest correlation to the Holocaust and have been rightly shot down – but to try to connect a simple movie to jewish assimilation is a smack in the face to all who survived

    Natalie Sztern

  • kasa

    I actually completely agree with your reading of the film, Adam. Particularly fresh off reading Maus a few weeks ago, the window display scene was particularly revealing to me. I think it’s pretty obvious that antisemitic parallels were drawn in the film, although they were admittedly pretty damn light. Regardless, lovely essay.

  • Natalie Sztern

    good for u: and Hilary the “Jewish Story” has nothing to do with the Holocaust…why do u think we celebrate Passover…that is the jewish story – so. too, are why we celebrate all Jewish Holidays…go back to ur parents and grandparents and any other holocaust survivor and ask them if Ratatouille resembles their life, especially the days in concentration camps!

  • http://rawinprogress.blogspot.com Kristi

    I haven’t seen the movie, nor am I Jewish, so I’m not in a position to comment on your analysis or conclusions either way. However, I appreciate the time and thought that you clearly put into crafting your argument, and even more so I appreciate the way that you alternately delight us with laugh-out-loud entertainment and challenge us with more intellectual discourse. Thank you for setting forth such an interesting metaphor to ponder, and keep up the great work.

  • bambooshootjr

    Great post AG!

    This departure from your normal post got everyone thinking, talking and ultimately assessing their current realities vis a vis dear old Remy.

    Thank you for making it happen.

  • http://moon-pie.blogspot.com Kate

    Like another commenter, I noticed Django’s name and drew more parallels with gypsy culture and history than with Jewish history. Gypsies (gitanes) play a significant role in French history (the largest annual gypsy pilgrimage in the world is to a town in the south of France, Saintes Maries de la Mer) and the integration of gypsy culture is, I think, a better fit for Ratatouille-as-metaphor – because their story is not only about violence, oppression, and subsequent assimilation, but also about preserving cultural identity and difference, sometimes at the expense of homogeneity, which might be why Remy gets to fulfill his dreams of being a chef but doesn’t necessarily become the next Gusteau or Rachel Ray. Remy doesn’t see his quirky cafe as a backslide from the great Gusteau’s, but as an expression of his unique creativity and spirit. He’s too unique a rat to want to spend his life cranking out Gusteau’s old recipes and slaving for a five star rating.

    All that said, I think that the film gently evokes many oppressed groups and their struggles to find a balance between assimilation/survival and preservation/unique expression – we see that most strongly in Colette’s delightful rant about women in five-star kitchens.

    And finally, we shouldn’t ignore the group that the movie is most heavily prejudiced against (like much of American cinema these days): the French!

  • http://inmolaraan.blogspot.com the chocolate lady

    I agree with Adam that the movie is certainly about Jews, but I understood the message as being a little more optimistic. Remy shows the audience (if not the Parisians) that those who are most reviled might just have the most to offer, and want the most to “give something” as Remy tells his folks. Remy wants only to use his talent for good whether he gets any credit or not.

    I see the story as being parallel to Superman, another refugee with extraordinary powers obliged to keep his identity hidden while saving the world (or cooking ratatouille). No real happy ending for him either, now that I think of it.

  • livetotravel

    an interesting take from the Jewish Exponent…

    http://www.jewishexponent.com/article/13435/

  • jmae

    i was wondering what kind of comments this post would draw… and there’s only a few things i feel i must comment on.

    in regard to ‘cultural jews’… i’m not claiming to be an expert, but my experiences with judaism have shown me what a wide, diverse range of peoples are encompassed within the faith. the orthodox following seems to be the one most people think of, however there is much fluidity within the faith as to what ‘type’ of jew you are… ie conservative, cultural, reformist, etc. (much like christians have the catholics, episcopalians, presbyterians, etc).

    one of the most beautiful things about judaism is that it is a culture as well as a religious faith. one can choose to simply follow the culture (way of life) by keeping shabbot, observing yom kippur, rosh hoshanna, sukkot, etc. while not everyone within the faith is pleased with derivations from their own personal beliefs, i find that this is really no different from other world religions.

    i would really like to ask readers to please keep an open mind, and rather than harshly criticize, look for more information on a faith and culture you may not be familiar with.

  • peter

    this post is inane. where are the jews vulnerable? in israel where the us spends billions of dollars a year supporting the palastine diasporia? or maybe new york where we have a jewish mayor? or maybe in all of america, where no jew has ever been allowed to amount to anything?

    “But for Jews worldwide, many of whom hide out in kitchens of their own–doing their jobs and then returning home to their Jewish friends and families, barely interacting with the Christian world-” how philip rothian of you. Huh?

