The Menu director Mark Mylod explains the movie’s thematic connections to Game of Thrones and Succession. The social satire follows a cast of characters played by Anya Taylor-Joy, Nicholas Hoult, Janet McTeer, Reed Birney, Judith Light, and John Leguizamo, who travel to a private island to dine at an exclusive restaurant run by a theatrical celebrity chef (played by Ralph Fiennes), whose sinister plans for his high-paying patrons are slowly revealed with each course. Mylod has also directed numerous episodes of Game of Thrones and Succession.
During a recent interview with Polygon, Mylod talks about what The Menu has in common with his other high-profile work directing episodes of hit HBO shows Game of Thrones and Succession. The Emmy-nominated director boiled it down to a few thematic connections, mainly family and wealth, that unite the three seemingly different works. They are actually more alike than one may think. Read what he says below:
If I have any throughline in my work it’s family. I realized that power and family are symbiotic, especially in the formative years. I’m really fascinated by that. You’re trapped in the space where you dwell, and you can’t escape, really, until you can leave home. And so there’s endless potential for dramatic conflict. Part of the attraction of The Menu was that idea that you put all the characters in this one box with that quasi-family, and you trap them in this space, and there’s endless potential for dramatic confrontation and dramatic conflicts. And out of that, you get that lovely relationship between tension and comedy, which the writers take so much advantage of.
That chess game was always at the heart of it. With Bong [Joon-ho] in Parasite, he never intended for the poor people to be the goodies, and the rich people to be the baddies. That’s trite, and it starts to undermine the authenticity of the emotional story he’s trying to tell. We found ourselves in the same place — we wanted to have an emotional connection to these characters. We could see how they do stupid things, but I certainly didn’t want them to just be cardboard cutouts, two-dimensional stereotypes. We wanted them to have emotional lives, and we wanted the audience to feel their jeopardy.
To Mylod’s first point, family is an important theme in all three works. In Game of Thrones and Succession, family is more literal as it is defined by blood and often determines a character’s motives and allegiances. In The Menu, Chef Slowik has assembled a highly devoted restaurant staff who, at one point, his maître d’ Elsa (Hong Chau) even describes as family, though it may more closely resemble a cult. Blood relations do play a role in The Menu as throughout the film, Chef Slowik’s mother is seated in the corner of the dining room getting drunk on wine, and as his “Memory” course reveals, Julian was abused by his father and neglected by his mother during his childhood, which is important to helping humanize Chef Slowik before his sinister plan is revealed.
Another thematic connection The Menu shares with Game of Thrones and Succession is the elite exploiting their wealth and power and ultimately facing the consequences of their actions, which could also be described as hubris, a theme as old as drama itself. However, despite these characters’ faults, all three works are careful not to demonize them too much, with The Menu taking significant inspiration from Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite, as Mylod mentions, to ensure there isn’t a stark dichotomy between the rich and poor being depicted as simply good and evil. The Menu, Game of Thrones, and Succession all excel at developing complex characters and humanizing them for audiences.
The thematic connections between The Menu and Succession shouldn’t come as much of a surprise since the two are from the minds of many of the same creatives. Other than sharing a director in Mylod, The Menu is produced by filmmaker Adam McKay and actor Will Ferrell, who both executive produce HBO’s Emmy-winning series centered on the Roy family. Also, one of The Menu‘s blowhard businessmen is played by Rob Yang, who also starred in Succession as Lawrence Yee, the founder of Vaulter. For fans of HBO’s prestige dramas, Mylod’s explanation should be enough to entice them to watch the new social satire he directed which, in addition to Game of Thrones and Succession, is currently streaming on HBO Max.