The Cook, The Thief, His Wife, Essay, Research Paper
Peter Greenaway s controversial film, The Cook, The Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover deals with infidelity, gluttony, and an insatiable desire for appetite. Through these elements, characters are brought to power as well as condemned to humility. This movie uses Charles Bressler s idea of the objective co-relative and the way that it is used to imply an emotion or thought that a character is maintaining and brings it to the reader in a subtle manner. Also, Timothy Corrigan s idea of mise-en-sc ne is used. This concept deals with the little elements of a film (lighting, costume, props, etc.) that when are either exaggerated and/or put together with another element of the film, reveal an implied theme or though much like the previous concept. Through these literary and cinematic ideas, the movie can be easily taken apart piece by piece.
In the scene where The Thief, Albert Spica, is looking for His Wife, Georgina, there is an element of mise-en-sc ne that occurs. When Albert Spica finds out from his friend s girlfriend Patricia that Georgina has been sleeping around with Michael, he goes mad and in a fit of rage, searches for her, destroying whatever comes in his path. He begins first at the bathroom. This is where the distrust between Albert and Georgina was first initiated and this is the first place he enters. When he enters the women s restroom, you can see red light coming from the dining room, peering through the now open door, which is cast on the second stall. This ironically, was the very stall that Georgina and Michael first had sexual relations. The red light points to the stall in a way that through mise-en-sc ne makes the reader connect this with Georgiana s unsatisfied craving for lust. The color red floods the room after Albert finishes his rampage. This is to imply that the once pure-white bathroom is now spoiled with sin. Albert next moves to the kitchen where Richard and he share a brief conversation. Richard, always keeping a cool head, gently talks to the maddened Albert. Throughout the conversation, Albert is violently scouring the kitchen, destroying food and dinnerware. This however does not move Richard. During this fiasco, Richard runs outside to fetch a truck that will eventually transport Georgina and Michael to a safe house. As Richard runs to the van, we see a wide shot of him approaching and as he is running from the kitchen, we can see that behind him, the kitchen, like the bathroom, is overflowing with the color red. Albert s rage is seemingly following him. There is a part in the scene when Richard screams, “I ll kill that bloody book-reading jerk! I ll kill him and I ll bloody eat him!” (Greenaway 66) During this part of the scene he holds two props – a carving fork and carving knife. While he says these words, he also imitates a cutting and eating motion. As he does this, there is yet another overflowing of red in the backdrop. This image seems to parallel with a devil figure and the fork and knife seem to parallel with a devil s pitchfork. In this way, the filmmaker, Greenaway is using mise-en-sc ne to try and imply that Albert is the devil. As Georgina and Michael escape in the rotten meat truck, again you see the element of red. The blood from the meat and grime give the truck a red tinge. This implies that even though Albert is not present physically, his evil rage is surrounding them.
In this same scene, T.S. Eliot s element of the objective co-relative is exemplified. When Albert meets Richard in the kitchen, the following dialogue forms:
ALBERT: You! Where is she? Where is my wife?
RICHARD: What s the matter Mr Spica?
ALBERT: You bloody know what s the matter where s my wife? You know
where she is!
RICHARD: Your wife is your affair, Mr Spica. This is not a lost property office.
ALBERT: Where is she Borst? Where is my wife?! (Greenaway 65)
When Richard says sarcastically, “Your wife is your affair, Mr Spica. This is not a lost property office.” He exemplifies that Albert is of lower class. Richard is proud and arrogant and has high disregard for people who do not appreciate human values. He is sarcastic to Albert and can use his language to his advantage. These comments make Richard s character cynical. He uses their language barrier to his advantage.
In that same scene while Albert thrashes food and silverware about, he desperately pleads to Richard ” Georgina is here somewhere! You miserable bastards have hidden them! My wife and that miserable book-reading jerk!” (Greenaway 66) Albert is so desperate. He realizes that he doesn t have the upper hand anymore and that Richard is now the boss. This angers him and we see his immature anger take hold of him as he destroys everything in sight. Ranting and raving like a madman, he imitates a child who doesn t get his way. Albert s evident distress is now tipping the scales with his anger.
In the last scene of the film, we see how Georgina exemplifies the exact opposite of what she was in the beginning of the movie. We also see how the idea of objective co-relative is once again brought into play. When Georgina is standing in front of Albert who is sitting at his dining table in front of the now-cooked Richard, she mockingly demands, ” it s Michael You vowed you would kill him and you did. And you vowed you would eat him. Now eat him.” (Greenaway 92) In this way she is acting in a way that Albert would act. By quoting Albert and holding him to his promise, Georgina leaves Albert speechless. At that point, power changes hands and Georgina is now the one in control of Albert. Albert is subject to his own form of punishment and he simply can t take it. While this is not a direct statement of what Georgina stated, it is implied through the use of Eliot s objective co-relative .
The concept of mise-en-sc ne is best illustrated in the final scene. Once we see the menu, traditionally beginning another day at the restaurant, we know that there is something special about this scene. Predominately it is the dress code which makes this scene stand above the rest. When we first see Georgina, we see that she wears a long, black, flowing, very contemporary, and quite sultry dress. There are enormous feathers branching out which gives the illusion that she is bigger than she really is, thereby actually making her stronger. The power that the dress conveys is the same theme that we would perceive when viewing Albert in his 17th century frock coats and pants. Through the use of mise-en-sc ne , the audience feels as if though Georgina and Albert have changed power positions merely due to the clothing that they adorn. Using another example of mise-en-sc ne in this scene, when we see Georgina, Greenaway utilizes an extreme close up, thereby furthering her size and make it look like she is almost too big for screen. By making her seem bigger, she portrays more confidence and brilliance than ever before.
The Cook, The Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover by Peter Greenaway is a very deep and abstract film that can be taken on infinite levels. By using the techniques of Charles Bressler and Timothy Corrigan, the viewer can realize elements in the movie that they would have missed before. They can in a sense get more for their dollar by not just taking the movie for its face value but analyzing it thoroughly and forming their own educated opinion about it. The literary and cinematic principles studied are extremely useful editing aids used to break down any film into smaller, more edible pieces.
Bressler Charles E. Literary Criticism: An Introduction to Theory and Practice. New Jersey:
Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1999, 1994.
Corrigan, Timothy. A Short Guide to Writing about Film. 3rd ed. New York, Reading, Menlo Park:
Timpthy J. Corrigan, 1998
Greenaway, Peter. dir. The Cook, The Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover. Perf. Michael Gambon,
Helen Mirren, Alan Howard. Kees Kasander and All Arts Cook Ltd./Auto Films Inc
Greenaway, Peter. The Cook, The Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover. Great Brittan: Distributed Art