    FYI there’s currently an ad for Ratatouille on this website. If I were you I’d take it down before the anti-semites at Disney take control of the world.

  • Evan

    It’s obvious that there were fairly bleak references to the Holocaust in Ratatouille — and good for Adam to publish his (as we see, risky) thoughts.

    The images of Jews as vermin (in Nazi propoganda) and as rats in particular (in Maus) is well ingrained into the popular conscience. The images of anthropomorphized rats looking at ‘rat poison’ in cans were chilling.

    And that the movie takes place in France is doubly significant — the Vichy government sold out the French Jewish population with impunity. The movie could have made more logical sense from a culinary perspective in a place like San Francisco — in organic paradise where people speak English instead of a ridiculously-French-inflected English.

    When Linguini admits to his staff that he’s been using a rat for his cooking ideas, they walk out in disgust. It’s as if the kitchen workers were hardliners and Linguini was trying to show that there were good rats in the world… it reminded me of Hitler’s lament that ‘everyone knows one good Jew.’

    So while this story is about assimilation and difference that could be significant for many minority groups, this tale was — in part — an allegory of the Jewish experience. They (and the Roma and the gays and the handicapped) were the European underclass ever maligned, so it makes sense to start with them. Of course, the movie is also about food and perseverance and the discomfort of leaving one’s family to pursue one’s dreams; but the backdrop of post-war Europe is pretty clear.

    Also: The bigotry in many of these comments is rank and utterly boring. And this suggestion of allegory is not a ‘denigration’ to those who survived, Natalie; it’s just a way to plumb the depths of what the filmmakers have offered to us. A movie like “Jakob the Liar” is a true denigration to those who survived.

  • iliketowatch

    i googled ratauille and jew right after seeing the movie and your blog came up. so many comments! i am an artist, i like to watch movies and i like to cook. the reviews have been glowing and so has the word of mouth for this movie. i was impressed with the technical pyrotechnics but they can only do so much. a story is important. i was reallly surprised how all reviews i’ve come accross are about the rat being an artist and how the movie is about being an artist. i saw the movie and saw somthing else. i saw exactly what you saw. and as a non-jew wondered how a prosperous and powerful minority can still feel sorry for itself? i knew art spigelman and he, at the time, was considering sewing spielberg over “an american tail”. how interesting this business of the rat as representing the persecuted jew. as a non jew i have no idea what is to be jewish,descrimination, persecution and so on (but today?…)no doubt the holocaust hangs as a powerful force to keep jews from assymilating, a reminder of what christians are capable of, i suppose. or non jews. but isn’t it just people? who can be evil to each other? no matter what? this is not to say that jews ought to assymilate, in my opinion. well. i just wanted to write something, simply because i know at the watercoolor tomorrow morning all my idiot co workers will think i’m “seeing too much” into the movie and other will no doubt think i’m being anti semetic. well, i enjoyed reading your post on the movie and it was enlightenening to hear point of young jewish person.

  • simona

    The comments to Adam’s special post on Ratatouille, were very revealing for me, as an Israeli and a Jew. If there is only one reason for Adam’s post, it’s to reveal and exhibit people like PETER, who asks “where are Jews vulnerable? … in Israel? the US spends billions of dollars supporting the ‘palastine diasporia’ ..” It’s not worth an answer.

    Ignorance, (go take a course in spelling, and if you’re there, take also a course in history and contemporary politics) vulgarity and basic anti-semitism are still prevailing with some people.

    As a first generation after the Holocaust, I am happy ( if happy is the right word in this context) that young people like Adam (third generation)are so aware and sensitive to their history, legacy and remembrance. You had good teachers, Adam.

  • Mark

    Did anyone else notice that the evil head chef had skin much darker than all of the other characters in the movie? What was up with that? I thought it was also unnecessary to make him so short. But cartoons have a troubling history of drawing good characters as beautiful and evil ones as ugly or physically different.

  • vicki

    This previously interesting discussion is deteriorating into name calling heading into flaming. Can’t we all cool down, please?

  • http://afaustianbargain.blogspot.com faustianbargain

    i didnt think of the jews. weird that.. i thought about the scores of “illegal” immigrants who toil in the restaurant kitchens at minimum wage and no insurance.. and never get any credit. not to mention the derision they earn.

  • http://raindropstitches.wordpress.com/ Ahava

    What an interesting commentary. I haven’t seen the movie yet, but am now more interested than ever to get to it.

  • Laura

    My parents were H survivors – both of them – imagine being raised with that anxiety!

