Ratatouille and the Event

I’ve been thinking about two things recently: Brad Bird’s 2007 masterpiece Ratatouille and the philosophical concept of an event. Now, thinking about Ratatouille isn’t new, I love this film. When I told Heather I was writing something involving Ratatouille she messaged me back asking if I cried while writing it. It’s a most splendid film. Thinking about the event, however, is a more recent phenomenon, it comes from reading a lot of John Caputo and listening to Homebrewed Christianity’s High Gravity course on the philosophical turn to Saint Paul. What I want to explore here, is how the (or at least one of the) pivotal moments in Ratatouille captures what it might mean to be struck by an event, to experience the apocalyptic rupturing of an event. So here goes.

For those who don’t know much about Ratatouille see a plot description here. For those who do (or who have just read a description) the moment in question is when the formidable food critic Anton Ego, disturbed by Gusteau’s return to relevance, sits down to eat and review a meal prepared by Remy (though he doesn’t know that yet). Check out the moment.

I want to talk about Ego…

To say Ego goes on a journey would be incorrect. A journey implies a sense of intentionality in stepping out; journey implies a sense of dissatisfaction in the current state of affairs, which a character believes will be satisfied by setting forth. Remy goes on a journey… Ego is interrupted. Ego is in no way dissatisfied or unsettled, he is in control, he is the man. He sees no need to change, no need to progress (his progressing days are behind him), what happens to him, happens to him, and that happening is that he is struck by an event. Something grabs hold of him at the moment he is most sure of his victory and ruptures his whole world. It is an apocalyptic rupturing of the present, which seemingly rewrites his entire past as a journey to this point. He didn’t begin a journey to reach this point; this point reached him and turned his past into a journey. It flips his world upside down, the perfect example of this is the reorienting of his position on Chef Gusteau’s motto “anyone can cook” – it is not that he goes from disagreeing to agreeing, that would be too simple, and could be classified as a progression – he goes from not understanding (a position he only realises in light of the event) to understanding. The event too, like all events, calls for a response, which is a risk. It calls Ego to “actually risk something”, and defend the new, defend that which he would have never previously defended and risk his present order and predicted future. The risk has a cost… his job, his reputation… but then it doesn’t cost him at all, for we see him, at the close of the film as happy as ever, still in love with food (that hasn’t changed) but in love with food in an entirely new way (the way the love functions has changed). Ego is unrecognizable in a way that progression would never achieve, the only explanation is that he experienced and responded to an event.

 

Most things in our lives progress in much the way we would predict – sunrise to sunset, Monday to Friday, primary school to high school, living at home to moving out – these things follow a chronology or chronos of time (they follow an arrow of time). While these things can be good or bad, (or something in between) they are really just dots on the arrow – and that’s fine, that is, for the most part, life (and there is great beauty in ordinary things). However every so often (and I really want to stress ‘so’ over ‘often’) something interrupts the arrow, something that seems impossible, something we do not see coming, which happens to us and calls for our response – this is an event.

An event ruptures our present, rewrites our past, and reimagines our future. For this reason an event changes the way we relate to time. The way we relate to our world.

What do I mean by the way we relate to time? I didn’t call my ex-girlfriend my ex while we were dating; my childhood home wasn’t my childhood home until we moved. I don’t say that this is my first marriage (it would be awkward if nothing else). When an event happens (and not to say that moving house is an event) something interrupts my life and creates a rupture separating the new from the old – but this is not a progression, it is an interruption, which makes the old, old – in reference to the new. In a similar way, I now often finding myself re-reading events of my life in such a way as they lead to Heather – I’m no longer bitter that relationships didn’t work or that I didn’t get a scholarship that would have moved me to Chicago. The event of falling in love with Heather, ruptured my present and sets me on a new arrow of time (but it also re-wrote my past) the event is a cataclysmic change, rupture, interruption which disrupts the arrow of time and reframes everything.  

Another point to be noted is that events do not come with their own grammar and terminology. Perhaps this is why Ego drops the pen at his moment of being struck… there is nothing to be said yet. Events happen and later we try and find language to best explain it, though words can never capture (or contain) fully what occurs within an event.

Events are not the everyday, we don’t make them happen and they do not happen to us often. When they do, they are not simply something to be added alongside everything else in our life, as if I had 5 things and now I have 6, it’s not joining the chess club – which, sure, is a nice thing, but merely an addition to everything else you do. An event reinterprets and reimagines everything else you are doing. Going back to the example of falling in love, it wasn’t as though I was all manner of things, and then Heather just became the next thing – her happening upon my life re-worked, not only the way I interacted with everything else I did, but it rewrote my past (as we have already discussed) and reimagined my future – the arrow was re-launched. Considering Ratatouille, Ego would have been unable to write a review in his pre-event manner, his entire relationship to food and the world had shifted; it had become a new lens through which he viewed everything.

This, I feel (and as has been explained really well by some of the thinkers listed at the outset of the post), is the best way to understand Saul/Paul’s Damascus experience. Paul was much like Ego; content, in control, undisturbed by the arrow of time he was progressing along. Then an event happened. This event ruptured his present (completely shifting not only what he thought, but how his beliefs functioned in his life, what he valued, how he operated – and insisted others operated. It was not only a new lens, the event, effectively, gave him new eyes). The event rewrote his past (and for Paul, the past of the world and his own people, how else could he of performed such theological jiu-jitsu with Old Testament texts?). And the event reimagined his future (a future where there was no longer Jew/Greek, male/female, slave/free).

So there are some thoughts.

We can’t predict events, we can’t make events happen, but we can remain open to events. We remain open by remaining open to the possibility of the impossible, remaining open to responding to the call of the event. By saying yes, to that which calls us out, beyond ourselves. By being willing to let them overwhelm us, rupture us, happen to us, letting them revolutionise our life.