    But I was raised in a town of 99.9% Irish Roman Catholics. The Catholic Nuns saved my mother and her sister and many other Jewish children in Paris and Brittany during WWII and my sibs and I grew up understanding the danger and sacrifice those young nuns had made to protect them.

    And many of the men in our little community fought in WWII. Americans – especially soldiers – were not to be feared – they were our saviors….our heroes.

    My mother made certain that I was as comfortable in a Catholic Church as I was in a Synagogue – and that has been a gift. I am as comfortable going to a Mass as I am going to Friday Services. Being raised to look at both religions as equal takes away any fear or anxiety that differences perpetuate.

    My mother, who lost her mother in Concentration Camp – felt lucky – she always told me that she did not feel deprived because the nuns loved her and she would say – the most important thing was to feel loved.

    Perhaps American Jews suffered more fear of the unknown – and to this day continue to pass that along – the European Jews who survived – found the truth in people – the emotional costs were very very high and sometimes your neighbors were not your friends – but to survive – you had to put your faith in all people and in something higher.

    So, what I learned from my family history – is that – yes, be wary of the cultural times around you -never doubt that evil exists in your neighbor – but put your faith in the individual and trust that you can survive.

  • Dennis

    Took courage to write that post. Some of the comments show that there is truth in your writing.

    However the Holocaust should be remembered by everyone.

  • http://afaustianbargain.blogspot.com faustianbargain

    Dennis said: “Took courage to write that post. Some of the comments show that there is truth in your writing.

    However the Holocaust should be remembered by everyone.”

    What is this ‘truth’ and how do ‘some of the comments’ reflect the ‘truth’ in the writing?

    Personally, I took offense at the post. I am not a Jew and I think there are worse things in the world than imagined Anti-semitism. Especially racism towards brown hued folks. And frankly, the post is insulting to those who are suffering from rejection/social acceptance into the American society.

    This post has reinforced my belief that it is akin to child abuse to throw the seeds of fear and paranoia about a past atrocity and to inculcate this kind of insecurity that is designed to make a child see ghosts at every dark corner or…movie screen. To turn a child against the rest of the world he will live in the future is a crime against the child.

    I now understand where the hysterical fingerpointing about antisemitism comes from….On an online food forum called Mouthfulsfood, there were absolutely ridiculous charges of antisemitism against me that left me hurt, confused and bewildered. I get it NOW. And I feel sorry for those people. Americans who have never experienced the Holocaust and coached in Hebrew schools find their Jewishness dwarf everything else that defines them. It is sad, isnt it?

    It is a great disservice to the rest of us who dont see another as a Jew first, but rather as a fellow human being who can be delightful, annoying, hateful and loving.

    Frankly, I think the Amateur Gourmet needs to take it easy and probably forget his Hebrew School days. Other than the publicity it is going to generate for the blog itself, the post doesnt serve him well.

    I know all that I have expressed here isnt politically correct, but that hasnt stopped me before.

  • Anonymous

    Do not even get me started on this. It’s a little off topic but I have complaining about this for years.

    I haven’t seen Ratatouille. But I noticed the previews with the “jewish” sounding rats and thought it best to skip.

    Because I am SO TIRED OF STEREOTYPES in cartoons.

    Now think about it. Cartoons feature every kind of group.

    You’ve got Beauty and the Beast (a French HUMANS). And a host of other “white” examples.

    Pocahontus (Native American HUMANS)

    Mulan (Chinese HUMANS)

    Aladdin (East Indian HUMANS)

    They all have human representation. But when it comes to black people and jews, what do we get?

    ANIMALS!

    Blacks got the Lion King ( no real HUMAN prince or princess).

    And Jews get Fiefel the rat (American Tale), and now Ratatouille.

    Now granted American Tale and Ratatouile may have had heavy Jewish influence from writers/directors, etc.

    But my point is why can’t we have stories where jews and blacks are not animals, just like other groups.

    Why can’t we see jews as heroes , IN HUMAN FORM as cartoons.

    Why can’t I see a black prince or princess, in HUMAN FORM in cartoons? (yes I know a film is coming featuring a black princess.)

    And there’s nothing wrong with telling a story through animals. But when every time your group is portrayed it’s an animal, something wrong!

  • cg

    Yes Adam I agree with your reading. I stumbled on this site via a Google search on ratatouille jew pixar. Similar thoughts had been going through my head and I wondered if anyone else had the same thoughts of the film.

  • king

    Know more about it at http://newfileengine.com/

    Use the search and follow the link!

  • you are wrong

    You are being dishonest with your lack of knowledge of history. It is clear that Jews were forced into these positions, as the church frowned upon possession of money and the only people that were allowed to control it were the Jews.